Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Games to play with Scrabble letters

Here are some ideas for do-it-yourself games with Scrabble letters. You can find a set of Scrabble letters here.

By "Peg" Margaret Orleans - Japan

Boggle - Have students draw sixteen (or twenty-five) random letters and place them in a 4 x 4 (or 5 x 5) square. Give them a reasonable length of time to write down all the words of three or more letters they can find. All letters must be connected horizontally, vertically, or diagonally in order; no letter may be repeated within a single word. After the lists have been made. Have students in each group read them aloud. Duplicated words are crossed out and the remaining words are scored: three letters, 1 point; four letters, 2 points; five letters, 3 points; six letters, 5 points; seven letters or more, 10 points.

Guggenheim - Have students suggest five categories (Countries, Fruit, Animals, Movie Titles, and Months, for example). Then draw five random letters (no duplicates). On a five by five grid, students write one word/phrase for each category beginning with each letter. Give a time limit (5 minutes is usually reasonable if the categories are appropriate). Have groups share answers. Scoring: word spelled with wrong initial letter (r/l confusion, for example), -1 point; word in wrong language, -5 points; correct word given by more than one student, +1 point; unique correct word, +5 points.

Last Word - Have cards with categories (or let students suggest them). For example, Green Things, Bodies of Water, Cold Things, Things in a Stationery Shop, Pizza Toppings, etc. Students choose a random letter, and turn over a category card. Everyone begins on a signal, calling out words in the category that begin with the letter each has chosen. The teacher calls when time is up (variable time limits, from 15 seconds to 2 minutes). The player who called the last correct answer wins the round.

PDQ - It is normally a card game. The dealer turns over three tiles in a row. Each round starts out with a different set of 3 letters. Be the first to shout out a word that contains those letters in order from left to right, or right to left, and you’ll win the tiles. For example, if the letters are PNA, you could shout PiNbAll, PiNeApple, or PheNomenAl. You could also yell ANteloPe, ANticiPate, or ANthroPology. If two players call out words at the same time, the longer word wins. If players agree that no word can be formed, another three tiles are placed on top of the previous three. The winner of each round keeps the tiles. Whoever hass the most tiless at the end of the game is the WNR!

Here are a few games that you can't play with Scrabble letters unless you put several sets together:

Word Ladders - (as Lewis Carroll called it) or Word Gold (as Vladimir Nobokov) referred to it.

You have to look some of these up on the Internet or work some out yourself to set as puzzles for the students and once they get the idea, they can create some of their own to challenge your and/or their classmates. The game involves choosing two words of the same length and generally opposite of each other. You move from one word to the other by changing one letter at a time, making sure that you always have an actual word. For example, you can move from LASS to MALE in the following steps:

Word Mastermind - Students play this in pairs. One thinks of a five-letter word in which no letter is repeated. (If playing with tiles, the player selects the tiles while the other player closes her eyes, and keeps the word covered or turned face-down.) The partner then attempts to duplicate the target word by guessing five-letter words (also without duplicated letters). After each guess, the first player indicates with an X each letter that is in the target word in the same position and with an O each letter that is in the target word, but not in the same position.

You can see why this is easier to play with paper and pencil--or just mentally.

For example, the partner guesses
BREAD and the score is XOOO

Of course, it usually takes a lot more guesses.

Before and After - Students find this game amazing when I demonstrate it to a class. I tell one student to think of any English word he/she likes and I will guess it.
Then I guess a word and the student tells me if my guess is before or after his/her word in the dictionary. With students who have a vocabulary of 1000 words or so, you can generally arrive at their word in about ten guesses.

After one demonstration, students can pair off and play. It's good alphabetization practice and spelling review.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Games for learning

"Peg" Margaret Orleans - Japan

[These are games you can buy or make.]

1. Would You Rather

Draw one of the 40 questions cards and read one of the five questions on it aloud. Choose how you would answer the question and secretly put the answer chip (1 or 2) in your fist. Each player guesses your answer, after which you reveal your answer by showing the chip. Each correct guesser gets one card. Discard the card you played. Play moves clockwise. If that player doesn't have a card, he/she draws one. The winner is the first player with five cards.

(In version 2 of the rules, the player reading the card tries to guess how the group will answer the question. If he/she guesses correctly, he/she wins the card. This version calls for more discussion of the question.)

Sample questions:

Would you rather go to a party with (1) a terrible haircut or (2) extremely out-of-fashion clothes? Would you rather lose (1) your memory or (2) your vision? Would you rather (1) travel the world or (2) build your dream house? Would you rather (1) call an important client by the wong name or (2) blank on your fiancee's parents' names when you are introducing them to your parents? Would you rather (1) have a mouse run up your pant leg or (2) have a wasp get caught inside your shirt?


Here's the description from the website:

"Hoopla is the outrageously fun game where every second counts, with two or more players rallying together to beat the clock. There are four categories of question cards: Cloodle (drawing, similar to Pictionary), Tongue-Tied (giving alliteration clues to a single word), Soundstage >(charades), and Tweener (giving clues in the form "it's bigger than but >smaller than," using two objects that imply the answer). If the players >manage to work through the requisite number of cards in fifteen minutes, >the game is won by all.

"This game takes five minutes to learn and just 20 minutes to play. Includes: 280 Hoopla cards, a countdown timer, a ten-sided Cranium die, and a Hoopla pad and pencil."

I think with students I would just give them the Tweener and Tongue-Tied options, though all four ways of giving clues will generate a lot of guessing. I like that the game is played cooperatively.

Sample clues:

It's taller than King Kong but shorter than the World Trade Towers. It's younger than New York City but older than the movie _Sleepless in Seattle_. (The Empire State Building)

Memphis, movie star, Mama's boy, My Baby Left Me (Elvis Presley)

Obviously many of the target words rely on the knowledge of American history and culture, so I will need to select carefully which cards to give them and/or make new cards for things they are more familiar with.


You can download the official rules of the game from this site:

Basically, the point of the game is to guess other players' preferences by choosing from the cards in your hand. If the Whoozit ranks your card highest, you get more points. Students tend to express surprise about some of the choices and ask follow-up questions.

Cards list both activities and objects (including lots of foods): walking the dog, bananas, game shows, science fiction, pickup trucks, jigsaw puzzles, fishing, hot dogs, broccoli, high heels, surfing, and flannel pajamas, to name a few.

With games like these, I generally ask students to make their own cards (and then use those cards with a similar group of students). You could ask students to write five favorite activities, five favorite objects, five favorite foods, and one thing they dislike in each category, for example.

Letting students read your mail?

By Dick Tibbetts - University of Macau, Macau

I've just been reading Letters (Burbidge, Gray, Levy, Rinvolucri) in the resouce Books for Teachers series and it seems to have some rather good ideas. Written in 1996, it tells how mario collected his letters unopened for a few days, brought them into class and gave them to students. He explained that he'd been to busy to open his mail and asked them to open his letters, read, summarise and suggest a course of action. It occasioned much surprise and interest.

There must be something similar you could do with emails, with the advantage that you can secretly vet the contents first and then mark them unread. You'd need to forward them enmass somehow - I wouldn't want to do it to individuals or to allow access to my account.

A second idea is to show one of those chain letters that promise wealth if you pass it on and misfortune if you don't. Then students write their own but give as content 3 phrasal verbs and meanings for the receiver to learn before passing on. you could do it with items other than phrasal verbs and you might need to check the explanations but this is a great idea for students to inform each other and can spread outside the class.

Some of the resource series are available in Chinese printed versions. If Letters is available it should be quite cheap. I like it.

Vocabulary and concept pods

By Mert - Dr.M.L.Bland, Arlington, VA, USA

A teacher wants some tips on teaching vocabualry without translation.

Well, this is, of course, less of a problem for TESL teachers who deal with a class of students from many nations than for TEFL teachers who usually deal with a classroom of students from the same language base.

Comprehension means building what I call concept pods for each item. In the native language the baby, in his babble stage, compresses his lips and expells a little air and repeats the process. Suprise! He is picked up and cuddled by a creature saying, "Oh, you called my name." This is what we call positive reenforcement, so the baby repeats the process. At this point the concept pod means, "I want attention." But the concept pod gets refined as it doesn't work all the time. If no one is in the room he doesn't get picked up and cuddled. If the creature in the room has a mustache and growls, "Wassa matter? Cant you say 'Papa?' it doesn't work. If the small creature giggles and says, "tee-hee, I'm your big sister," it doesn't work. All this negative reenforcement narrows the concept pod to: "I want to be cuddled by that one creature in the world who will cuddle me."

The concept pod is changing its configuration all the time. When our hero is two, his playmate says "Mama" and a strange creature picks him up. What, are there two mamas in the world? Usually he will go up to her and try a tentative Mama? "No, I'm not your Mama, I'm his Mama."

Over the years the concept pod will grow to include motherlode, mother of pearl, Mother Goose...the mental image of the birth process, and much more. Your concept pod will never match mine since we had different mothers.

Your job, as a language teacher, is to help your students form these concept pods in the target language. You can do this through context, imagery, paralinguistics, or whatever works. But if you use translation you become counterproductive. For one thing, no concept pod in one language ever replicates exactly a concept pod in another langage. So you have to teach exceptions. For another thing, translation impedes communication since the student has to go from hearing the question in the L2, translating the question into the L1, formulating the answer in the L1, translating the answer into the the L2, and, finally articulating the answer in the L2. Duh! Instead, you want to bifurcate the languages. Indeed, brain scans show that true bilinguals have the two languages in opposite sides of the brain.

So that, in brief, is why we don't allow the L1 in our classrooms.