Kids will make a competition out of anything. Who can throw the paper ball into the garbage can from the furthest distance? Who can last the longest while only talking in third person? (Hey, at least they were practicing point of view…I’ll take what I can get!) In one of my previous posts about Vocabulary.com, I mentioned that there are a lot of different things I have tried to get my students excited about vocabulary. One of these is a contest based on vocabulary. Knowing my students’ competitive nature, I decided to give it a shot.
What It Is:
I thought about how my kids would answer this and realized they would have three words: It. Is. Hard. WordMasters Challenge is not just a basic vocabulary contest where you need to identify definitions, nor is it a glorified spelling bee where you just spell words. It is a vocabulary contest that uses only analogies, meaning you need to go beyond memorizing definitions – you need to really KNOW the word. Multiple definitions, different endings – these are all fair game for a WordMasters Challenge contest.
When you register your class, you will choose either the Gold or Blue version, with the Gold version being the more difficult. WordMasters Challenge will email you a list of 25 vocabulary terms and you will have roughly one-two months to practice them with your students. (Check out “How I Use It” below for suggestions on practicing).
Click here to check out a notes version I created of the 8th grade Gold list from a few years ago – it will give you an idea of the word difficulty
There are three contests throughout the year, and preceding each contest 25 new words are added to the list. Therefore, by the final contest in May, the students have a list of 75 words that are fair game.
When it comes time for the contest, you will receive an email to download it and make copies for each student. You run the contest in your classroom, giving around 20 minutes total. The contest will be made up of 20 multiple-choice analogy questions, based on the 25 terms. You grade them, then enter the scores online and wait a few weeks to see how your class did against the other classes throughout the country.
Besides the word lists, contests and answer keys, WordMasters Challenge will also send you 10 certificates and one champion medal that you can give to your students at the end of the year.
How I Use It:
During the two years that I have been using WordMasters Challenge, I have made a lot of changes to how I incorporate it into the classroom. When I first signed up, my plan was to use the list of 25 words as my own weekly vocabulary words, give them quizzes each Friday, then give the Contest as a test grade. After seeing the Contest questions, that plan changed. First, I realized that I had not been adequately preparing my students. We hadn’t been focusing on ALL definitions or ALL endings of the word. I immediately saw cases where a word was used in a way I knew my students wouldn’t be familiar with; those questions threw them off completely. Second, as I said earlier – it is hard! The questions were really tough, and if I had used it as a test no student would have earned higher than a C.
Introducing the Words:
Now, I only introduce 5 words per week. I introduce two words on Monday, two on Tuesday, one on Wednesday, review on Thursday (check out a future post on vocab review games) and then quiz on Friday.
Helpful Hint: I’ve found introducing the words in chunks instead of all at once helps students learn them better
I divide the students into groups and assign each group 4- 5 words that they must become experts on. The students work with their group to fill in a graphic organizer I give them for each word. I often give them class time to work on this; I have had issues with not all group members pulling their weight when it’s assigned as homework.
Here is a free download of the graphic organizer I give to the students to complete for each word they are assigned
At the start of class, the Expert Students come up to present their word. Using the SmartBoard and their graphic organizer, they explain all parts of the word. I have tried really hard to get the students to be completely self-sufficient with this, but I often find I need to add in details they miss about different endings or different definitions.
Learning the Words:
One reason I altered the word-introduction process to make it more student-driven is because creating the quizzes has become very time-consuming. I used to have matching definitions and other basic question styles, but realized that this wasn’t preparing my kids to understand analogies. Now, I create my own analogy questions using the vocabulary words, continually adding on to the previous week’s words.
Helpful Hint: I try to plan it so that I finish the weekly quizzes a few weeks before the Contest date so we have some time to continually review all 25 words at once.
Using the Contest:
I decided against using the Contest as a test not only because it was hard, but because I didn’t feel comfortable testing my students using questions I didn’t create or even see in advance. Instead, I do two things with the contest.
- I take it with the students – anyone who beats my score gets a prize
- I assign 1/4 of an extra credit point for every correct answer. If a student gets a perfect score, he or she can earn 5 extra credit points, added to a past vocabulary quiz of his or her choice
I keep track of each student’s total number correct for each of the three contests, and at the end of the year the student with the highest total earns the champion medal.
- Uses higher-level thinking and multi-step processing
- Prepares students for SAT verbal reasoning
- The vocabulary words are chosen for me
- The Contest is easy to give right in your own classroom
- It is hard – it provides a challenge to my students
- Creating the quizzes is time-consuming
- It costs $95 per grade level
- There are no explanations with the answer key for the Contests
- It is hard – my class has never even been close to placing in the national contest
WordMasters Challenge is a great way to challenge my gifted students (and myself!) and while I do plan on using it again this year I am still trying new ways to incorporate it into my classes. I feel like I need to find a better balance of introducing the words and quizzing the words. If your school has the available funds, then I’d suggest trying it out. It is a great way to broaden not only students’ vocabulary, but their thinking.