Normally I write about new technologies and projects I am using with my students. This post isn’t further from technology. Straight out of the ’80’s, I brought my Jenga game into the classroom for a vocabulary review. According to my end of the year student surveys, this vocabulary game was by far the most fun and exciting for my students.
The planning and preparation is the hardest part of this review game. You need one game of Jenga with all the little blocks. Then place a piece of scotch tape on each block. I write a vocabulary word onto the tape (so that I can reuse the Jenga blocks for years to come). Since I write one word on every block, it is necessary to have about 66 vocabulary words, so I like to use this activity as an end of semester review.
The class is split into two teams. One member from a team one comes forward and pulls a block out of the Jenga tower. Then, without any help from their teammates, that student must correct identify the vocabulary word.
If they get the word correct: they put the Jenga block down on the table and a teammate from the opposing side comes up and has to add that block to the top of the tower. Then that student pulls a block from the tower and cycle begins again.
If the student gets the word incorrect: they put the Jenga block down on the table and another member from their team must come up and put the block on the top of the tower. Then that student continues the process.
At first the game seems pretty simple but eventually students will catch on that a they do not want any of their teammates up there with a wobbly tower. It is in their best interest to get the words correct and force the other team to go.
Note on effectiveness of vocabulary review: I “stack the tower” a little bit in my favor. Students will usually start by pulling blocks from the middle or bottom. Then as the tower grows taller, they will want to pull from the near top. I place difficult vocabulary words or words that I want them to review in the middle at the beginning of the game. After a few successfull rounds of row building, students will begin to pick those same blocks again. The more a word gets repeated in the game, the more they seem to remember it.
There is also some research out there (which I don’t have the time to cite at the moment) that suggests that adolescents learn best when under stress. When this game gets intense, there is yelling, pressure and spotlight attention. Almost always, a student that has a word in one of those pressure situations will mention it again a few days later. He or she might not remember anything else from the game, but the words review during the tensest moments of the game seem to stick.