Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ball is Life - The Wordchunking Game

Keith Toda detailed last year one of the most popular games for our students: The Word Chunking Game. For my students, it was titled Ball is Life and for others it is called trashketball or any other combination of words. Keith did a very nice job of detailing the process, so I'd like to talk about some alterations and different ways of playing. Not all of these are mine originally, but I have tried them all.

Firstly, there are a few alterations a Spanish teacher at my school made that I adopted:


  • Group names come from the vocabulary being taught that unit - He is better at doing this consistantly than I am, but I find that this makes it easier, especially for beginning students, to come up with a name in the target language. It is also a quick and easy way for the teacher to see what words the students are really soaking in. 
  • Groups write responses on whiteboards - I like this because it keeps a little of the noise level down. It isn't perfect, however. It also give the kids in the class a little more focus when they listen to and see others' responses so that, if there is an opportunity for another group to respond, they can edit where necessary. With this, however, both he and I require that the person who writes changes each round and that the writer must give the answer orally as well. I still allow groups to confer together before writing their answer however. 
  • Instead of sentences, ask for words - I don't do this 100% of the time, or even 50% of the time, but I like this change. Instead of giving sentences to translate, try giving the gesture students learned. They might write down the word in the target language and give the English orally
  • Point systems - Both he and I allow students to shoot from different areas and earn a different amount of points. This system works better in some classes than others and I am definitely going to re-think the specifics for next year. 
Secondly, there are some alterations I've made over time that, I think, vary the game and allow me to assess different things. 

  1. Using it as a formative assessment prior to an exam
    I can target certain things that I know will be on an exam and see if the students are actually ready to take that exam. I also will use it midway through a unit to see if we're really ready for the second half.
  2. Varying the questions/translations
    I use a variety of things and, when I create a Word Chunking Game file for myself and other teachers, they tend to look like this. With the bolded words I can choose to give a gesture for a single word or ask for a translation of an entire phrase or sentence. The questions are for comprehension and allow me to assess that as well. I can also then give this sheet to students who were absent or upload it as a review. 
  3. Allowing groups to answer more than once
    I don't think this is directly stated in Keith's post, but I'm sure I'm not the only teacher who does it. What I stipulate, however, is that students must allow all the other groups to have a chance before they can go again. 
Some observations:
  • Students love this game. However, if you aren't careful about groupings or point systems, it can quickly become "stacked" against certain people. I will vary how groups are done, including letting them pick, every once in a while. I try to avoid doing the groups intentionally and usually use some pairing method like drawing cards or putting kids together based on favourite animals or numbers. 
  • This game can get loud. I find that the more students in the room, the more structure you need to make sure this game works. 
  • It can be helpful to have a student who watches for hands/keeps score. I am one person and in a room of 30-40 kids, it can be hard to see hands. 
Overall, this game is definitely one of the favourites and is an excellent example of Comprehensible Input. It meets lots of different learning styles and serves to give the teacher a break. It is something I keep at the top of my list.