May 29, 2009

English Olympics

This is a very long post about how my students and I survived the 2nd to last week of school without dying of boredom or irritation.

This week I dredged up an old idea from the file cabinet and held The English Olympics. Many years ago I made up this activity for my freshmen when there was that one day before a break when we could not do anything constructive, so I would hold team competitions on English topics. For my 8th graders, I decided to make it week-long event...for a shortened week, anyway.

The plan was that during each class there would be four events, roughly in four types of categories:
  • reading
  • speaking
  • writing
  • mechanics
Students could place in each event up to third place to earn points for their teams. While individual events were going on, the other team members would be working on a team activity. Each team had an opportunity to earn points each day through the team activity. It was not a race for that activity.

The potential points:
  • 1st place--30 points
  • 2nd place--20 points
  • 3rd place--10 points
  • Team activity--up to 60 points

I divided the students into teams of 4, and sometimes 5. In some classes, I made them line up by height, and then I folded the line in half so we didn't have all of the smarty shorties all together. (I'm short, you know...) Goofy, I know. It's the end of the year. I have to goof with them a little. In another class, I was able to group students by their first names, which is not a formation they are used to. It's always last names, right? Oh yes, one of my objectives was to split up some students who are so co-dependent upon each other, students who would surely drive me insane in the next week. In a few cases, I simply said, "Oh, no way YOU TWO are in the same group."

In their groups, students had to do these tasks:
  • Pick a name.
  • Create a motto.
  • Create a team chant.
  • Create a poster.
  • Designate participants for the weekly events.
They had butcher paper (some of which had covered my boards all year) and what markers that hadn't jacked from me this year.

I gave each group a table that listed the events for each day. Students could not participate in more than one event in a day, and they could only participate in each type of event once. (So, their names could not appear more than once in any row or column.) Four categories, groups of four...this activity would have been less complicated if we could have had four days of competition instead of three. Something to remember next year.

I collected the tables from each team. Most students did not remember from day to day what events they were in, so just read them off the sheets. I also used it to keep track of who won in the events each day.


The events for this day included:
  • Fictional Reading. During this competition, participants from each group read Saki's "The Storyteller" from our literature book and then logged into Accelerated Reader to take the quiz. The student with the fastest and most number correct won.
  • Extended Metaphor. This was the writing event where students created a poem in the form of an extended metaphor. I have a handout with some examples, but I don't know what the source is. I've had it a long time. It was not a timed event. Later on, I asked other staff members to read them and judge them. Totally subjective, but the students were told that their poems would simply be judged by what the teachers liked best.
  • Tongue Twister. The students were given 15 minutes to practice a tongue twister I gave them. They were each given 90 seconds to say the tongue twister as many times as they could without making mistakes.
  • Find the Errors. Students were given a proof-reading worksheet. The student who finished the fastest with the most correct won.
The first two events started at the beginning of the class period, and the other two came near the middle of class.

In addition to the individual events, I gave each team a cryptogram to solve. I used a quote from Romeo and Juliet, which is a play that we studied last fall. Each class had a different cryptogram because I was afraid that students might talk to each other too much throughout the day. To earn the 60 points, the entire cryptogram needed to be solved.


On Thursday, I award the first round of gold medals from Wednesday. The medals were actually buttons that I made with my colleague's button maker. The students were quite excited to receive the buttons, and I was glad. I reminded them that I am a teacher, not a button maker. They were kind of hokey...

The events of the day:
  • Non-fiction Reading. I used the TeenBiz3000 program that our school uses. Students were asked to read and answer the questions to a specific article. The TeenBiz program is designed for students to read and grow as readers at their own levels, so in any given group of students, the article they are reading is the same content, but it has been adjusted to their own reading levels. I reset all of their levels to 12th grade. Hey, it's the Olympics. It should be challenging. Students were judged by speed and accuracy.
  • Impromptu Poetry. Much like the writing activity on Wednesday's agenda, students were asked to write a poem and a staff member judged them. The structure of this day's event was completely up to the student, but as a special challenge, they were asked to include the name of their group in the poem. This was not a timed event.
  • Memorization. Students were given Henry Wordsworth Longfellow's poem "The Arrow and the Song" to study for 15 minutes. They had to recite the poem from memory with no errors. It was an easy poem to memorize, so they were also judged on the quality and exuberance of the delivery.
  • Scrabble. I had two scrabble boards and the contestants with the highest scores overall won 1st place. Some students didn't know how to play, and I saw some words that should have been challenged, but I just left them alone to figure things out.
I started all of the events at the beginning of class, staggered within a few minutes so I could give instructions to competitors from each event. Scrabble, of course, took the whole class period.

Scrabble was an exciting event for all the classes, and I regret not having a Scrabble board hanging around my classroom before now, although I don't know when we'd have time to play. Only the contestants were suppose to be at the boards, but I had to chase students away throughout the day. Who knew it would be so exciting to watch people play Scrabble? I should consider doing more with it next year.

(The math teacher next door has a card table with a chess board set up at all times. I guess they find time somewhere! He also had a tournament this spring, and he would pull students from classes to play. I allowed a few of my students to leave my class to go participate when it was their round. It just seemed like an awesome event! Hmmm...Scrabble Tourney, anyone?)

The team activity was a big cross word puzzle of 63 vocabulary words we've had this year. For this activity, the team could earn as many points as answers they could find. Some teams finished the puzzle while others only found 10-20 answers. To make it a little easier, I had ALL of the vocabulary words we've had out of the vocabulary books mish-mashed all around the puzzle. So, the chaos and trickery of having extra words may have tripped up some, but for those who would never have been able to remember some of the words, it had to have been a help. No dictionaries, textbooks, nor notes were allowed.


This day didn't go as well as planned because I allowed leadership students to be excused from class to prepare for the 8th Grade Dance. I just said to them, "Are you really going to let your team down?" Several of them chose to come to class because of the Olympics, and I thought that was pretty cool. Earlier in the week I emphatically told them that group members could not participate in more than one event, but some groups had only 2 members in class. I gave them the choice to forfeit the competitions or send someone to compete even if they had to do more than one event. Nobody forfeited--this is competition, people!

The events for this day were timed (10 minutes) to make sure we had enough time for the Uhm Game.
  • Reading Charts & Graphs. Students were given two handouts that required them to read charts and answer questions. It wasn't a particularly difficult task, but they didn't have much time. I can't remember the book title where I took these, but it has a tie-dye cover.
  • Choose the Right Word. Students were given a handout that asked them to choose the correct homonym. Again, not too difficult, but it was timed.
  • Sentence Structures. Students were given a handout with sentences. They needed to label the sentences as simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. It has a been a long time since we studied this, so I am not sure how they did. I took these pages out of an old high school level Warriner worksheet binder that I have.
  • Uhm Game. Students spoke on a given topic for as long as possible without using uhm, uh, er, like. This game is always a hit with my students. I think this idea may have come to me from Bret Oberg's Speechcraft, which has been my standard for public speaking for a long time. I have a sheet of 100 topics that I made up years ago--one-word topics like vacation, shoes, chocolate, shopping, monkeys, lunch, cars, and etc. Students use two 10-sided dice to roll to choose their topics. You can sometimes find these types of dice in teacher store, but mine are from a set of gaming dice. These are nicer because the there is a 10-sided die that has the 10s place and a one that has the 1s place. It's easier to figure the number.
The team activity was a page from The Reading Teacher's Book of List (mine is about 20 years old and doesn't look like this. I think it's the same book, though) which was basically a block of rebus puzzles. Some easy; some hard. These are the kinds of fun things I wish I could give my students more often. They are fun, but they have to think. You have no idea the joy I get from giving students "fun" puzzles that are so blasted hard that they have to really work at it, but then they LOVE it. Tricky!

Overall, it was a fun week. I told the teams that if I had to get on them about the noise level, I would deduct points from their groups. I had problems on Scrabble day because students were out of their seats, but the rest of the time students were engaged either in their own events or in trying to earn points for their teams in the team activity. Watching some of the students cramming to recite Longfellow cracked me up! The students were INTENSELY CONCENTRATING in ways I don't see much.

On a side note, the French teacher also had a shorter version of French Olympics, and the students also had a great time. (Remember, we have a lot of common students.) Scrabble was a huge hit for them, too! Several other teachers heard--and a few came to watch--about our experience and are inspired to try something like it in their classes, too.

No comments: