I have invented a new educational game. I call it “Tell Me Everything You Know.”
Here is how the game works in my grammar class: I write a sentence on the board, set a time limit, and then have the students write down every grammatical fact they can name about the sentence. When the time is up, I go around the room, asking each student to volunteer one of his observations. If someone else in the class has written the same thing, both must cross it off their lists. If no one else has made the same observation, that student gets a point. Victory goes to the student with the most points.
For example, yesterday I wrote, “When it is Taco Tuesday, we go to the park that is down the street to eat tacos.”
Their observations ranged from the simple …
- “Tuesday” is a proper noun.
- “The” is an article.
- The sentence is declarative.
- The sentence ends with a period.
to the more esoteric …
- “To eat tacos” is an infinitive phrase used as an adverb modifying “go.”
- “When” is a subordinating conjunction linking the adverb clause to the word it modifies.
- “Tacos” is the direct object of the infinitive.
- “Park” is the antecedent of the relative pronoun “that,” which introduces the adjective clause “that is down the street.”
At the conclusion of the allotted time, my 7th and 8th grade students had as many as forty to fifty things to say about the grammar of the sentence.
This game works equally well in other classes. Mr. Black and Mr. Steele have played it in their math classes. With one 3rd-grade level math group, Mr. Steele wrote on the board, “362 ÷ 3,” and said, “Tell me everything you know.”
These 7- and 8-year olds made comments that ranged from …
- The divisor is 3.
- The dividend is 362.
- The quotient is 120 with a remainder of 2.
to such acute observations as …
- The 3 in 362 is in the hundreds’ place and stands for 300.
- 362 is a 3-digit number and an even number.
- The divisor, 3, can be subtracted from the dividend, 362, 120 times. (Connecting division to repeated subtraction.)
This game both cashes in on and reinforces the VanDamme Method. All the teachers in all the VDA classes stress conceptual understanding of the material. We work hard to ensure that the students are not taking a rote, thoughtless, pattern-seeking approach to their work, but rather that they fully grasp and can fully explain the concepts they are learning. So when they look at a problem like “362 ÷ 3,” we want them to possess a depth of understanding that allows them not just to solve the problem but to thoroughly explain the problem and its solution.
Playing this game also serves as excellent review and reinforcement. It helps the students to probe their own understanding, to dig through their subconscious minds and retrieve all they have learned about a given subject. They listen carefully to others’ answers and in doing so are reminded of aspects of the subject they may have forgotten or not readily retrieved. They revisit and focus on aspects of a subject they know but may not have recently brought into conscious awareness.
In my experience, because the students are well prepared for the rigors of this game, because it is a fruitful review, and because it is benevolently competitive—they love it. Students share their insights eagerly and are delighted when others cleverly dig up obscure facts that hadn’t occurred to them.
I had to boast about having invented the game because I have to confess to having lost the game. Though I am the self-proclaimed grammar guru, I was bested by 11-year-old Melissa McWilliams. Well, as Leonardo Da Vinci said, “Pity the student who does not surpass his master.”