Saturday, July 28, 2012

Vocabulators and You

The other day, I posted a picture of most of my vocabulators.  What, you may wonder, IS a vocabulator?  Vocabulators are clear containers that are filled with robust words and items, such as small toys, that can be used to jog a student's imagination and help them with their writing.  I first learned about them at a Melissa Forney training I went to at the beginning of my first year as a teacher.  (2010-2011)

They are simple enough to make, once you decide what themes you want to do.  The hardest part was finding small objects to put inside.  If money is no object, there are containers of themed toys you can buy, but I didn't want to spend $15 each.  I did a lot of  running around to dollar and craft stores to find the objects for mine.  There are a couple that I haven't yet finished, I will update this when they are done.  

Get ready for picture overload!
Begin by choosing the themes you want.  I then color coded my words by printing out 2 copies of each word, cut and paste them front and back onto cardstock.  Then, laminate and cut out.
After they were all cut out, I put them in baggies until I was ready to add them to their canister.
To dye the rice to fill my canisters with, I soaked it in rubbing alcohol and food coloring.  Stir occasionally.  When done, I spread it out on a foil lined pizza box and placed it on my porch to air out for 24 hours.  

When dry, fill your clear container with the rice.

Don't fill completely, you need room for all the words and objects, plus room to shake.

Next, add your double-sided and laminate words.
Then add your toys.  This is my safari theme vocabulator.

This is what it looks like pre-shake.

Give it a good shake and mix all the words and toys in with the rice.  Half the fun is searching for the perfect word.
When turned on the side, you can easily see toys and words.

For my color words, I used perler beads.

Color words vocabulator.

Color words vocabulator.

Dinosaur vocabulator.

Dinosaur vocabulator.

Dinosaur vocabulator.

For my ocean words, I used these water beads.  They really expand and I used less than this 1 oz bag to fill my canister.

Water beads after filling with water.

Water beads in the canister.  Be sure to drain them.  They will continue to absorb water.  I left a bit of water and when  I opened the container to check on them, they came spilling out!  If the container is air-tight, they will not dry out.

Math vocabulator.

Math vocabulator.

Happy words vocabulator.  I still need toys to put in this one.

Some of my vocabulators before I took them to school.
I left the dyed rice in the open containers for a few extra days just to be sure it was fully aired out.
Finished vocabulators at school.  I hot glued the tops on so there will be no spilling accidents at school.  The ocean one is pretty heavy and I didn't glue that top, so it's one that stays on the table and can be turned.
Vocabulators on display.
I hope this helped you and inspired you to make some vocabulators for your own class.  The kids LOVE using them and they are pretty fun to make.

*I have added the word lists that I used in these vocabulators to my TpT store.  Download it here for FREE!


  1. These are great! Where did you find the containers? Are they the ones from Melissa Forney's site? I want to make some for the different units in my 5th grade science class. Yours are some of the nicest ones I have seen!

    Keep Calm & Imagine

    1. Vicky,
      Thank you very much, I put a lot of work into them! They ARE the ones from Melissa Forney's site. I have also seen more squared containers with little grips in the Kitchen section of Walmart that would work also.

  2. Awesome! I love vocabulators and your's look great!

    I really like your blog! You have some creative ideas and your classroom looks so inviting!

    newest follower,

  3. Hello Tara, Is there any way you could email me the lists of words that you used in yours? I also got the clean containers from Walmart and they work great :) Thank you!! my email is

    1. I will try to get those to you tomorrow evening. I basically just came up with themes and brainstormed words that fit into the categories. For the math one I flipped through the glossary of our 4th grade book for the words.

  4. So how do the kids use them exactly? I teach 2nd grade and thing they would love this. Thanks! Are those the same lists you can download from TpT

  5. These look great. Thanks for sharing. Do you keep all the jars out for them to choose from or a few at a time?

  6. These look wonderful! Thank you for sharing your experience.