This week has been a whirlwind and I think I just need to reflect on all that happened. I have an amazing school librarian. He is more than just a source for books. He is thoughtful, sarcastic and his heart is in the right place- with the students. He and I were chatting a few weeks ago about classroom expectations and assessments and I told him about one of my middle school teachers who used to do vocabulary study with Scrabble. We would draw teams and tiles and he would give us a few days to plot on the words we could make and how we were going to approach strategy for the game. I remember it as a highlight of my 7th grade year, along with Capture the Flag for and Debate. He was just an amazing teacher who did PBL before it was PBL. As Page, my librarian- ironic but actually his name, and I were reminiscing, I thought about how I could bring that Scrabble idea into my classroom and what the results would be. Page is a crossword puzzle lover so we plotted a day for Scrabble tourney and Crossword Puzzle Race. There would be vocabulary, trivia, team-building and competition- all great things for today’s classroom.
On Monday, I announced the game day and allowed students to form their teams. The competition that ensued for certain members of the class who read a lot and have good vocabularies was hilarious. We even got to the point in one class where a student who was hotly sought after told me the team he would be on privately so we could do a surprise reveal on Game Day. When Wednesday arrived, I even had a student come to my room with dictionary in hand before school. She had been studying it the night before- you can’t pay for this kind of engagement! Before class started, Page and I explained the rules of Scrabble and drew numbers for turn order. The teams then put their heads together to come up with team names. We had the Winter Wordsmiths, the Cocklydoodledoos, Team Buddy, the Scramblin’ Scrabblers, Team Panda and many more. The energy in my room was electric. The teams played their first round of words and you could see each team strategizing based on the board. They would walk up to the table and then run back to their teams to confer about their next moves. We even had some word challenges! As the letters dwindled, the competition rose. Students were jumping up and down in celebration as they finished their letters, crowd-surfing- or as much as you can do that in a classroom- as they won challenges and talking smack to each other as the point totals edged closer. Page and I laughed the entire time! It was one of the single-most fun activities I have ever run in my classroom. There were many requests for a repeat next nine weeks! We ran out of time for the Crossword Race so next time I will structure it so there is a time limit for each team as they place words. I could see this working with vocabulary lists for novels, history units, science units etc. It would take a little more structuring as far as letter drawing, but it could be done and the team-building/collaboration skills the students gain would make the extra work worth it. As a bonus, activities like this would be a good mini-lesson for the type of teamwork necessary for the 20 Time projects my students participate in.
Wednesday was a big day. In addition to the rousing Scrabble tournament, students also turned in their Operation Beautiful projects. I asked students to commit a random act of kindness that would brighten someone’s day between Thanksgiving and December holidays. Their only restriction was they had to document it in some way to show myself and their classmates. The activities they chose were just amazing. Many stayed with the post-it note idea but put them in unique spots, while others baked and still others “Paid it Forward” at a local McDonalds. Below is some of their “evidence” they submitted. The results of this assignment reinforced for me the importance of incorporating character-building and humanity into curriculum. We aren’t just teaching students; we are teaching human beings. Enjoy!