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Saturday, 20 July 2013

Improving vocabulary on the iPad

Sat next to my Stepson while he does his homework which happens to be writing a story, "How can we describe the monster?" I say.
"Big," he replies.
"Ok, but I can think of some better words to use...what about gigantic, enormous, colossal???" I ask.
"Big is fine," he answers.

It got me thinking, how can I get him to see the value of more effective vocabulary? So many children are happy to put words regardless of how effective they maybe. They have no reason or incentive to try and improve or choose better words. Some just don't see the value to it. Well what if bigger words could defeat aliens, monsters and other ghastly demons!

One of the children's favourite maths games is Math vs Zombies. Having to apply their quick mental calculations in order to change zombies back into humans. It has them completely engaged and give their learning a purpose - the quicker they are with their maths the better score they will get on the game. Loads of different maths apps are the same - working to get a score. When children have a competitive edge to their work, it will nearly always motivate them to do better.
I wanted to find some similar games/apps for words. Tasks that engage the children and demonstrate the value in having a solid knowledge of a wider more complex vocabulary.

One of the best resources I have used is the book Word Games by Alan Peat.

The books is full of fun, engaging games that purposefully encourages children to play with words. Given them a reason to expand their knowledge of certain vocabulary that in turn impacts on their writing by giving them a wider range of words and techniques to use.

The children love playing these games. As a warm up to a literacy lesson, or daily starter these games emphasise the message that children should play with language which will make them more willing to experiment and try different ideas.



One of the games has been recently turned into a PC game - Word Warriors. Basically the game gives you the first and last letter, your job is to try and think of the longest word you can make using the first and last letter. The bigger the word, the higher the score. The game like aspect of the game having to defeat ghastly ghouls gives that video game element that the children love.

Having played this game with KS1 and KS2 children, it clearly demonstrated how enthusiastic the children become about word choice and vocabulary when it is applied in this video game type manner. The children loved it, trying to not only compete against the computer but each other to get a better score. I am sure it won't be long before this game and other similar ones are available on the iPad. Until such time though here are a couple of others (mostly free) which I have found to be a great tool to use enthuse the children about words and vocabulary.

Word Tumble - A very addictive word game! Connect the letters in any direction to create the word, the longer the word, the more points you get. Special hidden challenges, alongside a timed or freeplay mode has the class hooked and battling against each other to get the biggest score.

What I really like about this app is the follow up activities you can do after a game has finished. The app gives a breakdown of all the statistics from the game summary to word summary and then lists all the words which when clicked reveal the definition of the word. It also gives you the letter usage of each letter. With this you could easily link this with some numeracy aspects -

  • Work out your 5 most used letters? 
  • How many 4 and 5 letter words did you use? 
  • How many times did you use the letters from your first/last name?
 As another follow up you could set the children the task of writing a short story/paragraph trying to use as many of the words they found. If they are unsure of any words they can click within the app to read the definition.

It is an app with a lot of potential for playing with and extending vocabulary.




 Letris 2  in a nutshell is Tetris with words. Letters fall down and fill up and your job is to spell out words by collecting letters. The longer the letters the bigger the score. At the end of the game again the list of words you have made appear and you can click to reveal a dictionary definition, meaning you can set the children tasks using the words they have made.

Another great app to show children the value in more interesting vocabulary, having to think quickly and under pressure also makes this game really exciting.



Opposites - Is a great game to match opposites. Starting of with easier words gradually moving up in difficulty. This app also has a built in dictionary meaning children can check words they are unsure about.

Here is a short clip showing the app in action:


Word Warrior - This is a great game. Go on an epic quest, defeating monsters using your biggest weapon - words! As you battle a villain, your are give a selection of letters and must make the biggest word to cause the most damage.

Children love this app! They enjoy the game like element to it and they certainly see the importance and worth of using longer more impressive vocabulary. This has become favourite for many and the class love spending a starter to a lesson or a 5 minute filler trying to use their knowledge of vocabulary to defeat evil creatures!




94 seconds - This app maybe more like a general knowledge quiz than a word game but great for challenging children to think of alternative words. The app provides different categories but challenges the player by having to name something beginning with a certain letter. For example, name a fruit beginning with L? A mode of transport beginning with B?

If there was a version that was maybe tailored more towards adjectives, verbs or overused words such as - name an alternative to walk beginning with S? That would be perfect! However until then this is still a very entertaining app that will have your class racking their brains trying to find answers!

I am quite aware that I don't want to make it seem that I am simply pushing the message that the bigger the word, the better it will be. I recognise that it does all depend on the flow of the text and effectiveness of that particular word, regardless of size. However after playing some of these games with my Stepson, he remarked during his next piece of homework, "Do you think the word 'astounded' would cause more damage to a monster?"
"Absolutely," I replied!



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