Pandemonium With Purpose: Teaching Vocabulary and My Secret Weapon

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.

3 thoughts on “Pandemonium With Purpose: Teaching Vocabulary and My Secret Weapon”

  1. stephanie

    This is a warning to any teachers using the Daily Warmups reading book for Second Grade….I am a parent and I just read the “Babe Ruth” biography worksheet from this book, which my 8 year old daughter completed and has at home (she has not yet turned it in). This biography contains the following sentences, describing Babe Ruth:

    “His mother and father did not want him, so they sent him away. His father put him in a home with other children – an orphanage. No one wanted any of them.”

    The first question of the three multiple choice questions that follows this little story is the following:

    1. What is the name of a home that takes children that no one wants? (the correct answer is of course, “an orphanage.”)

    The second question of the multiple choice asks:

    2. From this passage, we can guess that…..
    a. Babe was a bad boy
    b. the thing that Babe did best was play baseball.

    This is incredibly shocking that this kind of information would be allowed to be published in teaching materials for children. My child is adopted and spent almost 2 years in an orphanage in a third world country. Her experience there was decent. Her birth mother wanted her very much! It was just that she had to decide if her child should survive, eat, drink clean water, possibly go to school, get medical care, etc…and so she placed her in an orphanage. Most of these mothers would like to keep their children. Many of these childrens’ parents are dead.

    I have shared this with other adoptive mothers on groups that I belong to and they are livid and shocked. Children with orphanage pasts and abandonment issues could be very emotionally damaged by reading this kind of thing in their schoolwork, as they are supposed to trust that what they read and learn in school is fact and truth. Not to mention that this is not the info we want to impart to our non-adopted children who will then have this view of their adopted classmates.

    I am leaving this comment as a warning to all teachers or parents reading this, to PULL THIS STORY from the Daily Warmups book. I would also screen all other stories from these books, as I notice they contain a lot of biographies and historical information. It is my hope that will send out a notice to all customers who have purchased this book and tell them to pull and trash this Babe Ruth story. I assume it will be IMMEDIATELY recalled and rewritten. I hope to see this notice go out on their facebook page as well.

    Thank you

  2. Ina Levin

    Thank you for your comment. We certainly never want to offend or upset anyone. The page has been fixed.

  3. Kaylee's Education Studio

    This is a great activity. I’ve seen a variation of this game wher students where told a word and then had to fly swat which part of speech it was. (i.e. noun, pronoun, adjective, etc. .)

    I liked your version because you get more students involved with each word.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>