WORD BOWL WONDER: Boost Vocabulary with Word Bowl Poems

As a poet, I’m obsessed with words. I love their sounds, textures, colors, and flavors. Some words are smooth and supple. Meander. Others jagged and sour. Persnickety. When I come across a word that tugs at my senses, I write it down and put it in my Word Bowl. 

I borrowed the idea for a word bowl from poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith Woolridge who says... 

“the great thing about collecting words is they’re free…Words are lightweight, unbreakable, portable, and they’re everywhere.” 

As a teacher, I want my students to savor words as much as I do. So, I invite them to be word collectors. First, I read them The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter and The Word Collector, by Peter Reynolds. 
Then I show them my Word Bowl (which is really a fishbowl) and introduce them to Syno and Nym, the two plastic goldfish that serve as keepers of the words. 

We talk about which types of words are best to collect: tangible nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Midnight. Plink. Ruckus. We also discuss words that aren’t as compelling, vague words like go, good, nice. I pull some words that are already in the bowl and brainstorm images and feelings they spark. (Use my WORD BOWL STARTER KIT, a list of favorite words I’ve collected over the years, to give your own word bowl a boost. ) 

Word Bowl Starter Kit PNG
 Whenever students come across a word that tickles their senses or imagination, I encourage them to write it on a slip of card stock (I keep a stack of blank slips near the bowl) and drop it in. Once I invite kids to notice words, they become enthusiastic collectors while building their word consciousness. 

 “Ooh, what about rusty? That would be a good word to collect!” 

 “Is slither in the bowl yet?” 

 “What does luminous mean? It sounds like a cool word to add!” 

 Word by word, the bowl fills up. But we don’t just collect the words. We use them to improve our writing. A word bowl is a great tool for combating writer's block. Don’t know what to write about or where to start? Pull a word from the word bowl for a splash of inspiration! 

One of my favorite writing exercises is Word Bowl Poems. Each student pulls five words from the bowl and tries using at least three of them in a poem. (Bonus points for using all five words!) I tell students not to worry about rhyme or logic, just let the words take control and lead them to new places on the page.

Here is a Word Bowl Poem I wrote, and one created by a student. (The orange words are the ones we pulled from the bowl.) 

 Doubt is a dark abyss
 I teeter above 
on a narrow, rusty bridge. 
Looking down will cause 
 legs to wobble, 
arms to pinwheel
hope to plummet
So instead, 
 I set my gaze 
 on the other side, 
take one step at a time,
 and cross. 

 -Michelle Schaub 

 I saw fungus 
frosted like a snowball 
or a cloud 
caps like parachutes 
white like a phantom 

 -Eli 3rd Grade 

 Another way to use Word Bowl Poems as a writing exercise is to have five different students pull one word each. Then challenge everyone in the class to write their own poems that include those five words. It’s fun to compare results and see how the same words can float writers down different creative streams.

This school year, boost your students' vocabulary by starting a classroom word bowl. Soon your students will be swimming in rich, specific words to improve their writing!

About Michelle Schaub

Michelle Schaub is a language arts teacher and award-winning children's poet. She is the author of the picture book poetry collections Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market  and Finding Treasure: A Collection of Collections. She is also the author of two picture books in verse, Dream Big, Little Scientists and Kindness is a Kite String: The Uplifting Power of Empathy. Her poems appear in several anthologies, including  Great Morning! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud.  Michelle loves visiting schools and speaking at conferences on the power of poetry to boost literacy. Find out more at:  https://www.michelleschaub.com/


  1. This is a great post! I requested the word books from the library and they are fantastic! Thanks!


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