Explore language with a secret word game for students: variation #1

There are lots of ways to use our secret word game to engage students in thinking about language’s richness and complexity. (Go here for a quick overview of how SecretWord works!)

In a graph we provide after each word hunt, students can see their guesses clustering, reflecting the various hypotheses they’ve tried in hunting for the day’s secret word. Click for an animation of the sequence of guesses in the same hunt.

The lesson below takes roughly 20 minutes (ten minutes of play, with ten minutes of discussion) and will generate lots of conversation and thinking about language’s subtleties. The exercise sparks active learning about parts of speech, antonyms, synonyms, hypotheses, confirmation bias, analogies and, most of all, language’s many puzzles and hidden connections.

  1. Without offering guidance, ask students, working individually, to silently start a secret word hunt.
  2. After each student has made five guesses, ask everyone: What do they think the game is about? What determines whether a guess gets ranked # 97,132, #10 or #2?
  3. Now read a brief description of SecretWord’s logic and technology.
  4. Ask students to reveal their best guess (lowest #) and its rank. Some student will likely have a guessed in the top 1000… maybe in the top 100.
  5. Now ask everyone to think silently about some new words that might be related to the class’s best word from round 1.
  6. Then, again silently, everyone inputs their new guesses based on the collective best guess into SecretWord.
  7. Ask everyone, as before, to share their best word and its rank.
  8. Without mentioning additional specific guesses, discuss: What trends are students noticing? What are their hypotheses about the nature of the secret word—will it turn out to be a noun, verb, or adjective, etc? Does the word have positive or negative connotations?
  9. Ask students to continue silently inputting guesses until someone finds the day’s secret word.
  10. Ask students to look at their own history of guesses, both on their own list and the animated cluster history. Discuss which hypotheses helped reach the answer… or hindered a solution. What blind allies did students pursue? What role did luck play in getting to the secret word?
  11. Look together at the day’s “top 1000” list that appears after the secret word is found. Discuss some of the obscure words appearing in that list. What are surprise words, and how might they relate to the secret word?
  12. Discuss whether or not playing with a partner would make the hunt go faster or slower.
  13. You might discuss our recommended strategies for solving a secret word hunt or create your own list, to be updated in future games.

As you can see, hunting for a secret word helps students think about parts of speech, antonyms, synonyms, hypotheses, confirmation bias, analogies. It can even serve as a sandbox where, observing themselves hunt, students can think objectively about learning strategies in general.