Simple nursery rhymes are a perfect way to teach academic vocabulary. What I love about this activity is that it works for kindergarten through high school.
Here's how to do it.
Choose a simple nursery rhyme, such as "Three Blind Mice" and challenge students to replace as many words as they can with synonyms that are more sophisticated.
I did this as a whole class activity a number of times before providing a gradual release to small groups. Here is what we came up with:
Three blind rodents.
Observe how they scamper.
They all hustled after the farmer's missus,
She hacked off their appendages with a scimitar.
You never could imagine such a spectacle in your life!
Three blind mammals.
Look at the academic vocabulary used in this lesson: scamper, hustled, scimitar…not to mention the adjectives and a great lead in to classification of animals (mammals - rodents - mice).
I obviously guided this and we used an online thesaurus, but my second graders did use their background knowledge to relate to these new words. Now I am also seeing them pop up in their writing and hearing them use them in conversations!