My wife and I were lucky enough to have our adult children with us over the holidays. We are avid game players, so we took full advantage of our time together. Every evening between Christmas and New Year’s we’d play a family game after dinner. Most of the games we played were word games of one sort or another. We had played Scrabble, Boggle, Wheel of Fortune, Taboo, Quiddler, Scrabble Slam, and several others. In each of the games, knowledge of some aspect of words was essential to success. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves as we played these family games. Yet at the same time we were stretching our knowledge of and proficiency in words.
Why can’t word study in school become more game-like instead of worksheets and rote memorization activities? I think we need to take a new look at how we teach words in our classrooms. The more we make word study more game-like, the more engaging students will become in studying and playing with words. For those of you who like to play online games such as Text Twist or Words with Friends, have you noticed that if you play these games regularly you get better at them? If students engage in word play activities on a regular basis, they will indeed get better at the activities. They will be learning words and developing in themselves a fascination with words that will go well beyond the classroom.
One word play activity that I will take credit in developing is called Word Ladders. It is an activity in which students start with one word and are guided by their teacher to add, subtract, or change letters in the first word to make a series of new words. The teacher guides the students by giving them hints about the meaning of the new words they are making. In my word ladders the first and last words are often somehow related, and this is what turns it into a game-like activity. Since I will be talking with educators in Minnesota and North Dakota in March for Reading Plus, I thought I would share with you a word ladder that celebrates the two cities in which I will be speaking.
Let’s start with the town in Minnesota where I will be speaking on March 13 – Plymouth:
Plymouth Take away 3 letters from Plymouth to make a body part used for speaking and eating.
Mouth Take away 1 letter to make an insect that is attracted to light.
Moth Change 1 letter to make a school subject that involves numbers.
Math Take away 1 letter to make something you wipe your shoes on when they are muddy or dirty.
Mat Change 1 letter to make a common pet.
Cat Change 1 letter to make another name for an “automobile.”
Car Change 1 letter to make the opposite of “near.”
Far And, (drumroll please), add 2 letters to make the city in North Dakota where I will be speaking on March 14!
Hope to see many of you soon in Plymouth or Fargo!
Word Ladder Resources:
Rasinski, T. V. (2005). Daily Word Ladders, Grades 2-4. New York: Scholastic.
Rasinski, T. V. (2005). Daily Word Ladders, Grades 4-6. New York: Scholastic.
Rasinski, T. V. (2008). Daily Word Ladders, Grades 1-2. New York: Scholastic.
Rasinski, T. V. (2012). Daily Word Ladders, Grades K-1: Word Study Activities that Target Key Phonics Skills. New York: Scholastic.