Friday, January 10, 2014

Word Chunk Game

I learned this activity at the 2013 Pedagogy Rusticatio, and it is one which i find students either love or hate (meaning, if their team wins, they love the game, but if their team loses, they hate it). The Word Chunk game is a combination of translating sentences aloud into English and trashketball. It is a truly competitive game and can get rather intense depending on your students.

The basics of the game: teams compete to be the first to translate aloud correctly Latin sentences into English. Bob Patrick gave me directions for this game (and Bob got them from Ben Slavic's blog), and with Bob's permission, I post them here.

This game is both low stress on the teacher (unless students having lots of fun in your classroom stresses you out!) AND while having fun an intense vehicle of language acquisition. It is used with material, a story for example that you have already been working on with students, so I think of this as a Friday kind of activity to review a story, especially with structures or vocabulary that has been challenging. First the set up; then the procedures:
  • Students are divided into small groups (3-6 per group, depending on class size. 3 is better but in huge classes you may have to go with larger groups)
  • Groups are in small circles around the edges of the room so that there is a long alley down the middle of the room.
  • At one end of the room, a box is set up on a stool/desk that approximates a basket.
  • 3-6 whiffle/tennis/jelly balls are lined up at a “free throw line” some 15 feet or so away from “the basket”. (how many balls depends on the size of your groups)
  • Teacher pulls sentences directly from the story which you have been reading in class, but you can also edit them to focus on what you want to focus on.
  • Create numbered slips of paper for each team TWICE, i.e., if there are 7 groups, then create 14 slips of paper, each numbered 1-7.
  • Put these slips in a ziploc bag, bowl, hat, etc.
  • Each group must come up with a name for itself, in Latin.
  • The game proceeds like this. Teacher reads the first sentence slowly, aloud, and continues to do so, over and over again. Group members huddle together and decide, together, what the sentence means. 
  • THEN, ask a team to pull a slip of paper from the bag. Announce the team name which corresponds to that number
  • THEN (very important--this prevents one person from doing all the work) the teacher calls on someone in the group to give the answer. ONLY that person can answer, and if the group feeds the answer, they are disqualified. HOWEVER, if the person makes a mistake, group members may correct it. The teacher must distinguish between FEEDING the answer and offering CORRECTIONS. Corrections are allowed. Feeding the answer is not. Because the group never knows who the teacher will call on, they learn very quickly that everyone must know what the sentence means before they raise their hands
  • Students may request that the Latin sentence be repeated again AS MANY TIMES as they want when called on to translate
  • If the person called on gives the correct English meaning of the sentence, the team receives TWO points goes to the free-throw line and shoots for points. Team receives one additional point for every basket scored. Teacher or student keeps score.
  • If the person does not give the correct English and the group cannot correct mistakes, the teacher pulls another slip of paper and the process is repeated.
  • After a team has completed shooting baskets, do not return their number right away. That team still has one number in the bowl/bag, but everyone else still has two. Return that number after the next round. Complete the process for each round.
This is a listening and comprehension game. They are “re-reading” old material, which is always good. They are helping each other understand. Because you can focus on certain structures or words, and because you are reading slowly, clearly, over and over again, they are getting multiple repetitions of Latin that they otherwise would not have done on their own. Students swear by how helpful this game is. My problem is not overusing it. - Bob Patrick

Now back to me. Here are my personal observations about the game:
  • This is a great CI activity due to the sheer number of repetitions said aloud, which is actually what you want.
  • This is not a game to do right away if your students are not familiar with hearing Latin spoken aloud in a context, such as in a dictation or a story told aloud. Your students need to be somewhat familiar with the sounds of Latin.
  • As the teacher, I myself will create the teams so that there are no “stacked” teams
  • I myself create the sentences as part of a larger continuous story, but I will be sure to use vocabulary, language structures and familiar phrases which we have done in dictations, TPRS stories, readings, etc. ad nauseam so that it is 100% comprehensible for students. In other words, students are already familiar with hearing these words/forms aloud in Latin in a context.
  • I do not make the sentences too long, because it is easy for students to get lost and to feel overwhelmed. You as the teacher do not want to raise anyone’s affective filter in this game. Sometimes, i will read a very short sentence on purpose to give everyone a fair chance.
  • I personally love this activity, because I am amazed how it does further language acquisition in disguise of a game. I truly do not think that students realize just how much this activity helps them.
So give it a try - you’ll be surprised both by the results and the fun which you and your students will have.


  1. I found that if I let other students correct the entire statement, the super students could usually say it perfectly, losing the sense of responsibility. I changed it so that others could make only ONE correction. Seemed to work OK.

  2. Yes, Anna. I played today for the first time, using the "draw names" method, and I allowed only one chance at a correction. Keith, do you put the names back into the drawing pile? I did w/the first class and a girl got called three times. Then second class, I took them out, but then someone said "I don't have to worry, cuz I won't get called..." Next hour, not sure which way to go. Suggestions? LOVING it!

    1. I have done it many different ways to keep the novelty: put the name back in the bag; I call on individual students each students; or once a name has been called, then that student is "safe". It depends on the class and what you think will work best.

  3. Hi Keith!!!

    I'm bringing this game back after being virtual last year. I'm going to implement these revisions but I have one question-do your students keep the same groups all year?? Previously I drilled that they needed to keep the teams all year and it was an important decision (per Tina Hargaden's rules/instructions) now I'm not sure...

    1. Good question. I play Word Chunk maybe twice a semester at most, so to have students stay in the same groups to me would require keeping track of groups. I can see Tina's reasoning in keeping the same teams/groups all year for community-building purposes, but I don't play Word Chunk all the time.

  4. I had a question about the paper strips. What is the point? Why create strips with numbers at all? Aren't the groups raising their hands to volunteer to translate the sentence? If so, the strips are not necessary. But if the strips are to keep track of which teams have gone twice so far, then why not just put the team names on the board and put a check mark next to each group when they go?
    And I could not figure out from the wording of your post, whether you meant that EACH (i.e. each and every) strip was supposed to have the all of the numbers 1-7 on it (since your exact words were "each strip numbered 1-7"), or whether you meant that each strip should have a SINGLE number on it, starting with 1, and ending with 7 on the last strip.
    Again, though, my main question is whether I am missing something about the purpose of the numbered strips. I feel if the students are volunteering to translate, and team names etc can be tracked on the board, they have no purpose; and even if the teacher calls on the groups, I still don't see how the numbered strips add anything that can't be tracked on the board. Thanks in advance!

    1. Sorry for any confusion:
      1) Each strip will have a single number on it, not the numbers 1-7 on it.
      2) I used to have students volunteer answers by raising their hands, but there were major problems with it: 1) It became an issue of the fast processors raising their hands to answer, while the slower processors and unengaged never would raise their hands. Some teams would never be called, because the same fast processors would always be the first to answer. The strips allow for the chance for all teams to be called. 2) When I pull a strip and it is team #2 (for me) whose strip I pull out, I will still call them by their team name. The number is for me.