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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Yet Another Game to Play in Class Tomorrow!

If you're looking for a game that students will beg to play every week, this is it. I've used it in classrooms and academic enrichment programs at summer camp with fantastic results. Add this to Bug and The Mysterious Box of Mystery, and you have three solid sure-fire games for your ELA toolbox.

Big Words is an activity which promotes an increase in phonetic awareness, spelling accuracy, and vocabulary development. The game I describe below was inspired by authors Patricia M. Cunningham and Dorothy P. Hall in their book Making Big Words. The copy I purchased over ten years ago encouraged me to turn their ideas into a class-wide game which has been a huge hit ever since.

The first objective of the game is to create as many words as possible from a given set of letters. To play, each student is given an envelope containing a strip of letters in alphabetical order, vowels listed first and then consonants. The student cuts these apart so that the individual letters can be easily manipulated on the desktop. Moving the letters about, students attempt to form as many words as possible. Beginners may only be able to form two-, three-, and four-letter words, but with time and practice will be able to use knowledge of word parts and blends to form much longer words.

The second objective is to spell a single word (the Big Word!) with all the letters. In my class, that Big Word very often relates to an upcoming trip, project, or special event, and thus serves double-duty to build excitement and enthusiasm.

As Big Words is used on a regular basis, the teacher can discuss strategies for increasing word counts. Some of these strategies include rhyming, changing single letters at the beginning or ending of each word, using blends, homophones, etc. Many additional words can also be generated through the use of -s to create plurals, and -e to create long vowel sounds. Some students will discover that reading their words backwards prompts additional ideas. Additionally, the teacher can discuss word parts which can help students to understand what they read (such as how the suffix -tion usually changes a verb to a noun, as in the word relaxation).

While the book emphasizes individual practice, we prefer to play Big Words as a class game. I've outlined our procedures below. You can also access these directions as a printable Google Doc.

  1. Have students cut apart the letters, and then begin forming as many words as possible using those letters. Remind them to not share ideas with partners, and to not call out words as they work (especially the Big Word). 
  2. After about fifteen minutes, have students draw a line under their last word, and then number their list. They cannot add to or change their lists, but new words that they hear from classmates should be added once the game starts.
  3. Divide the class into two teams. Direct students to use their pencil to “star” their four best words which they would like to share. These should be words which the other team might not have discovered.
  4. Determine how the score will be kept (on a chalkboard, interactive whiteboard, etc.). The teacher should also have a way to publicly write words as they're shared so that students can copy them more easily.  Here are links to a PowerPoint scoreboard or an online scoreboard.
  5. Hand a stuffed animal or other object to the first student from each team. This tangible item will help the students, and you, to know whose turn it is to share. Tell students that only the player holding the stuffed animal may speak. Other players who talk out of turn will cost their team one penalty point. These penalty points should be awarded to the opposing team, not subtracted from a score. This will greatly reduce unnecessary noise. 
  6. Play takes place as follows: The first student shares a word, nice and loud. He or she spells it out. If any player on the opposing team has that word, they raise their hand quietly and the teacher checks to see that it is the same word. (It doesn't matter if any student on the speaker's team has the word or not). Every player who has it should check it off, and every player who does not have it should write it into their notebook. 
  7. If no player on the opposing team has the word, then the team scores 3 points. If anyone on the opposing team has the word, then only 1 point is scored. 
  8. If a player shares a word which has already been given aloud, their team is penalized 2 points! This helps everyone to pay better attention to the game. 
  9. Ironically, the Big Word counts for as many points as any other word. Feel free to change that if you prefer, but I discovered that if I make it worth more points, students waste an extraordinary amount of time trying to form the Big Word alone, while ignoring the creation of any smaller words. 
  10. Play until a predetermined time, and then if the Big Word hasn't been formed yet, provide students with the first two or three letters to see who can create it.
Enjoy the game! I know your students will.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Another Game You Can Play in Class Tomorrow!

I received some nice emails about the Bug game our class designed, so I wanted to share what we played this past Friday. I call it The Mysterious Box of Mystery.

Worst name ever.

I know, but my students loved it. Well, the game, not so much the name. Surprising, since they all lost! But they see the potential for winning, so they're psyched about playing it again.

The game is simple. Find a box, tissue-box size or somewhat larger, in which you can hide an object. Ask students to number a page one through eight, and then prompt them to ask questions about the hidden object that can be answered yes or no. Each time you provide a yes/no answer, students write a new guess, or rewrite the one they've previously recorded if they feel it's correct.

Simple, right? Perhaps you've probably played something like this before. But to increase the "mystery" of it, I created a rhyming script that I read for each of my three classes, and I never deviated from the script. One student mentioned that it made Mystery Box "really scary," and another students mentioned that it built the suspense.

Cool. But the script was truthfully designed to achieve the first objective of the game: to build better listening skills. By sticking to the script, the game proceeded without interruption, and students were incredibly attentive throughout.

When students failed to name the object in each of the classes, I revealed the objects to them: a spork for Period 1, a candle for Period 5, a clothespin for Period 7. Each time when I asked, "Was it possible for you to actually guess this with just eight questions?" students reluctantly admitted yes.

"Possible, but not probable..." mused one student.

"Not with the dumb questions we asked," responded another unhappily. "We needed to ask better questions."

"We did waste a couple of guesses," added another.

And there it is, the second and more important objective of the game: to learn to ask better questions. For example, one student asked, "Is the thing in this room?" and the answer, of course, was yes. But what she meant was, "Is this thing observable to our eyes anywhere in the classroom right now?" That question would have cut down many possibilities and likely caused all students to change their guessing strategies.

So while students were disappointed, none complained that the game was unfair or impossible. Instead, many began discussing strategies for the next time the game was played. I did promise students that I would never use an object that was rare, unique, or unknown to them; they did fear, after all, that I would make the objects harder to guess as they became better guessers.

Beginning to finish, the game took ten minutes. The script was especially helpful in keeping me, the facilitator, from veering off course. In the future, when students are allowed to facilitate the game using their own objects, the script will likewise keep the class focused.

Give it a go, and let me know how it works out for you.

If you're looking to get more games into your reading and writing classroom, I highly recommend Peggy Kaye's Games for Reading and Games for Writing. I've used both books extensively in one-to-one instruction, but many of the games can be played with little planning in the ELA classroom. These games are also a huge help if you're seeking activities that a substitute can implement that will be highly engaging for your students.

POST EDIT: We decided that students would bring in objects,and use the script to facilitate the game. They're excited for the prospect, and I 'll let you know how it goes!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Game Your Students Can Play Tomorrow

Games are the most elevated form of investigation.  ~ Albert Einstein

I just finished reading Cathy N. Davidson's wonderful Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work and Learn. I'll need to reread it, to be honest, because too often my mind began drifting to my own classroom as I read. I began asking myself if I was doing all that I could to engage students, and the answer was a sad and resounding no. My classes are severely lacking in game play.

According to Davidson, "Games have long been used to train concentration, to improve strategy, to learn human nature, and to understand how to think interactively and situationally." In the classroom, games capture and focus attention, increase motivation, and allow for complete, overt engagement.

My most often downloaded resource, in fact, is a Theme Game I created on Google Slides. At least one of my readers a day downloads this activity, which means that other teachers are seeing the value of game play in the classroom.

I readily admitted to my students that I created Bug, and it would have some, well, "bugs" that needed to be worked out. But students were eager to help in this regard, and our finished game is best described through the Google Slides presentation below.

What We Learned Together

1) We decided that certain modifications were allowed (simple switch, blend mend, one letter better) since they were sophisticated and advanced the game, while others were not allowed (adding a simple s to create a plural, adding both a vowel and a consonant together, reconstructing a word that has already been spelled). Students likewise dismissed the possibility of allowing prefixes and suffixes, deciding that those modifications didn't truly change the words enough.

2) We learned that four to five minutes was a suitable time for each round of play. Once each round finished, players could challenge their current partner if the match ended in a tie, or winners could challenge other winners and losers could challenge other losers, or, simply, anyone else could challenge any other classmate. Students didn't care whom they played; students simply wanted to play! My period one class of only eight students played using a traditional bracket to decide a final winner, but other classes were content to engage in free range play.

3) Students did begin to employ strategies. One clever student used "shrug" as her first word each time, instantly earning a power up and leaving her partner with a difficult word to manage. When her second partner countered with "shrub," this student needed to quickly adapt and used her earned power down to create "scrum." Scrum? Yes, this game encourages vocabulary development as well.

4) By game's end we concluded that, catchy name aside, every new game couldn't begin with "bug." Too many students were trying to play the same words each round, and too many rounds fell into the same predictable list of words. We decided that each new game should start with a different three letter word.

5) We played our games with large (12 x 18) paper and colored markers, but for a future game we're likely to play with standard sized paper and colored pencils. Students liked the visual separation that two colors provided, but the size format probably won't be needed in the future.

We would love to hear your recommendations, variations, and success stories! Want more word challenges? Try the Word Challenges posted at The Book Chook!