Tag Archives: games

The Vocab Games: Flyswatter

All you need to play this fun game is two flyswatters, a whiteboard, whiteboard markers, and a vocabulary list.  I first observed this game in a colleague’s Spanish class, and it remains a favorite for world language teachers.  However, excitement about it has spread, and I now know science and CTE teachers who also regularly play it.


The game is simple.

Write a series of words that your class has been studying on different spots on your whiteboard.  If you have a BenQ , Smartboard, or projector you could also project them from a computer file (such as PowerPoint or Word).

Divide your class into two large teams. Have one representative from each team come to the front with a flyswatter.

Provide an example, definition, or clue for one of the vocabulary words.  Once students determine the word, they slap it with the flyswatter. Whoever’s flyswatter lands on the word first scores a point for his or her team.  The defeated player leaves, and the “winner” selects a new challenger from the opposing team.

This routine goes on until all words have been discussed or until a pre-designated score has been reached.

This is a video of Flyswatter that a teacher has posted on YouTube. 

At first, I thought that many students would not been engaged during this game, since only two players are doing the actual swatting. However, I’ve noticed that students really enjoy watching their peers play, seeing whether or not they know the words, and anticipating of when they might be called and what word they will be asked to determine.

I have only used a Flyswatter a couple of times, but, as I said, many of my colleagues love it.  Have you used Flyswatter before? Would you do it again? What do you do differently from what I described in this post? Please share your expertise in the comments.

The Vocab Games: Jeff Ertzberger’s PowerPoint Games

A great vocabulary game resource that I revisit is Jeff Ertzberger’s PowerPoint games site. Jeff Ertzberger serves as the Director of Technology for UNC-Wilmington’s Watson College of Education.  Ertzberger’s site also features game boards that he has created with Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel.  It has visual timers too.  You should definitely check it out because you will be sure to find something you can use!

Here are some students favorites:

Big Wheel


Big Wheel features a wheel that the teacher or a student clicks to spin.  There are several point values on each wedge of the wheel (think Wheel of Fortune).  There is also a space on the screen to record points for up to eight teams.  It is easy for the teacher to say a definition or example, and then allow a team to come up with the correct vocabulary term. When correct, the wheel is spun for points.  There is one caveat. The wheel always chooses point values in the same order each time you play, so I suggest rapidly clicking several times to randomize the point values.

The Racing Games

car_racev2aThere are two racing games that Dr. Ertzberger has developed. One features a car race (Beach Rally), and the other is a horse race.  The teacher can divide the class into teams.  Each time a team responds correctly, the teacher can have their car/horse advance forward.  When the car or horse crosses the finish line, a team wins!

Sunken Treasure

sunkentreasurev2Many teachers say that Sunken Treasure is their students’ favorite game.  After student teams identify a term, they can choose a number between 1 and 36 on the game board grid.  Under one of the squares is the sunken treasure.  When it is found, the game ends. There are ten versions of boards to choose from, so the treasure can always be in a different spot.

Although many people may consider PowerPoint “old-school” technology, these games demonstrate innovative ways that PowerPoints can be designed to engage students.  Have you used PowerPoint in a particularly interesting way with students? Do you know of any other sites where PowerPoint Games can be found?  Please share resources and ideas in the comments.

Word Study Uno has been a favorite for reinforcing word study for spelling or morphology (roots, prefixes, and suffixes) knowledge.  Word Study Uno is just one of many fun word study activities in the book Words Their Way by Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, and Johnston.

In the traditional game of Uno, players match numbers or colors to the top card on an incrementally increasing stack.  Once a player lays down all of his or her cards, the game is over.  The first player to lie down all of his or her cards wins.  In addition, there are special cards that make players draw additional cards (Draw Twos), lose turns (Skips), and change the color of the cards to be matched (Wild Cards).


Instead of matching by color or number as in traditional Uno, students match cards by either spelling patterns or morphological structures in Word Study Uno.   Traditional special cards like Skips, Draw Twos, and Wild Cards are integrated into the game as well.

To introduce the game, I ask students if they have ever played Uno before to determine their prior knowledge of the game. I often ask students who have played before to share their understandings of the rules with those who haven’t, offering  clarifications as needed.

The example photos I am including are from a Word Study Uno game used with students who struggled with short and long a spelling patterns.  Some of the words are different from words the students had studied in order for me to assess whether they could transfer spelling pattern knowledge.

Short a CVC


Long a CVCe (Please forgive this one’s “sidewaysness.” I can’t seem to get it oriented correctly!)

Long a CVVC

Other Cards

Students enjoy playing the Word Study Uno game. During this particular game, I asked the students to say the words aloud when they laid them on the table. Students were tentative about this in the beginning. I repeatedly asked them to pronounce the words, and I modeled saying the words as I laid down my cards. Students’ confidence increased, since they began to see that they would be able to pronounce the words correctly based upon the spelling patterns. For instance, bath and bathe made students a bit nervous, but as we discussed that the silent e denoted a long a sound, they tackled other unknown words successfully.

The same process can be used for roots, prefixes, and suffixes as well.  However, one potential morpheme learning activity is building words with cards. My friend and colleague, high school literacy coach Kathy Bonyun (@kathybonyun), developed a game called OPA! (Greek and Latin roots, get it?)  Students must build words from their hands (a little like Scrabble), but they must also lay down prefixes, roots, and suffixes on previously built words to create new words.  The student who is the first to lay down all of his or her cards wins (sort of like Uno).  You can easily create your own hybrid game such as this, or you can pick up a set that Kathy created from her Teachers Pay Teacher site.


Are there card games that use to build students’ word knowledge?  What has worked for your students? What didn’t work?

The Vocab Games: Talk a Mile a Minute/The Pyramid Game

This is the first entry in The Vocab Games! series of blog posts.  New posts will be added every Wednesday throughout the spring.

Talk a Mile a Minute

One of the most effective and engaging vocabulary review games I have used with students is called “Talk a Mile a Minute.”  It is incredibly easy to implement. Here is how it works.

1.  Post a list of vocabulary words from one of your units of study where all of your students can see it.  If you have implemented content vocabulary word walls in your class, you can play Talk a Mile a Minute at any time.  It also makes a great “sponge” activity when you finish a lesson a few minutes early.  Below are two examples of word walls from teachers I work with: one in math and one in chorus


IMG_07592.  Next, ask students to stand, and group themselves into pairs.  One student will face the words (the clue-giver); the other student will face away from the words (the guesser).

3.  The clue-giver will choose a word from the list and give the guesser clues about the word.  Students cannot use the word in their clues.  Based upon experience, I have also added these two “no-no’s”: (1) you cannot give a clue like, “It’s the second word on the list”; or (2) you cannot give a clue such as “It rhymes with motosynthesis.”  Students will find creative ways to have their partners guess the words, but we want the strategies to be content-oriented.

4.  When a the guesser has correctly identified all of the words, the students will switch roles.  With large classes, I ask students to high five when they switch to give me a visual and auditory clue of their progress.  I circulate around the room to help students who are struggling.

5.  Once both players have correctly identified all of the words, they sit down to give me a visual cue that they have finished.  I keep a mental note of the first three or four pairs who sit down.

6.  Once all teams have had an opportunity to identify the words, I call the first team that sat down to come to the front of the room and explain the meanings of each word.  I then ask the class to determine whether the pair really know the meanings of all the words.  This serves two purposes: (1) additional exposures to the words and (2) a system to keep students honest about their word knowledge.  If the first group cannot correctly define the terms, the second group has an opportunity, and then so on until the class is satisfied that a team knows all of the word meanings.

The Pyramid Game

The Pyramid Game is another name for this same game. Some teachers use this title as a reference to the old game show The $25,000 Pyramid which uses a similar format. A social studies teacher I work with always shows a clip from the show on YouTube when first teaching the game to students.

An Episode of The $25,000 Pyramid


Some teachers have students play in teams of four with two students giving clues and two students guessing.  Other teachers prefer using PowerPoint slides to display words rather than use word walls or whiteboards.  They may use the fly-ins feature on PowerPoint to control the pace of the game.

Your Turn:

Have you used this game before? How effective was it for helping your students learn new terms?  What variations have you tried? What issues did you have?  Please comment below to extend the conversation.