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Word Up ESL Game Review

by Josef Essberger

Word Up is a quiz-style board game specifically designed to help EFL/ESL students practise and develop various English language skills. Like any such teaching aid, it is intended to be of pedagogic value while also having entertainment value. I'll look at the extent to which it succeeds in both these areas after describing the game itself.

Three brand new editions of Word Up are currently available; the first for beginner to lower intermediate students; the second for intermediate to advanced students; and the third, the 'Complete Edition', for beginner through to advanced students. Each edition comes with a sturdy 34 x 34 cm playing board, a series of graded question and answer sheets (from 64 to160 sheets depending on the edition), 20 'Word Up Cards', 6 question sheet holders, 6 player tokens, 80 scoring tokens, 2 dice and the rules of play. All this is neatly packaged into a box similar in size to those used for Monopoly or Scrabble. The question sheets each contain a set of 28 questions arranged into four categories: Missing Word, Crossword Clues, Multiple Choice and Spelling, with the answers printed on the back. I could find no mistakes or typos in the sheets I looked at, so it seems they have been carefully written and thoroughly proofread. These sheets are divided into 5 levels of difficulty, with players of various abilities being able to play together, each answering questions from their own level.

Before the game begins, each player takes a question sheet from the level of difficulty suitable for the player to his or her left and then reads questions to this player as required during the game. Players take turns throwing the dice and moving their tokens around the board. If they land on one of the colour-coded 'question squares' (e.g. orange squares for 'Missing Word'), the player to their right asks a question from the corresponding category. A correct answer earns a scoring token of the same colour and another throw of the dice. Players may also land on one of several 'Word Up' squares and then take the top 'Word Up Card' from the pile in the middle of the board. Some of these cards penalize players, while others give a free scoring token or the chance to answer a question from any of the categories, and so on. These cards, together with various other special squares, add elements of chance and strategy to the game.

Players continue asking and answering questions until one player wins the game by being the first to collect two scoring tokens of each colour. For a longer game, the target number of tokens may be increased to three of each colour (there are enough questions in each set and enough scoring tokens provided to make this variation quite workable).

The questions themselves, over 4,400 in all, cover a huge amount of material, including a wide range of useful vocabulary, virtually all the grammatical structures normally taught, hundreds of idioms and phrasal verbs, plus proverbs, usage, etc. Many general knowledge questions, covering history, geography, science, the arts and sports, are also included. In addition, spelling is tested with both British and American spellings provided. Many of the questions are quite humorous and they do not seem to use grammatical terminology, presumably to avoid 'turning off' players by demanding answers similar to those required by textbook exercises. This, I believe, is a plus in the context of a game.

Now for the game's pedagogic and entertainment value. As a pedagogic tool, I would say Word Up is definitely effective as a means of both reviewing previously-acquired material and of exposing players to new material. The friendly competition involved motivates players to listen attentively, not only to their own questions but also to those of other players, as the outcome directly affects their own standing in the game. I found the general level of concentration required among the players to be very high, and consequently one would expect the degree of retention to be high as well. The sheer range of material covered during a particular game, plus the high potential for retention, are the key to the game's great value as an aid to learning English. As to its entertainment value, I found no signs of boredom or distraction, with all the players highly focused throughout the game. I even had the feeling that they had almost forgotten they were doing anything more than having fun - a sure sign of a well-designed language game.

To conclude, I believe that Word Up succeeds in providing an enjoyable and useful learning experience for students at any level beyond absolute beginner. It has value both as a classroom activity and as a means for students to improve their English 'in their own time'. I highly recommend Word Up as a unique language-learning aid that should be in every teacher's toolkit.

© Josef Essberger 2001

Josef Essberger is the founder of Englishclub.com

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