Inevitably, as you get to know your students at the beginning of a new school year, you also begin to think of new activities and variations on existing lessons that honor their personalities and learning styles. I know I did. I was full of ideas. What bothered me, though, was that when I was a new teacher, I often didn’t know how those ideas would pan out. On top of that, I had heard that teaching a lesson doesn’t become natural until you have done it five times. Understandably, I found this frustrating, until I found my secret weapon.
My secret weapon was named Maggie, and she had the classroom next door to mine. After school, I would visit Maggie and expound on the mysterious nature of the pre-teen. Maggie would sympathize, and then magically, a new color-coded graphic organizer or a vocabulary game would appear in her hands. “It works great with my English learners!” or “My kids love it!” she’d proclaim. I’d seen her students’ shiny faces smiling up at her enough to know that anything Maggie gave me would be a winner.
Maggie continued to be my secret weapon all through my first year teaching. Here is one of the vocabulary games Maggie taught me:
Fly Swatter Vocabulary: This game will be most successful if you wait to begin playing it until your class is comfortable with the class norms and boundaries. You will need four unused fly swatters. You will also need a list of eight to ten vocabulary words that your students are studying. In class, have your students come up with sentences using the words, then send them home with the list of words and their definitions to study for the next day. Let them know there will be a fun game using the words. Print out four to five copies of each vocabulary word in a large font size, cut them up (one word per piece of paper), mix up the words, and staple them all over the walls.
When you are ready to play the game, have your students move their desks to the middle of the room and get into four large groups, one in each corner of the room. These are their teams. Depending on your class size, each team (a quarter of your class) could consist of five to ten (or more) team members. Each team has the same goal: to be the first to find the given vocabulary word on the wall, give a correct definition, and give a sentence using the word correctly. You may decide to separate some students out to become your judging panel. These students must be impartial and must know the words well (or have notes to refer to). Once you have done that, have the students in each of the four teams count off, so each team has a #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, and so on. Give each #1 a fly swatter, then call out a vocabulary word. Now, you will have four students (your #1s) roaming around the walls as they search for the word. It shouldn’t take them long to find it since you have about five of each word up. Have your judging panel help you keep track of who hits the correct word first. That person’s team will then have the chance to try to come up with a good definition and sentence. Here’s the tricky part, though; it is the team’s #2 who needs to give the definition and the team’s #3 who needs to come up with a sentence. If your judges decide that the definition and sentence are good, everyone on the winning team gets a prize or points toward a prize. Then you start over, with the #2s swatting, the #3s giving definitions, and the #4s giving sentences. If time permits, keep playing until every student has had a turn with each role.
One great thing about this game is that students become invested in each other’s learning. Since your students don’t know what number they will be or what word you will call first, this means that every person on the team needs to know the words in order to win. To encourage this, you may decide to give each group five minutes to study vocabulary together every day for a few days before playing the game. This game can also be modified for different content. It can be used to teach vocabulary in any content area, and can also be used to teach word roots and affixes.