Students, especially those in the sixth grade, love games. Games work particularly well in language arts for learning new vocabulary, word definitions, identifying words that sound alike but have different meanings (homonyms), and learning about affixes and prefixes, word beginning and endings. Teaching students to expand their vocabularies across all content areas through game play is one sure way to get them to remember and apply helpful language arts strategies.

Guess a Definition

Similar to the game Balderdash, in this game students guess correct definitions of new vocabulary word. The object is to try into distinguish correct definitions from those made up. Only the teacher knows the correct definition, and she passes them out as each word is presented. Students who voted for the correct definition receive a point. Playing the game in teams allows students to work collaboratively and apply strategies for determining a word's meaning, such as discussing the root or a prefix,or comparing it to known similar words. Teachers can establish a ceiling for points, or points can be accrued over time allowing teams to continue to develop their vocabulary skills. Teams with the most points win.

Homonym Games

Math and science often have words that are spelled or sound the same, but have different meanings, such as "cite" and "sight" or "die" and "dye." Students can play a board game to learn these homonyms. Write words down on index cards or on card stock with one word on one side and the definition on the other. Place a number from one to 25 or however many spaces are on the board game. Write the corresponding homonym and definition on a separate card. Mix all word cards together and homonym definition cards together, keeping the two groups separate. Hand out the word cards randomly. Keep homonym words and definitions in a separate pile. Students pick from the word/definition pile, and then pick from the homonym pile. If the matching homonym is picked, they advance the number of spaces indicated by the number on the corner of the card. If not, they keep the cards drawn and can use them to match up to future cards drawn as needed. Students who reach the end first or who scored the most points as indicated by numbers on the card win.

Affixes and Roots

Using roots of words such as "graph" or "dis" or "in" or "im" students create words that use these roots while competing for points. After creating cards with roots written on them, hand out groups of them to students in teams. Use whole word counterparts such as "impose" and "suppose" and "indent" and "disturb." They may use dictionaries and thesaurus while they work. Later, students can expand them to create paragraphs. They can also be instructed to write them specific to certain content areas, like history, science, or math. Students win points for words created.

Sentence Surgery

Students work in teams to repair broken paragraphs with broken sentences. Once they "perform surgery" on a paragraph and fix it, they must give it a lifelong list of healthy things to do and unhealthy things to avoid. Examples: "Never go near possessive nouns without an apostrophe," and, "Check spelling every time you revise." While there are no points competed for, students might vote on winning categories, such as most creative, or least recovery needed, or the most promising for future revision.

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About the Author

Writing since 1984, Susan Deschel just published "Peer Coaching for Adolescent Writers" through Corwin Press, a handbook for teachers. Deschel has a bachelor's degree in creative writing, master's in education, and is currently working on her doctorate in curriculum and instruction. She writes in other genres, including fiction and poetry.