Scrabble in schools

A Guide by Murray Rogers

I have worked mainly in primary schools but have also worked with home school children, some of high school age. I have found it much easier to have teachers/principals of primary schools to say “yes’ to Scrabble as opposed to high school. It also helps to already know the teacher/principal. Children should be chosen to participate because the teacher feels it would be productive to extend them, usually the brighter ones. They also need to want to participate. Consistency for a prolonged period is important. Try to have an even number of children per session. I usually take them for 75 minutes with a possible small break. Six is a good number as you will be busy overseeing everyone. Whiteboard with markers is very handy.

First session:

1) Ask them if they have played before.
2) Show board with no tiles, ask children what they notice, point out anything they have missed, i.e. symmetry of pattern of squares.
3) Arrange all the tiles on the board grouping all the vowels in separate lines and then the consonants plus the blanks the same. Ask the children what they notice pointing out anything they have missed.
4) Explain the rules (just the basics for now).
5) Explain how to score (can go into detail at another time) including how to score on paper.
6) Mention that using all 7 tiles from their rack constitutes an extra 50 points. Many children don’t know this even if they have been playing awhile.
7) Explain simply what makes a word allowable.
8) If time allows have a very short game.

Other sessions:

1) Usually start a session with exercises. These may include:

a) On whiteboard write common words that take a front hook and ask the children to say what one letter(s) each takes. Write the letter(s) in front of the words. Do the same for back hooks.
b) Write J, X, Q, Z, C, and V on whiteboard and ask what 2-letter words can be made. Write the answers. Do this most sessions for reinforcement. In later sessions ask what letters can be added to the 2-letter words to make a 3-letter word. At first, most won’t know the answers.
c) Stress the use of power tiles and give examples.
d) Using some common seven-letter words, alphabetize each word and write on board one word at a time. Have them place the tiles on their racks and see if they can find the word or words. If they need help, give them clues, such as look for a common suffix or prefix, or if needed, more creative clues. When they find the answer have them cover it so no one else can see it. Children generally really enjoy this exercise.
e) Create 7 letters for the children to use as an opening rack. Ask them to make the best play. Discuss the play, then show them the best play and why.
f) Talk about the best use of an S and talk about the best use of a blank and about when to save them.
g) State that there are 107 2-letter words and that it is useful to know as many as possible. Giving them a list with definitions can be helpful, but I have found much reluctance for them to memorize any they already don’t know. Creative exercises like partially overlapping 2 horizontal words to form at least one 2-letter word is useful.

While they are playing a game:
You can make available the 2, 3, and 4-letter word lists but only let them use them to check a word, not to find one.

1) Find a balance between helping them (usually with clues) and letting them figure it out on their own.
2) Keep track of any bingos or other notable plays they may have missed and go over with the group at the end of the session to get them to discover the answer.
3) If it is obvious they need a small break for food, drink, or stretch, allow it as their periods in school tend be less than an hour anyway.

Later sessions:

1) You can alternate sessions between help and no help. The latter forces them to think more independently.
2) I use the following rule for a “no help game”: the opponent can challenge any word for no penalty. If the first play of a turn is challenged and is not good, the player gets another go, but if the second play is also challenged and not good, the player forfeits his/her turn.
3) If there happens to be an odd number of children, play one of the better players. This can be an eye opener for them.