What game is produced in twenty-nine different languages, has sold over 150 million copies worldwide and four thousand clubs all its own? It is Scrabble.
This word game was created by Alfred Butts in 1948 and has become a worldwide phenomenon. If you have never played Scrabble before, it is really quite simple. Each player has seven letters at any given time and must arrange them into a high scoring word, which must connect with the words already in play in a crossword style game board. Letters that are less frequent in the English language score more points, and the player with the most points at the end of the game wins. Scrabble games can be intense, serious and intimidating when playing with a real pro, but that is also part of the fun. Everyone can learn things they never knew before, native speakers and nonnative speakers alike. Try using Scrabble in your classroom, and Your ESL students will enjoy a classroom encounter with the famous game. Both of you are sure to find that it has many benefits for students of the English language.
How to Use Scrabble in Your ESL Classroom
Learning new vocabulary is the most obvious use for and benefit of Scrabble in the ESL classroom. If possible, make sure at least one native speaker plays with each group of ESL students – you, conversation partners, guest speakers, etc. Without even trying, the native speaker will play words during the game that are unfamiliar to your students. Ask the players that with each play, no matter who makes it, if they are familiar with the word. If anyone is not, explain to them the meaning of the word. If possible, have one of your students explain the meaning as that will cement the vocabulary in his mind even more.
While some students are learning new vocabulary words, others will be trying to spell familiar words correctly. It goes without saying that misspelled words are not allowed in the game of Scrabble. Both the player of the word and his game-mates will want to check that every word is spelled correctly. This will be especially helpful if your students are playing words that you have introduced in class. If you decide to keep score, you may want to offer bonus points, ten points is a good amount, to any person who plays one of the current vocabulary words.
Part of learning how to spell in English is knowing what letter combinations appear frequently in words. In fact, serious Scrabble players will arrange their letter tiles to see common letter combinations in hopes of discovering a word they might play. These common combinations, such as ch, ll, sh, ck, br, tr, tion, etc., might help a player realize a word he has the makings for among his tiles. For ESL students, though, these letter combinations can be even more useful. Common vowel pairings like ou or ee will help your students learn spelling patterns that English has. If you play with tiles visible, rather than keeping them private as in a serious game, you can point out to your students letter combinations they can make with the letters in their hand. They may not be able to make a word with any given letter pairing, but just pointing out the common patterns will benefit them as they try to spell unfamiliar English words in the future.
Numbers can be one of the toughest things to learn and practice in a foreign language. Since numbers are so abstract, any second language speaker will naturally read and write numbers while thinking of the words in their native language. To push your students to ingrain numbers in English, have one of your students keep score during the game. However, rather than using numerals to keep the score, have your student write out the numbers using words. This will challenge your student to use English rather than his native language as he thinks and writes each player’s turn and may help with a number-second language connection in the brain.
Do you not know what word to play on your turn? A dictionary can be a great help for those rounds in Scrabble when you or your students are scrambling for a word. But getting your students to explore the dictionary is an even greater benefit than finding a word with z or q. Though they may be looking for a word to play on their turn, they will also be exposing themselves to new words and their definitions with every page they look at. They may recognize words they have heard in public or discover a better way to understand a vocabulary word they already know. If you asked your students to explore the dictionary for no particular purpose, you would most likely see a lot of eyes rolling, but when they take it upon themselves to explore the dictionary for a Scrabble game, they make gains without even realizing it.
Learning a language, especially in an immersion setting, is stressful. Every day is full of new words, new sounds and new cultural expectations. Sometimes, your class will benefit most from just taking it easy. If you use Scrabble in your classroom to lighten the mood or reward your students after completing a unit, you will give them a chance to decompress without feeling as if you are wasting a day in the classroom.
Ultimately for the ESL student, a high score in Scrabble is not what is most important. The benefits come from learning new words and how to use them.
Whether it is spelling, meaning or just pronunciation, your students will benefit from exposure to the words they and you play on the Scrabble board. Be careful, though. There are more than one million Scrabble tiles missing in the world, and every tile in your game has the potential to take your students’ learning to a higher level. You will not want to let any fall to the floor unnoticed!
What games do you find most useful in your ESL classroom?