“Spelling Wimbledon” or how to make spelling fun

Written by: Asst. Prof. George Geshev
University of Plovdiv and Ivan Vazov Language School, Plovdiv, Bulgaria

 Activity overview

I came to think of this “game” in search of a better, non-threatening way of improving my students’ spelling skills. Dictation was obviously not sufficient in itself, and asking individual students to come to the blackboard and write words was anything but non-threatening. Just then it occurred to me that my students – they were in their prepyear, aged 13-14 – enjoyed all sort of games immensely. The solution was obvious – make spelling practice a game. And fun!

How?

Make them compete with each other spelling out English words. One correctly spelt word and you get one point. You are given the Bulgarian for three words to translate and write down in English. You have more correct words than your opponent (friend) – and you win. You have less – sorry, be more careful next time. Equal score – you play on, until one drops out.

The last player to drop out is the winner.

Just like Wimbledon, isn’t it?

What’s more, you do not have to follow a complex scheme. Just divide your students into random pairs, explain the rules briefly, and let the game unfold.

There is, however, a small “catch”. You need one pair of participants for the final, two pairs for the semifinals, four for the quarterfinals, etc. What if you have got, say, 27 students?

I thought of what they would do at Wimbledon. That’s right – play qualifications. And why not? This way I had 11 pairs playing to qualify and 5 of my “best” students waiting to join in later. So this made 16 players for the first round – just as many as I needed.

And the fun began!

I gave the words, the pairs came to the blackboard, the sad losers (i.e. the students with more spelling mistakes) dropped out, but continued the game as spectators cheering their classmates. The winners in turn I divided into new random pairs, we devoted any “spare” moment to playing the game (it actually took several weeks to complete) and one sunny day we had two players remaining.

Then I played it like a real Wimbledon final – two sets out of three, six points to win in each set. And what a final it was! The class were delighted, our winner was so proud even without a silver cup!

And all my students had had a lot of useful spelling practice.

Why don’t you try it with your students?

Game requirements

Here is a brief description of the rules to help you.

The students: highly motivated language learners at lower intermediate level (1,000+ active vocabulary), any number – the more, the better.

The classroom: any normal classroom with a blackboard will do.

The time: any time your students seem tired and demotivated, especially at the end of the school day or week.

The teacher: explains the rules and divides the class into pairs.

Reflecting on the experience

I have been doing this for three years. Come to think of it, what I have achieved is:

  • improve my students’ spelling
  • bring variety and fun into the classroom
  • teach them that life is a competition: you cannot always win, it is up to you how far you go
  • show them that friends can sometimes be rivals (not enemies), too

It is worth the time and effort, isn’t it?

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