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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 for teaching, including language teaching:

  1. A lot is available for free or cheap.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 task-- 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 combination.

Some Games

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.

Word puzzles

"Boggle"-type games, where learners are given a grid of letters and asked to create words from letters that touch each other. Examples are LogoDaedalus (Macintosh): A classic Boggle-type game. The LDict file has to be in the System folder for this to work right.

Noodle (NDLSETUP.EXE): Build the board one letter at a time, then try to create words from the letters.

WordZap (WRDSAP32A.EXE): 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. Examples are Weekly Speller (WSPELL.ZIP): This includes word search, word scramble, and fill-in activities from a word list that can be customized.

Wordsearch (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. Examples are 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 X-Words (Macintosh): Scrabble-type game.

Literati Lite (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 make words.

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 Word 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.

Other Games

Lango (LG31NOVB): This combines word games and bingo. It can be played against another learner or against the computer.

WhirlWords (WWRDS.EXE): Switch one letter at a time to change one word into another, as in "sink" to "swim" or "black" to "white."

Game Templates

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.

Fish Card Review (Macintosh): A flash card review program.

Word Search 2.6 (Macintosh): Creates word search puzzles.

Au Pair (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.

Flash N'Bingo (A2ZF3211.ZIP): Create flash cards or a bingo game.

Vocabulizer (VOCABLIZ.ZIP): Add words to be tested on, flashcard-style.

Some Pedagogy

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 flash cards:

Good luck!

See Other tech tips

If you have questions, comments, or for more information, contact Deborah Healey, dhealey AT uoregon DOT edu
Last updated 26 June, 2009