CRACKER CUP CHALLENGES: gamifying vocabulary development

When Sally and I wrote the original Word Cracker manual, we included a whole section of whole-class games centered around a perpetual trophy called The Cracker Cup. Teachers have enjoyed playing these games and creative iterations of them since the release of the original Word Cracker Magnet Board back in 2020.

One of the most popular challenges is a game we play at our Word Cracking training course, which never fails to create hilarity. So, we have created a series of free lessons based on this activity, delivered via video clips, that teachers can use with their classes. In this article, I’ll take you through how to get the most out of these video-based lessons. These lessons use engagement norms from explicit direct instruction (EDI) as students learn about the target root/base. We have found that reluctant writers thrive in these tasks because the spelling and ideation load is reduced through the highly scaffolded lead in tasks prior to the writing challenge.

Getting Ready

After a slightly annoying introduction (at least I’m having fun), I take students through what they will need to take part in the lesson and the two challenges. Although I recommend the Word Cracker Student Whiteboard, your normal student whiteboards will do the trick, however, you do want to see whether students know where the prefixes, bases, roots or suffixes go. To do this, ask students to draw vertical lines to divide their whiteboards into thirds, so when they chin them, you can quickly check that everything is in the right place. Word Cracker Student Whiteboards can be purchased in class sets (30 boards). 

Students will also need the Blank Word Cracker sheet that is in the Word Cracking manual on page 130 or on the members only downloadable templates page of the website. You’ll need a subscription to access this. 

For the writing book, any exercise book that students write in will be fine.

Introducing the base or root

The next part has me introducing the new root / base and its definition. I say it then ask students to repeat its meaning in a full sentence as a pair-share with the person they are sitting next to. Pair-shares are an important multisensory engagement norm to help students commit information to long term memory. 

I then go through some example words, discussing how they come together morphologically. I might also give some word-related information using images. You can feel free to pause the video here and discuss this more with students, or call on students to repeat any of the information I’ve just presented. Otherwise, you can just keep the video rolling!

Building words

Next I fire up the online cracker and build some words around the base or root. I turn on the patterning function to check the end pattern of the root/base and remind students of any suffixing spelling rules that may apply. Then I make sure the meaning function is on. As I build words around the base/root, I do my best to explain how the morphemes (and their individual meanings) come together to create the meaning of the word. You can pause the video here and use the Online Cracker (if you are subscribed) to do this yourself, of just keep the video running and let me do the work! 

For each word I build, I prompt students to write the same word onto their own Word Cracker Student Whiteboards and then chin their boards for you to check. 

Cracker Challenge Part 1

Now it’s time for the fun part! The task is pretty straight forward but as the teacher, you need to decide on whether you want students to record words from their own vocabulary (very difficult), or whether you will pause the video on the matrix so students can reference the matrix to build their words. I recommend the latter unless you have older students. The other decision to be made is how long students have. I suggest 90 seconds as a minimum. When you start the timer, students should work in silence, writing as many words as they can in the given time. 

Scoring Challenge Part 1

Do this part however you please, but a quick way to determine the student with the most words involves picking a number of words (say 10) and saying “hands up who has 10 words”. Then up the bidding by two or three words until only one or two hands remain up. I always ask the leading student to read their words aloud in a clear voice so everyone can hear them (and students who didn’t get many can add to their lists).

Challenge Protocol: If one of the words read out is questionable, other students can launch a challenge. Use an online dictionary to check any words you’re unsure of! This is always very interesting because sometimes words that sound like they’re not real turn out to be real! If the word isn’t real, an excellent question to pose to the student who came up with it, or the entire class is “if it were a real word, what would it mean?” Students then have to use their knowledge of its morphemes to create a meaning. 


Cracker Challenge Part 2

Here’s where we get the students writing. In their writing books, their task is to use the words they built during Cracker Challenge 1 to write a short story. I encourage students to use words beyond the ones on their own sheet as they listen to the winner of challenge one read their words. This is where you can really differentiate the task to suit students of varying abilities.

The first thing you need to do here is set an appropriate time for the task. Five minutes is a good starting place for students of any age. 

Scoring Challenge Part 2: Scoring

Next, set the scoring for the story. I’ve given a range of options for students to score against. Use the blank lines to write directly over (if you have a screen you can write on). Obviously, you will vary scoring depending on the age and ability of your students. At a minimum, allocate points for each time the target base/root is used as well as when affixes are added to it. Allow points for words, even if used more than once. from there, to discourage run-on sentences, allocate points for full-stops and capital letters for sentence beginnings. Beyond these basics the sky is the limit – you can allocate points for any text feature you have taught! 

Set your students going on the writing task and at the end give them some time to score their own stories. 

Hearing some of the stories

After the scoring is completed, ask for volunteers to read out their stories. This is not a time to cold call a student or use pop-sticks to select a non-volunteer as not all students are comfortable reading aloud in front of the class, especially your students with reading difficulties. I always insist that students show one another complete respect. I explicitly remind students to track (look at) the student who is reading and to listen in complete silence. I also ask for a round of applause at the end. 

Challenge complete!

So that’s how to run a Cracker Cup Challenge to one of the videos. I know you and your students will enjoy these challenges as long as you keep them punchy and don’t let them drag on for too long! 

Free Cracker Cup vocabulary lesson videos

Challenge 1 base 'duct'

Challenge 2 root 'tract'

Challenge 3 root ‘ject'

Challenge 4 root ‘flect' & base 'flex'

Challenge 5 root ‘sist'

Challenge 6 root ‘rupt'

Challenge 7 root 'struct'

Challenge 8 root 'spect'

Challenge 9 root 'tain'

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