Oct 18, 2011

Hangman is kind of a creepy game

This week, I’ve been trying to teach my juniors to play hangman - which, when I started breaking down the concept of the game to it’s simplest terms, I realized is kind of creepy: Guess all the correct letters before this stick figure man is killed!

It’s been a little tough. They’ve never seen this game before, and when I tell them, “Just guess any letter. One letter. Say a letter that you know,” (in much more patient and teacherly tones. To start, anyway.) they just look at me blankly. So I demonstrate by guessing the letters myself, some right and some wrong. Yesterday, my class caught on pretty quickly, but I had a really difficult time with today’s class. The vocabulary for this week is sports, and so they would just go through the words we learned and spell all of them. They could do this quite well, but this was not the point. Another thing they did was to count the letters and just guess a word with that many letters. I could not get them to understand the concept of “just guess one letter” for anything. I even went out into the class, squatted down, raised my hand and guessed, and then ran up to the board and wrote down my guess of ONE LETTER.

We got to a point where one girl just kept spelling “baseball” at me (which was the word; she had guessed from the amount of letters), so I had her stand up. “B-A-S …” She started. “Stop!” I yelled, and wrote down “B.” “OK, what’s next?” I asked her. “A-S …” “Stop! A,” and I wrote down both “As.” This started to click with some of the students. So we finished baseball, and I chose a word from one of their earlier lessons, “eraser,” which you’ll notice has the same amount of letters as “soccer.” Which they all started yelling out (there’s a lot of call and response in the classroom, so this wasn’t quite the chaos it sounds). Again I did the “Stop!” thing with the girl, who was spelling “soccer.” But the “S” went in a different place, of course, than they were expecting. The class went quiet. And then someone guessed … just one letter. They got it!

When they caught on that I was using earlier vocabulary words mingled with this week’s, they all scrambled to the dictionary section of their books and started counting the letters again. I guess hangman - and language - is all about pattern recognition. It just doesn’t seem as fun a game when you play it that way.

But, I’ll make some adjustments to my strategy and try again tomorrow and see how those kids do. That’s what this job has been about so far. And when it finally clicks, it’s really cool.