Up your language arts game while on vacation!

Language Arts Game Word Wizardry with Shurley English.jpg

My family and I have played a really cool game throughout our years together. My wife and I thought it up when we were traveling on vacation several years ago, and it remains as one of my all-time favorites (not sure anyone else agrees!!). It only requires a brain, a vocabulary, and a voice.

It’s a kind of free-word association game. It is loosely modeled around the psychological test called “Free Association”, and it was often used to help clients learn how to articulate their thoughts and feelings. Well, as a wordsmith, this game converts beautifully when you want to explore not only your innermost thoughts about life and experiences, but also to become a wise word wrangler.

Here’s how it works. Start with ANY word you want—such as ball. Then, after you speak the word, the next person free-associates it to some other word that can be a part of its group by means of synonyms, antonyms, homophones, homographs, rhyme, and collocations. Now, let’s review briefly what each of these word relationships includes.

·       Synonyms are word pairs or groups that have a similar meaning.

·       Antonyms are word pairs that are opposites.

·       Homophones are word pairs that sound exactly the same, even if they are spelled differently.

·       Homographs are words that are spelled the same but have different meanings.

·       Rhyming words are simple—words rhyme exactly when they begin with different letters but share the same vowel and the letters that come after the vowel. This part of the word is called the rime. The changing first letter is called the onset.

·       Collocations are word groups that often appear together in our language.


Watch how the following example shows a progression of words and related words based on the initial start word: ball.

ball>bat>cave>Batman>superhero>Spiderman>web>Charlotte>Wilbur>pig>pen>pencil>stencil…and so on. It is exciting to see how the game develops, and it’s never the same game twice.


If you think carefully about this example, you will see almost every kind of relationship that can exist between the words. You will also notice that it taps into one’s awareness of literature, culture, and possibly any of life’s experiences. It’s really fun to discuss how the relationship actually fits based upon your experience. And, yes, there are times when the relationship is too far out there to be counted, but this word game is a sure-fired way to develop and broaden vocabulary and your ability to think. Mostly, it promotes communication. Give it a try sometime during the holidays when you are gathering with friends and family. It can be a big hit!

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David Lutz

David, a former classroom teacher, administrator, and self-proclaimed grammar nut, considers the oddities of English vocabulary and grammar his playthings! He received his degrees in elementary education, teaching, and curriculum design from CMU in Fayette, MO, and the University of St. Mary, Leavenworth, KS, respectively. His career has been a colorful collage of experiences in education, ranging from Kindergarten to Adult education and parenting classes.


He and his wife, Marjorie, have been blessed with 30 years of marriage, three grown sons, a cherished daughter-in-law, and the smartest, cutest grandson on the planet! He’s worked for Shurley Instructional Materials, Inc., for over 11 years and loves to help students and their teachers learn to love language and language learning as much as he does.