Thursday, November 8, 2012

Survey Says: Engage Your Students with Vocabulary Games

The idea of push in wasn't really a choice for me when I took my first job as a speech language pathologist out of graduate school.  I like to think that the school district that I worked for in Colorado was ahead of the game by using speech therapists as actual "teachers" and co-teachers.  Put it this way--instead of 20 minutes once or twice a week in a cramped speech therapy space--I got to work with the same group of students for two hours per day for five days a week.  That's unreal!  Guess what?  I had to figure out ways to "do speech" for those kids as a whole group.  That experience changed how I work with students in schools today.  Of course you will always have the kids that need individual intensive therapy.  If they need it, then they get it.  Let me also say that many of the kids with speech therapy services in high school have likely had them since elementary school.  With that said, many of them are tired of "going to speech".  

Okay, what's next?  Where do I get my material?  First off, my best resource is the classroom teacher.  Why reinvent the proverbial wheel when the class is already working on something.  I like to call myself a "skill builder".  I come in and supplement what the teacher is already doing--vocabulary, paragraph writing, character maps, and so on.  Ask your classroom teachers for their lists of vocabulary and try to adapt some of these games to fit their needs.

These are my 3 favorite vocabulary games to play with a whole group:
Blurt! is a game that I stumbled upon in an old therapy 
materials closet.  The game cards have brief definitions of words (two per side).  One side is easy and the other is more difficult.  I like the game because it supports what I teach the kids in regards to defining words.  It states the category, descriptors, and examples.  Like most games, you have to adapt it so that the entire class can play.  I usually divide the class into two teams.  Sometimes I play the game with only the cards themselves, but other times I add in curriculum vocabulary directly from the classroom teacher.  I previously talked about how learning vocabulary The Crucible can be (i.e. boring) for students (especially boys, in my case).  When you add a game component, it suddenly becomes fun.  It's a hidden trick.  Don't tell them.  To spice up the look of the game, I make scoreboard on the SMART Board using a real scoreboard (Google Images) from a favorite team (usually the Detroit Tigers for us).  In SMART Notebook, you can search "scoreboard" and import it on top of your picture.

Most people have heard of Scattergories.  This is a fun way to get the entire class involved in another game format. If you remember the official rules, you have about two minutes to come up with one answer for twelve categories in about two minutes (and to add to the difficulty all of the answers have to start with the same letter).  Well, if you know "speech and language" kids like I do, then you know that this task is very difficult.  I throw all rules out the window and make up my own.  The biggest change that I make is taking the time limit away.  I present one category at a time and then walk around the classroom with a pad of sticky notes in my hand to write down words if anyone has difficulty spelling.  If a student needs help, I provide them with the type of prompting required.  I tell the kids that spelling doesn't count, so long as they know what they wrote.  I work with a wide variety of skill levels and some students need more assistance than others.  I've even got students that use communication apps on their iPads.  If I have kids with communication devices, I make sure that I pick words from their vocabulary files.  You can either buy the game and use the cards or you can find just about any list of categories online or in speech therapy language books.  We use copies of the answer form, but you can easily just have the kids number their papers to ten.
Here are the rules in a nutshell:

  1. Write one word for each category.  You want to try and make your answer uniquely different from the other students.
  2. If you have the same answer as someone else, then cross it off.  If you are the only one with the answer, then you circle it and you get a point.
  3. The person with the most points at the end wins!
*You can score each round one at a time at first.  I usually do this for the first couple of categories and then I transition to doing six rounds (i.e. halftime) before we go over the answers.

Family Feud
There are several ways to play Family Feud.  This is most definitely a class favorite.  Believe it or not, there are so many ways to get the game.  Here's how you can get it:

I'd personally suggest one of the online versions to play.  The Powerpoint template is good if you want to personalize it to something specific.  For example, I did one for Huck Finn vocabulary and comprehension questions.  It went well.  It did, however, take me forever to figure it out and make sure that it ran well.  You can probably find templates out there if you look--maybe in SMART Exchange or Boardmaker Share.  The only caveat of playing the game is that you don't know what questions you'll get.  That makes it interesting and also makes you think quick on your feet.  We usually pause the game to give no time limit.  If the computer wins the face off, then we pause and brainstorm all of our possibilities if we get the chance to steal.  I also like Family Feud because many of the questions open up opportunities to solve everyday problems.  Overall, it's a great language game to play with students in lieu of paper and pencil tasks.  

On a side note, you can play the computer version and project it on a SMART Board.  You can also use an iPad and travel around to each student and let them type in the answers (word prediction feature included).  Sometimes I use a document camera to quickly project the screen on the SMART Board.  Get creative.  Think of ways to have the students involved and interactive.

*By the way, I play this game at nursing home facilities too.  They still love Richard Dawson.