Old words make memorable games

Ideas and inspiration across the curriculum

When I was given a desk calendar of Forgotten English as a gift, I thought there must be a way of using this with my mixed class of Years 3 and 4. I have since used it with great success to generate an interest in language.

I introduced the calendar by putting one of the words in it on the board at the start of a literacy lesson. The first word I chose was "nimster". This became a "mental and oral starter" and I asked the children what they thought it meant.

They wrote their ideas on whiteboards and I was impressed with their imaginative definitions.

It was "a name for a very small baby hamster", declared one child. No, it was "the name for a very mean person", said another. "A poor homeless person" was another believable answer.

According to the calendar, it is in fact a street thief, but I was amazed at how many children very nearly hit on this. This told me how much the children already knew about word endings as all defined this word as a noun.

Then we tried "smittlish". Again, they spotted that this was an adjective, defining it as "tired and fed up", "feeling ill", and my favourite: "it's how someone feels when they are in love." We then tried these in sentences:

"Oh dear, I'm feeling all smittlish today."

The children couldn't wait to hear the real meaning to see who was the nearest. It means "infectious".

Later I changed the game slightly and showed them the calendar, explaining the dynamic nature of language over the centuries.

Next we played "call my bluff", where I gave them a word, followed by three definitions, two of which I would invent on the spot. The revelation of the true meaning was always greeted with cheers of delight by those who guessed correctly and groans by those who did not. The children progressed to writing their own false definitions and reading them out to the class together with the true one.

Michelle Gregory

Senior teacher and literacy co-ordinator, Oakfield First School, Windsor and Maidenhead

* Forgotten English calendar www.past-times.com

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