Technology Tip of the Month
July 2000: Vocabulary Games
by Deborah Healey
The Tech Tip this month is an expansion of the
February, 2000 Tech Tip: Approaches to Teaching Vocabulary.
This Tip will focus on some of the many freeware and shareware vocabulary
games that are available,
where to find them, and how to make use of them in the classroom.
As has often been said, there are a few general truths about software
including language teaching:
- A lot is available for free or cheap.
- There is generally a tradeoff between software that is cheap to buy
and the teacher time and
expertise required to make good use of it.
- You usually get what you pay for, either in money or in time.
The real payoff in using software in language teaching comes not in
the time and money saved (there
isn't much, if any), but in the expanded possibilities for teaching and
learning. Something that
catches the mind and imagination of learners--keeping them focused and on
is going to be more effective than something that causes their eyes and
minds to close down.
Games are high in "fun factor." When they're also high in language
learning potential, it's a winning
Here are a few suggestions for freeware and shareware vocabulary games
that have good English language
learning potential. The games are for Windows unless otherwise specified.
The DOS-style filename is given in
parentheses after Windows games.
"Boggle"-type games, where learners are given a grid of letters
and asked to create words from
letters that touch each other. Examples are
(Macintosh): A classic
Boggle-type game. The LDict file has to be in the System folder for this
to work right.
(NDLSETUP.EXE): Build the board
one letter at a time, then try to create words from the letters.
Compete against the computer.
Hangman-type games, where learners must guess the letters in a
blanked-out word within a limited
number of guesses. Examples are legion, and include
Hangman Plus (Macintosh):
Use one of the categories or create a word list.
This is in the CELIA archives of freeware and shareware for language learning.
Alphabet Game Show (Macintosh): Players compete by betting points when they guess letters.
Hang2000 (HANG2000): By the same
author as Hangman Plus.
Word search-type games, where learners must find hidden words in a grid of seemingly random letters.
Weekly Speller (WSPELL.ZIP): This includes word search,
word scramble, and fill-in activities from a word list that can be customized.
(WRDSERCH.ZIP): Use the 50 previously-created puzzles or create your own.
Scrambled word or phrase-type games, where learners need to unscramble letters to create words.
Lembracs (Macintosh): A
scrambled word game.
Word Scramble (Macintosh):
Scrambled words in eight different categories, and learners can create a custom list.
Jumble (JUMBLE.EXE): A
scrambled word game.
Wheel of Fortune (SPIN52.EXE) -
or the Macintosh version:
Spin to see how much money you'll win if you guess the right word - and the phrase.
Wurzgez (WURZ40.ZIP): This is a mixture
of Hangman and Wheel of Fortune, where learners try to guess words and phrases. More can be added.
"Scrabble"-type games, where learners get a certain number of
letters and try to create
words from them. Examples are
(LITLIT11.ZIP): one to four
players can play, and the computer can act as one of the players. This is
in the CELIA archives of
freeware and shareware for language learning.
"Tetris"-style games, where learners have to arrange letters as
they fall to create words. Examples are
Wordtris (Macintosh -demo): Put letters into words as they fall.
Alphabet Tree (ALPHABET.EXE): Catch the falling leaves to
Lettris (LETTRIS.ZIP): Put letters into words as they fall.
Spell It (SPELLIT.ZIP): This version
of the game shows the player the word first, then drops letters from the top that need to be arranged
in the right order.
Fill-in-the-blank-type games, where learners try to achieve a goal by filling in the
most words. Examples are
Wacko: This lets learners
choose adjectives, nouns, and verbs to create stories in a "Mad Libs"
style. Learners can also make
their own stories, but it is a bit complicated.
Word Games at
Camelot (WGC.ZIP): This has an
adventure game component, where learners need to solve word puzzles to
become a knight at the Round Table.
(LG31NOVB): This combines word games and bingo. It can be played
against another learner or against the computer.
(WWRDS.EXE): Switch one letter at
a time to change one word into another, as in "sink" to "swim" or "black"
Hot Potatoes (Macintosh
and Windows): This creates
gap-fills, crossword puzzles, and multiple-choice quizzes for use with a
Web browser, such as Netscape
or Internet Explorer.
Review (Macintosh): A flash card review program.
Search 2.6 (Macintosh): Creates word search puzzles.
(AUPAIR.ZIP): A matching program
that works with anything in a question and answer format.
The Dictator (DICTAT30.ZIP): Multimedia flash card creator, including
graphics and sound recording possibilities.
N'Bingo (A2ZF3211.ZIP): Create flash cards
or a bingo game.
Vocabulizer (VOCABLIZ.ZIP): Add words to be tested on,
Games are well and good, but games without teacher-set goals are too
often babysitters and eye-candy,
designed to keep users occupied rather than to help them learn. I'd like
to suggest some basic
principles for use of all software, and especially games:
- Tell learners how this activity related to the rest of their language
learning. In a fully self-directed environment,
the activity should connect to a plan for language acquisition that
learners have accepted. Without the
connection to a learning plan inside or outside the classroom, games are
just for fun and any learning that occurs is strictly luck.
- Establish a plan for competition or collaboration with any game.
Learners will spend more time and
more productive time if they are working with or against someone else.
The choice of competition or
collaboration should be based on learning style and personality type of
the learners involved.
- Expand the learning beyond the computer time. Ask learners to bring
something back to the
classroom or to a group. They can share new words they learned, new
sentences, or even a new game
they've created. This provides a review and forces a certain amount of
brain function during the game.
This is especially important for fast-paced and arcade-style games.
- Feed learner creativity. Have them use game templates and make their
own games to share with the
class. Their use of language may not be perfect, but they'll hear about
it from their classmates if,
for example, they misspell a word in Hangman and no one can guess what it is.
Sample Lesson Plans
Here is a sample lesson plan based on a Boggle-type game:
Here is a sample lesson plan based on having students create their own
- Preparation off the computer: Draw a grid on the board and have
students find words. Show that the
letters need to be next to each other, but that they can go forward,
backward, or diagonally.
- On-computer task: Have students work with a partner to find words.
With advanced students, one can spell the words
while the other types. Encourage them to guess combinations of letters
that may be words in English. If any of your
guesses are right (they are really words), have students write them down
to look them up later.
They should also write down the longest
words they were able to make and the final score when they are finished
playing the game.
- In-class task: Learners can share their words with the rest of the
class. For advanced students,
they should create sentences
with the long words and the new words.
- Preparation off the computer: Ask students to think about a theme for
their flash cards. If using
audio recording or graphics, have microphones and clip art handy.
- On-computer task: Have learners work with a partner to create flash
cards related to the theme
they have chosen. They should then try out the flashcards they created,
then try the flashcards
created by other groups. Learners should write down at least one word or
phrase from each group
that they need to learn.
- In-class task: Students can create sentences with the new words. They
can also discuss which
flash cards were the best, and why.
If you have questions, comments, or for more information,
contact Deborah Healey, dhealey AT uoregon DOT edu
updated 26 June, 2009