Word Play: 6 ideas for where Curiosity meets Creativity through Language

No matter what language you are learning or teaching- kids and adults LOVE gaming. And while we are currently experiencing a pandemic and most of the globe is locked in, screen time seems to be on a permanent ‘locked on’ mode, full time- whether it be schooling, Duolingo, Netflix, or even real video gaming. So can we practice language creatively off line?

I’ve been wanting to put this list together for a while now, and I have to give credit to several other WL teachers I’ve either taught with (Mrs. Rigby!!) or attended workshops led by- Luis Edoardo Torres and Diego Ojeda and gotten many more ideas and resources. Some common inspirations for many of the following ideas come from various writers such as the Italian Gianni Rodari whose book The Grammar of Fantasy: The Art of Inventing Stories English translation will be available next year(pre order now!), but whose editions can be found in Spanish and Italian for now, Juan Vicente Piqueras’s “Yo que tu”, available in Spanish and French, “Travel around the world without the letter A” and of course all of everyone’s favourite writers for their rich use of language whether it be for imagery, poetry, prose, or content. Getting our young writers and language learners curious enough to play with language is just one small but fundamental step in developing creative linguistic minds.

  1. Creating your own Crossword puzzle using a specific set of target words. This set could be whatever the focus is for the time being- body parts, foods, geography (countries and/or capitals), chapter vocab, you name it. Once students have had an opportunity to study the words after their introduction and practice, they can then quiz/game with each other. I’ve often used this as a sub activity. Step 1– Using a piece of graph paper, students write the target words (anywhere from 10-20) in the target language filling in the spaces of the graph paper randomly, vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. Step 2 -on the back- they number the same words, but written in English (or whatever the native language is). Step 3 fill in the remaining spaces in the graph with random letters of the target language alphabet. Step 4 Once they’ve completed this, at the top- they should fill this sentence starter out: Created by__________ Solved by______________. Step 5 – Switch papers with a partner and 2nd person solves. They can solve it using a highlighter, or circling, as they would with any other crossword puzzle. To adapt this to higher levels, students could write the definitions on the back, either in English or in the target language, that way avoiding translations all together. This could also be used as a great review activity– assign different topics to different students, and using a choice board, students have to solve 3-4 different topics to review for the exam, etc. Great way to review vocabulary!

2. Categorize! While growing up and spending my summers in Greece, my cousins wanted to work on their English, and me on my Greek. A favourite game we played to do this, (at least we believed at the time) was this category game for language, which I discovered later that someone created a version of this commercially already! If you don’t have the official game of scategories, do what we did. Get out an old fashioned piece of paper and a pencil. Separate the top horizontal row into as many columns of categories the students have been exposed to. The more the better to make it challenging. So for example: places, countries, cities, foods, adjectives, parts of body, animals, pastimes, clothing, proper names, etc. You can get as advanced as you can, depending on the level. Now, along the left part going down on each line, you will write the letter. Take turns choosing the letter (from a box/hat to be fair). Once a letter has been chosen, have a timer, and each person has 1 minute to fill in as many categories as possible with a word starting with that letter. Then go back over the answers, and who ever has more correct entries, wins for that round. It is helpful to have a dictionary handy for this one to validate any suspicious inventions:)

3. Tonge twisters! Speaking of inventions, another great way to improve pronunciation and articulation of any language is by way of tongue twisters. It helps to show students examples of such. Again, pick a letter, or pair of letters out of a hat, give an appropriate amount of time (1-2 mins) and do a Think, Pair, Share. Have them illustrate the most successful ones, post on your LMS if you are virtual, on the wall in your classroom, or on the refrigerator if you’re at home:)

English? Betty beat a bit of butter to make a better batter.

Spanish? C? Co? Paco come poco coco como poco coco compró.

4. Poetic Word pyramid. This could be a pyramid or a mountain- I leave that up to you.

Number 1-10 going down and write a short poem or long sentence. Each number represents the number of letters in the word. These of course can be done virtually or not. After a round of think, pair, share- add them together to see if they could make fora creative story! Illustrate and display:) So for example:

English: Spanish

  1. a 1. Y

2. no 2. te

3. man 3. vi

4. land 4. unas

5 . in the 5. cosas

6. desert 6. cortas

7. smoking 7. amables

8. waltzing 8. cantando

9. luxurious 9. canciones

10. cigarettes 10. increíbles

5. Free word association. In groups of 3-4, each “A” student is given the same word. The next student “B”, adds a word that is associated with that word, but not necessarily in the same category. Students “C” and “D” add on. After a few rounds of this, with 10 words total (or 12 depending on your group) – compare what you came up with to see the different, yet similar linguistic and content connections.

For example:

  1. Tennis

2. net

3. fishing

4. sea

5. Nemo

6. fish

7. beach

8. Greece

9. Zorba. Would you ever think that Tennis would have a relationship to Zorba the Greek? Have students explain how they got there- either in class orally, virtually Flipgrid, or as a writing assignment. Or, take it a step further, and have them create a short story using those words.

6. Tell a story. Rather than give kids a prompt- give them a list of words. I happen to keep a list of the random words that pop up in class, for each class, using Quizlet. I label each month of words like: Pd 1 extra vocab for March. As students ask in class “how do you say___” or I notice their use of new words in assignments, or I know there are some new words from a particular reading/task- I add those words to the monthly list. At the end of the month, as a way of studying those words for a quiz, they use the ‘glossary’ section of our LMS, and create a sentence with each word- after dividing the total words up among the class. But some of the most creative pieces of writing I get are from telling them to write a story using those same words. The list could have anywhere from 15 to 50 words depending on the month. Using glogster, storyboard, or just plain paper, they imagine some kind of storyline with this random set of words. They tend to get more motivated for this one, since they are the ones that chose this set of words- it didn’t come form a textbook, workbook or me. They created and built it. Great way to build and practice their vocabulary through their own curiosity and use of language. Again this could also be done in groups, and illustrated.

So many more ideas out there, and I will definitely be adding on a Part 2 at some point. If you try any of these out, I would love to hear any feedback and success stories.

If you are not part of our Cultivating Curiosity in the WL FB group, please join! Lots of other great ideas for how to inspire inquiry in the WL classroom.

Stay safe and curious with language:)

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