Magnetic Classroom Vocabulary Game




Introduction: Magnetic Classroom Vocabulary Game

Vocabulary is one thing that every teacher teaches regardless of grade level or subject. Whether it's an English teacher trying to lay foundation so her students can actually understand a short story, a history teacher trying to explain what a "shogun" is in a unit on pre-industrial Japan, or a sixth grade science teacher embarking on a unit for geology students*, this is an easy and fun way to help students develop their content-area vocabulary.

If you've ever played the game Funglish, this should be a familiar style of game. As a matter of fact, it's almost exactly the same. Just bigger. And designed around teachers. And magnetic. And adaptable. It's a lot of things that the original version isn't. And until Hasbro fires up the presses and builds some content-specific versions of the game, DIY is the best way to put this in front of your entire class. (If you're running stations, a mini-version is also really easy to set up, too.)

Here's an example of a large version being played by Alyson Hannigan and Ellen DeGeneres.

Powerpoint revolutionized Jeopardy! for the classroom. It was fun, it was academic, and it was a good way to learn to recall facts in high-pressure situations. It can take awhile to set up questions, though, and anything that takes too much extra prep just doesn't make it to the kids as often as it should. This game is really quick to set up: a quick whiteboard set up, then pull out the magnets, get a list of vocabulary words, and you're off to the races studying vocab at two levels:
  • unit vocabulary
  • adjective vocabulary
And, because I know that pretty much none of you have access to a laser cutter, you can easily do this with card stock and those free refrigerator magnets that you have cluttering your fridge at home.

Here is the learning objective for this game:

By playing this game, students will demonstrate their knowledge of plate tectonics, earthquakes, and volcanoes through the use of age-appropriate vocabulary.

Standards addressed:

a. Students know evidence of plate tectonics is derived from the fit of the continents;
the location of earthquakes, volcanoes, and midocean ridges; and the distribution
of fossils, rock types, and ancient climatic zones.

b. Students know Earth is composed of several layers: a cold, brittle lithosphere; a
hot, convecting mantle; and a dense, metallic core.

c. Students know lithospheric plates the size of continents and oceans move at rates
of centimeters per year in response to movements in the mantle.

d. Students know that earthquakes are sudden motions along breaks in the crust
called faults and that volcanoes and fissures are locations where magma reaches
the surface.

e. Students know major geologic events, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions,
and mountain building, result from plate motions.

f. Students know how to explain major features of California geology (including
mountains, faults, volcanoes) in terms of plate tectonics.

*We're doing that. You'll notice in the rockier sections of this 'ible that it's geared toward sixth graders learning about geology.

Step 1: Parts and Supplies


A magnetic board
People to play with
Content area vocabulary


Magnetic strips from the dollar store (~ 4"x12")
Whiteboard marker/chalk


Laser cutter (or a permanent marker of some kind)

Alternate option: For those of you without a good dollar store nearby, or who might prefer to print out the magnets, try these printable magnetic sheets. Color printers are far more ubiquitous than laser cutters. Amazon is easier to access than the Daiso on Market St. in San Francisco. You can also just draw stuff on. There are easier options, but I wanted to tempt fate by cutting vinyl with the improper tool.

Step 2: Getting Started: Choose Your Words Carefully

This is the part that actually matters academically. Everything else you can wing: font, how you affix adjectives to the board, material, etc. But the words you choose are important.

First off, find a list of the content area vocabulary you want to teach with this. Since I no longer have a class of my own, I asked a friend to give me her list of vocab for an upcoming geology unit.

Here are the terms her class needs to know by the end of the unit:

    Plate Tectonics/Layers of the Earth:
  • inner core
  • outer core
  • mantle
  • crust
  • Pangaea
  • continental drift
  • plate tectonics
  • mid-ocean ridges
  • sea floor spreading
  • divergent boundary
  • convergent boundary
  • subduction boundary
  • transform boundary

  • earthquake
  • focus
  • fault
  • epicenter
  • seismic waves
  • Richter scale
  • Mercalli Intensity scale
  • seismograph
  • volcano
  • magma
  • lava
  • magma chamber
  • vent
  • active volcano
  • dormant volcano
  • extinct volcano
  • composite volcano
  • shield volcano
  • cinder cone volcano

Given that set of words, now it's time to come up with a list of adjectives that will be able to describe everything on that list. We can ignore antonyms, as the board configuration allows someone to use HOT or NOT HOT rather than making a new card for COLD. It'll cut down on the time it takes to create this.

Here's the list of adjectives I chose:

Moving Orange Marine Short Blue
Spotted Hot Smooth Green Conical
Wood European Black Clear Sulfuric
African Floating Metamorphic Man-made External
Fast Convex Scary Changing Fat
Shiny Igneous Human Illegal Wet
Striped Asian Strong Organic Flat
Rubber Old Sharp Spherical Red
American Stretchy White Gaseous Molten
Large Concave Liquid Under Yellow
Layered Sedimentary Separate Small

With this list, it should be possible to describe every item on the geology vocabulary list. There are some extras that could be taken out, but I want to see how kids will use these in class. If you're concerned about overwhelming your class with options, drop the ones that aren't essential. With some experimentation, it should become clear which words are extraneous. Err on the side of too many options, though, as not enough will leave people stranded in the front of the class feeling embarrassed while desperately searching for a word you decided wasn't important. Your mileage will vary based on grade level, class size, and your experience with the material. I taught English, not science, so my ratio of adjectives to vocabulary is a little out of whack.

Step 3: Prepare Your Media

This step is really self-explanatory: get the words onto something that will stick to your board.
  • If you're going to laser cut your magnets*, you'll want only the outlines of your letters with no fill. I cut at 20% power to score the vinyl enough that it can be peeled off the magnet but not so much that it cuts all the way through.
  • If you're printing, make your files and print to the magnet sheet.
  • If you're drawing onto the magnet, draw on.
  • If you're sticking cardstock or something to the magnet, do that.

Because not everyone has a magnetic surface in their classroom, I'd be curious to hear other ideas for affixing these words to your board. Maybe velcro on a cardboard sheet? Thumbtacks in a corkboard?

*Which you really should not do because of the horrible, no-good, very bad things you may inhale as a result of burning vinyl.

Step 4: Board Configuration

This part is the easiest bit.

Divide your board into three sections:

  2. KIND OF
  3. NOT
If you'll be doing this all day, I recommend using some 1/2" blue painter's tape to keep the lines looking clean for each class period.

Step 5: Gameplay

You can easily customize the game to work with your class, but here's a suggestion:

Explain the object of the game: The object of the game is to choose from the wide array of descriptive word cards for words to place in the different categories to get the other players to guess the word you’re trying to describe.

Divide your class into groups, and select a pair of clue-givers for each group. The rest of the group will guess aloud as the clue-givers add adjectives during their group's turn.

Remember: Clue-givers may not speak, they may only gesture or add adjectives.

Set a timer for two minutes and let them play.

Have the other groups keep score or guess or write down their answers (as opposed to calling them out as the guessing group will be doing.) If any of you are particularly adept at coordinating group activities such that every child has a responsibility during the game rather than just the group whose turn it is, drop suggestions in the comments. I've got a three month pro membership for someone who comes up with a good idea. :-D

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    10 years ago on Introduction

    When we played Jeopardy in the classroom we divided groups as such:
    1 person kept score for their group
    1 person choose the topic and made the first guess then we went down the line
    For final jeopardy, one person was designated as the writer to write down the answer. Maybe something similar to this can be used for your game, however I am having a hard time picturing this in action ( I think my brain is shot for today)

    I'm thinking 1 person clue giver, 1person note taker, 1 person point tracker (and if you are doing multiplying such as in lower grades you can make the points worth more then 1 each so they skip count), 1 person reporter who tells the groups answer. Each round they rotate jobs.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Love this instructable! I've never played Funglish, but I think I have to get it, or make myself a game, thanks to your Instructable!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    large, orange, mechanical, man-made

    Kind of:
    confusing, smooth

    wet, blue, human


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    The Instructables Robot!!!

    Do I win a 23" VIZIO Television???