Looking for a fun way to engage students? There lots of fun games to play with your class, but this year, you might want to try hosting a Scrabble Tournament. Great for pre-Christmas craziness and year-end excitement.
Your students may or may not know how to play Scrabble. Those who have played “Words with Friends,” “Bananagrams” or similar games will catch on quickly.
Students who do know how to play may not know how to play by the rules. I begin by polling students so I know how much I need to teach them how to play. Students who have played before often play by “house” rules rather than the official ones. I used the rules printed on the lid of the box.
Additionally, you will need to get your hands on several games. I begged, borrowed, and bought games for my class.
Teach the Rules
I introduce students to the board (document reader is great for this). If you already have several boards available to use, allow students to examine how they are set up. Or, better yet, use the board templates available on the Scrabble website. Show students the tiles so they can see how they impact the score.
Have students discuss strategies they can use to get the most points on their turn. Students will quickly realize that if they cover the premium squares with tiles worth the most amount will increase their score.
Make sure you discuss the fine points of the rules. No capitalized words or foreign words that aren’t found in the English dictionary (if you’re playing in English). No prefixes, suffixes, apostrophes or hyphens. Premium tiles are used just once (this was a common misconception with my students). The value of the blank tile is zero (another common “house rule” variation!). Players can’t look up words before placing them on the board.
You may want to use the official Scrabble dictionary to avoid any squabbles about whether the word is legal to use or not.
- Create a sample board to show students how to make parallels and hooks.
- Students should know that they can turn in tiles for new ones, but that’s a turn. Be sure to discuss why that strategy is good or bad. When might it be useful?
- Encourage students to think of their tiles in terms of phonemes and morphemes — or portions of words. Adding to existing words is a great way to increase your score.
- When to challenge? This is always fun! Students who are good at bluffing can get away with all kinds of wrong words! Spelling counts in this game(but only if all the players know the correct spelling!).
- While playing all the letters on your rack is a delightful event, it’s a rarity!
- Memorizing words that start with Q and X is completely legal and encouraged!
Practice a Bit
Provide your students with seven letters. Allow them to work with a partner to use them to create as many words as possible. What is the highest scoring word they can create? This is a great warm up for the start of class or a quick brain break.
Use the practice words to create a “build on” board game. I just do this by simply writing the word on our whiteboard. The next day, students can build on the word. You can use the nifty word building tool on Scrabble webpage to show students all the words that can be created with those seven letters and how many points each word is worth.
Be sure to allot time several days for students to practice manipulating letters to create words. This will give them confidence for the actual day of the tournament.
The Tournament Part
You can find official school tournament rules on the Scrabble website. While you might not want to follow these official rules, here are some of them that I found worked well:
- students play with a partner. This works really well.
- use a timer. Yes. You will thank me later.
- choose the dictionary ahead of time.
- both teams keep score. You can find official scoreboards online.
Other tournament considerations:
- Determine how you want to run your tournament. I play two teams (of two) per board. This means the game plays faster, and students don’t lose interest.
- I allowed students to name their team. This helped distribute who was playing with whom, plus team names like “Flaming Rainbow Princesses” are always entertaining.
- Set up the classroom ahead of time. I put a number on each table (or group of four desks) and the list of which teams were playing at what table on the board. When students walk into your classroom, they’ll know exactly where to go.
- Have all the materials you need. Make sure scorecards, games, and pencils are available when students get to their games.
- Establish a start and stop time. You will need to allow time for getting students ready to play and for clean up. My students rarely finished a game (using all their tiles). When time was drawing to a close, I would call “Last ups!” meaning each team got one more turn.
- Tally scores. My tournament ran over several weeks. We would play on Fridays, so I could match teams that had similar skill levels for the next day of play. I posted scores for each day of play. You can post cumulative scores, but they can get top-heavy if you play over the course of several weeks.
Whatever you Do, Make It Fun
Remember that this is supposed to be fun! My goal is to always quit while the students are still having fun. You want them to want to play!
Keep play short enough that students enjoy it, but aren’t frustrated or bored.
Is There Such a Thing as Bad Words ?
Perhaps you’ve seen the classic scene of the grannies playing Scrabble in the movie Foul Play. Our students don’t need to have seen that movie in order to gleefully put together inappropriate words with the claim that, “they are in the dictionary!”
My rule about word choice was this, “Play any word that you are proud to show to me, the principal, your grandmother, the Pope, the Queen of England, and your first grade teacher. If any of those people saw you play that word, would they be proud of you?”
That seemed to eliminate the big ones!
The Scrabble Tournament was such a hit that graduating eighth graders would return the following year to help run the tournament for the current eighth graders! This was a wonderful help — and fun for all the students!
Since this is often an activity we do prior to Christmas, I have parents tell me that their child has asked for a Scrabble game for Christmas and has taught the family to play!
And when you are pushing desks around in May and you find a lonely Scrabble tile on the floor — don’t despair!