Some of the wonderful teachers that I’ve worked with over the last year have asked me for a copy of the words that I use in one of my workshop activities, so I thought I’d post them here. You can use any words, just make sure there’s a mix of verbs and nouns. I make sure there are some words that students might not know – it means that there’s some conversation about word definitions.
I do this activity to warm up the group before we do a larger writing activity. It helps with playfulness, it reminds us of words we love, it makes us think of the possibilities that exist with words – makes us realise that one word can change another. And it extends vocabulary.
I’ve run the activity all over Australia and it has never failed. There’s no pressure. People like to play with language. They like to play. And, to be honest, some students think they’re getting out of work, so they’re happy to go along. It doesn’t matter why they participate – we don’t spend enough time thinking about words.
Lastly, if you’re running a workshop, it’s great for group dynamics.
So. The activity. You’ll run it better than I do, I’m sure, but in case it helps, here’s how I do it.
Print off sets of words, cut them up and put one set into an envelope to make a word packet. It’s great if you laminate them, that way you don’t lose words.
Put students into groups. It works in groups of anything up to six.
Before you hand out the envelopes, tell students –
- Their group will get an envelope with words in them
- They’ll have six minutes *
- When the timer starts, they’ll empty the words onto the table, turn them all over, and start making interesting word combinations.
- The aim of the activity is to make interesting word combinations. They can combine two words, three words, anything they like.**
- Empty your word packet onto the desk as an example, and combine some words to give them examples – monstrous neighbours, shallow sky, stuttering heart, picket teeth.
- Have the group nominate one or two scribes. The whole thing is play, so it has to feel like play, so if they don’t keep a physical copy of their words on the way through, it doesn’t matter. They could just keep the words combinations on the desk so they can see them.
- After they start, walk around and listen for great combinations and put some on the board.
- When the time is up – and I always extend it – have groups share their favourite combinations.
- I always finish by chatting about how important it is to work with words, to remind ourselves of their possibilities. I remind them that they shouldn’t use a hundred of these combinations in their next writing piece – but one can make a paragraph crack. ‘Growing up we had monstrous neighbours’.
* I start with six minutes but people usually want more time, so I extend it.
**It doesn’t matter if the students just look at the words. I once had a class where a group wanted to set out all their favourite words and talk about them. This is great. It’s amazing. Some groups I’ve had have made table long poems. Mostly, students combine two words to make interesting descriptions. It doesn’t matter if some combinations make no sense. Just let it go. The point is to play.
If you’re short on time
I put up a chart of words on a PowerPoint and skip the word packets. It still works. Although, not always as well. It depends on the dynamics of the class.
I do this word activity at the start of a writing day or week – it reminds me that I love words – reminds me that writing doesn’t always have to be difficult.