Word Games & Tiny Twists #2: Word Stairs

For this game, all you need is a write-on whiteboard or visualiser.  Write up dashes across and down the board so that each successive line has an extra dash:

Pupils suggest words to fill in the dashes, each word being one letter longer than the previous word.  For a beginner’s class, that can be the only requirement, but very soon after starting, most classes can cope with an extra challenge.  I like to play it so that the last letter of the word becomes the first letter of the next word, as in the following examples in English, French & Spanish:

In practice, the activity doesn’t need any instructions, you just do it:  “Give me a word with two letters”.  The word is written up, and you immediately copy the last letter from the first line, writing it at the beginning of the second line.  “Now a word with three letters”.  If they don’t get it straight away, you can point to the first letter. “Beginning with (e)”.  And so on.

What language will they need?

(For me)

  • Give me a (three)-letter word beginning with …
  • That’s too long / short
  • There are too many letters / there are not enough letters
  • That’s a good / nice / interesting / useful word
  • That’s a noun / verb / adjective / adverb / preposition
  • How do you spell it?
  • Like that?
  • That doesn’t exist! / That’s not English / French / Spanish!

(For them)

  • I suggest …
  • No, I’ve made a mistake, it’s too long / short
  • I can’t think!
  • This is hard! / That’s easy!
  • Alphabet & accents
  • No, not (e), I meant (i)!

Tiny Twists

  • Once this has been played as a whole-class game a couple of times, it can be played in pairs with scraps of paper, handed to pupils as they walk through the door.  In pairs, they compete with each other to finish first.  When everyone has finished, or you decided to call a halt to the game, or the kitchen pinger rings, you can resolve any arguments over words that any pairs had.
  • You can also start the other way round, where the first word is the longest word, gradually working your way down to a two-letter word.
  • You can write a 9-letter word vertically down the board, each letter becoming the first letter of a word to be guessed.
  • You can brainstorm some suffixes, e.g., -ion, -ing, -ism, -ed, -ful, -ness, -ly (or the equivalents in the language you are teaching).  Pupils realise quite quickly that when they look for an 8-letter word, they may only really be looking for a 3- or 4-letter word which can be built up.
  • Commenting on the words suggested (that’s a noun/verb/adjective, etc.) is a good way of drip-feeding grammatical terms you can make much of later.
  • You can limit the range of words to one part of speech, or a topic, if you wish.

Running time: no more than 5 minutes maximum.

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