It’s important to get kids on their feet- and not in the languishing, “let me sit on a desk while I pretend to be standing” kind of footwork, but “I’m rushing to get to the board to show my learning” kind of out of their seats.
How to Play Relay With Vocabulary Words
1. Separate students into four to six different groups.
2. Write the letters A–Z down the left side of four to six sheets of easel paper and hang them around the room (ideally, they should be placed so no group can see another’s sheet).
3. Think of a topic or have the students come up with a topic or theme from what you have been studying lately. Discussing great picture books? Talk about the importance of friendship or individualism. Studying Julius Caesar? Have the class muse on power dynamics or hubris. This game works regardless of grade level or ability!
4. Have your students work in teams of four to five. Instruct them to get our their vocabulary lists or books. Tell them that they will be writing a word or a two- to four-word phrase that relates to the day's topic, and that they must use a vocabulary words as the word or in the phrase.
5. Game time! Students have to go in order from A–Z...and the first group that completes all 26 letters with vocabulary that legitimately relates to the topic of the day, wins a prize or bragging rights.
6. To start, have the students get into their groups and line up single file. Then, when you shout “go,” the first student in each group has to race to his or her group’s paper and fill in the “A” slot with a word or phrase relating to the topic and including a vocabulary word. It may look like:
Topic: The need for individualism
Group 1’s board: A-Apathy is the opposite Group 2’s board: A-Antagonist to society Group 3’s board A-Annie is a renegade
Topic: The importance of friendship
Group 1’s board: A-Alex is sympathetic Group 2’s board: A-Admirable kindness Group 3’s board: A- Approval
7. As soon as the first student in each group is finished, she or he races back to the next student in line, who has to fill out the “B” slot. Therefore, while students are waiting in line, they know which letter is theirs and can start speculating on what to write. You can determine if they can ask their teammates for help or if the whole exercise remains silent (I would remind them that talking could tip off the other team). Have students compete to get through all 26 letters, but do not let any team give up if another team finishes first–not all of their answers may not be legitimate!
8. In order to determine a winner, have students sit down, then hold up the fastest team's paper while a team representative reads off their answers in order. If the class votes down an answer, the next fastest team comes up to read their answers and so on until a winner can be determined.
Individuals or Small Groups
However, some days are not good for such revelry, or you may have a few students who refuse to play. Alternatively, these students or your class could complete this game by themselves or with a partner (or two) at their desks, using the vocabulary worksheet I created. Perhaps try the game both ways and see which way your students prefer for learning vocabulary and discussing themes.
Overall, I really enjoy this way to teach vocabulary because it provides vocabulary instruction indirectly through play. Hopefully, this can be a great vocabulary resource for you, because regardless of how your play, students are forced to process the topic or theme you are studying more fully, learn vocabulary and generate writing in a different atmosphere. Enjoy!
Note: For this week’s game, I modified a game I learned when I attended the NCTE 2011 presentation entitled “Drama, Power, Play: No-tech Engagement Strategies…” presented by Jennifer Onopa and Jason Zanitsch. Thanks for the initial idea!
Second Note: I do also have an alternative playing strategy where students complete this activity in desks as individuals or in small groups, so keep reading everyone!