The following guest post is by Melody Velasco, an inspired educator and grad student who shares her use of ThinkFun’s Smart Mouth game as an enrichment tool in her after school program!
I worked as an after school program coordinator at a middle school in California. Our average daily attendance was 98, so with five instructors and our ratio being 20:1, our activities had to be diverse and interesting. Challenging days took place on rainy days, boring Fridays, test days, or when students were not allowed to play on the field because of remodeling. I wanted to provide students in my after school program alternative activities. Normally on these days, each instructor coordinated various arts and crafts stations, but nothing appealed more to my students on those days than playing board games.
It even came to a point that we created an activity every Monday and Wednesday called “Board Room” in order to cater to the board-gamers interest. It gave them opportunities to talk and compete. We had a variety of board games, some with incomplete pieces, and yet our students found ways to make it work. One game that always caught my students’ attention was Smart Mouth. It was so popular I had to purchase an additional set, and although two games of Smart Mouth would be operating at the same time, the game that would be the most popular would be the one that involved me or one of my Instructors.I enjoyed competing with my students, and I am a competitive Smart Mouth player. When I originally purchased the game, my students rolled their eyes at the thought of playing with words, but all it took was my competitive nature and a student who was just as competitive to play against me. One main rule: The first person to say a word that begins with the letter to the left and ends with the letter to the right wins the tiles. How do we determine the winner? The person with the most tiles at the end of the game wins. My students even suggested that we take the tiles from the other Smart Mouth game and combine it for continuous fun.
We would begin the game with two players: me vs. student. Usually the student who claimed to just wanting to watch the game was delegated the duty as the dealer. The dealer would push the tiles back and forth out of the plastic dispenser and be the person to decide who called out the word first by handing the winner the tiles. The dealer is an important role which I usually switch with the student once I play. If the dealer calls it a tie, the dealer takes the tiles back and returns it to the plastic dispenser for replay. If those competing can not come up with a word in a timely fashion, the dealer takes the tiles and returns it to the dispenser. I had up to four students, sometimes six, gather around the dealer and play, and combining tiles from other Smart Mouth games helps add to the fun.
I do not say my words…I yell them. I yell them loud enough to make my students jump, and laugh. I once had a student who stumped me when the letters “P” and “E” left the plastic dispenser. Before I can say a word, he yelled, “PENULTIMATE!” in which I yelled back with, “That’s not a word!” He quickly followed with a definition and argued, “Oh yes it is! It means almost last, the next to the last thing!”
I often challenged students the way they would challenge each other and said, “Nuh-uh! Prove it!” In this game between the two of us, we agreed that if he could not prove the word existed in the dictionary, I would get the two tiles. If he could prove the word existed, I would give the dealer two of my tiles. Alas, my two tiles went to the dealer.
From that day on he continuously challenged me with words, and seemingly won every time. Whether I allowed him to win will be my secret, but Smart Mouth challenged students’ vocabulary and identification of letters to create words. I allowed two and three letter words in our games. Not everyone was at the same academic level as my Penultimate-student, but simply having the students involve themselves in a learning game like this was good enough for me. It was also great that students requested to play Smart Mouth after completing their homework during their homework hour.
Later I introduced the students to Zingo! which dispenses tiles like Smart Mouth, but is played like Match and Bingo. My students had to call out the tile that they wanted, the first to call the tile wins that tile, and the first student to fill their card wins. Although recommended for elementary grade level, it worked well with my middle school students, as they are a more competitive age level. Any opportunity to yell in order to win worked well with my students and I am glad ThinkFun continues to introduce such awesome games.
Currently I am in the process of earning my Master of Arts degree in Multicultural Education along with my Single-Subject Teaching Credential. I found Smart Mouth an effective game in my classroom, and plan on utilizing it as well as other games to support comprehension and critical thinking skills.