Friday, January 22, 2016

Teacher uses Improv Drama Games to Teach Vocabulary

Here is a great idea from a teacher in my Drama Games class at

Using New Vocabulary Words Can Be Fun

One of the subjects that my students struggle with is learning new vocabulary intentionally. We have a list of twelve words every two weeks that the students are given. We work on various projects throughout the two weeks until they have a test on those words to conclude that lesson. There are cumulative tests, quarterly, on the words. The students seem to take in stride that vocabulary is major part of our studies, but many students do not exert any energy at home on learning the new words, so they fail the vocabulary tests. Hearing and using a new word multiple times and in multiple settings at school, will help them to learn it.

When they first hear or see the new word, it is way outside the bullseye mark of them being able to “own” that word and use it correctly. After lots of experience with the word, they can confidently have it be part of their working vocabulary. I personally am passionate about increasing students’ working vocabularies. I am always surprised and simultaneously appalled at the limited vocabulary of my eighth graders. Frequently I am explaining a pun or a situation ina story, because they don’t understand some of the key words. High interest and low stress situations, intuitively, will give better learning results; so I try to include interesting projects and games using the words during the week to help them with their “acquisition experience”. Flashcards do work well for recognition in multiple choice situations of the meaning of a word, but not for practical use of the word and the understanding of
a word’s nuance. Here is where using games can increase their understanding of a word’s meaning.

In the book 175 Theatre Games there are two similar games named
Rumor (game #9) and Gossip (game #86). Last week I tried these games to help the students with initial use of the new words. I put each of the twelve words on their own card, with a sentence on the back of the card that contained that word. I put the class into four groups by playing the “Clumping” game (#50) and eventually calling out “eight” so we would have even groups. Each group “performed” while the other groups watched. We did it this way the first time so that they could learn the game.

The students were really excited to watch the groups and see how the sentences turned out. Truly, this was a game of “telephone”. The first student whispered the sentence the second student and so on. I had the card with the sentence on it on the overhead screen so that the other groups could see what the sentence was supposed to be.

In this way the students all saw the sentence, and one group practiced it. They enjoyed playing this game of telephone. Out of twelve tries, only one group got one sentence exact. Their prize was to leave for lunch three minutes early. The students wanted to play longer (this took twenty minutes) so I know that they will want to play this game again. The watching groups were fascinated by the performing group. They also were very aware of the sentence that was supposed to be uttered at the end of the line, as they were looking intently at the sentence of the screen and watching the faces of the
participants in the telephone “line”. I will probably put them in groups of six next time to make the game easier for them to repeat the sentence exactly.

There are two other story telling games from the book 175 Theatre Games
that I think the kids would enjoy while experimenting with using the new vocabulary words. Students often don’t use new words in a correct grammatical context, but if they were telling a group story where they each had a few lines, it would be fun practice where the intended meanings would be close to the definition. Even though it may take a lot of practice and usage to be spot on with the correct form of the word or placement grammatically in a sentence, they could be getting more familiar and comfortable with the use of the new vocabulary words. The game “A Story to Tell” (game #65) would be a quick “sponge” activity to use for a specific word list, or even as a cumulative review of vocabulary lessons. The essence of the game is that each student has ten seconds to weave the word that is given to them in a cohesive, coherent improvisational story that the group attempts to tell. The game says to use a kitchen timer for the ten seconds each student has, but I think I would assign one of my level 4 ELL students to keep time and ring the bell every ten seconds. I would hand out flashcards that have a list word on them (instead of whispering it in their ear) and the definition would be on the back of the card to save any horrid misuse of the word, which would defeat the purpose of using the word correctly in context. Instead of a circle, I would have the students in a line in order to help them to be more linear with the story. Also, that way the student who didn’t use their word in the story within the ten seconds, would have to go to the end of the story line to get another chance to insert their word into the story. I think standing in a line would also help with projection, so the audience could hear them better.

The audience would be listening to the story as a review, or reinforcement, of the meanings of the words in context. A similar game from the same book is
“The Story” (game #76). This game does not have a timer involved. The students are given a vocabulary flash card each, and then they would naturally take their turn at weaving their word into the story. I would have them touch the shoulder of the one next to them when they are ready to relinquish their turn. (I may have to have a thirty second rule though.) We could have two stories at the same time going on in the room,
but I think that listening to the story is half the fun and most of the learning;
so two groups would be distracting when trying to focus on their own group.
When students in another group are laughing at something, it would be hard to focus because the grass is always greener on the other side.

Using games to practice vocabulary is a fun way to use the word in multiple contexts and to get in more “repetitions” of the word, so that each time the student is closer to “owning” that new vocabulary word in their own personal lexicon.

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