Wordshop

Vocab activities for your classroom

Taking a Lesson from a Family Road Trip

Our latest Wordshop feature comes to us from Steven Kushner, who teaches at Bremen High School in Midlothian, Illinois. Steven drew on inspiration from family road trips to come up with a Mad Libs-style memory recall activity for the classroom.

One of the fondest memories I have of my early childhood surround our annual family road trips, traveling across the country in our 1995 Ford Windstar. I distinctly remember sitting in the back seat of our minivan with my older sister conjuring up fun games to pass the time. We had our typical vacation games or "time-fillers" of trying to spot license plates from every state, playing M.A.S.H. (Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House), a game intended to predict one's future, and of course "Name that Tune" on the radio.

But the one game that I could always rely on to help pass the endless hours of driving time was Mad Libs, a phrasal template word game where one player prompts another for a list of nouns, adjectives, verbs, and names of animals or body parts to substitute for blanks in a story. I guess its appeal lay in both the uncertainty of how the story would come out, and also the certainty that it would end in laughter and excitement for my sister and me. The end result is typically a nonsensical, yet comedic narrative. Here is an example:

Before completion:        
"Jimmy wanted to visit the ____________ to see all the ___________ animals."
 
(place)
 
(adjective)
 
After completion:        
"Jimmy wanted to visit the ___bookstore___ to see all the ____salty____ animals."

I have not been on a family road trip in thirteen years and consequently, Mad Libs, M.A.S.H. and "Name that Tune" have taken a back burner to my career as a high school psychology teacher. All of my time and energy is currently spent designing lessons, grading, and wondering where my youth went. The basic concept of Mad Libs, however, would not strictly remain as a family-vacation time filler; on the contrary, its fundamental idea of "fill-in-the-blanks" would manifest itself in classrooms all over the country. For example, the Visual Thesaurus lesson plan "Mad-Libbing Your Way Into Modern Poetry" applies its basic concept to have students generate words and phrases which in turn will be used to construct poems modeled after William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow."

It did not take me long as a new teacher to become cognizant of how students can struggle to retrieve information previously learned or how quickly key terms/concepts can be forgotten. Within a given week a student has been exposed to a few dozen vocabulary terms, numerous topics, multiple lectures, and all from different subject areas. My goal as a teacher is to ensure that my material be retained and not forgotten. Toward that end, I decided to create a quick and simple memory recall activity using Mad Libs as a basic design. I composed a "fill-in-the-blank" assignment to be used Monday mornings after the long weekend (You can download the handout here.) It has become a staple memory recall activity in all my classes.

Before completion:


Last week in class, the major topic of discussion was on _________. My teacher ________ spent an exceptional amount of time explaining the ____________ because of its/their importance. The one term or idea that greatly captured my attention was ________ because ________________________. We learned the difference between _____ and ______ and the difference is that _________________________________________. I was especially surprised to learn that ___________________________ . Despite my high level of understanding of the material, I was still confused about or had further questions regarding ____________. One question I still want to know is: ________________________? This week, my teacher will be covering ____________.  

After completion:


Last week in class, the major topic of discussion was on sense of sight. My teacher Mr. Kushner spent an exceptional amount of time explaining the structure of the eye because of its/their importance. The one term or idea that greatly captured my attention was astigmatism because I saw a commercial on it once before. We learned the difference between cones and rods and the difference is that cones help you see colors and rods help you see in the dark. I was especially surprised to learn that the iris controls how much light enters the eye. Despite my high level of understanding of the material, I was still confused about or had further questions regarding color vision deficiency. One question I still want to know is: how can someone become colorblind? This week, my teacher will be covering sense of hearing.                


Teachers can use this activity at different time periods throughout the academic school year by substituting "last week in class" with "yesterday," "this semester," "this quarter," etc. It also provides the teacher with a quick assessment on how well students were paying attention and taking notes.

Though not as humorous or bizarre sounding as the real Mad Libs,
  (adjective)   (adjective)  
this brief activity appears to help my students get information out of their "storage" centers and into their working memory.


Steven Kushner teaches psychology and sociology at Bremen High School in Midlothian, Illinois. Steven received a Bachelor of Science degree in history and psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He received a Master of Arts degree in both teaching and psychology from National-Louis University.


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Comments from our users:

Thursday March 17th 2011, 3:13 PM
Comment by: Steve V.
Thank you for sharing :)
Friday March 18th 2011, 11:25 AM
Comment by: Jane B. (Winnipeg Canada)Top 10 Commenter
Terrific idea to ascentain just where the students are with the material you present! A good way to catch bits not understood and to provide follow-up, too!

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