The joy of Scrabble

25th February 2005 at 00:00
It was a love affair that began at the height of the one of the worst periods of industrial unrest in Britain's history.

Amid violence and hardship, the 11-year-old daughter of a striking miner in Stoke-on-Trent, was given a "pit parcel" by the National Union of Minerworkers containing food for Christmas and a Scrabble board.

Twenty years on, Samantha Cooper is a part-time teacher at a Stoke primary and is using the game as a cross-curricular tool to raise standards.

"It was the best present I could have received. I absolutely loved it, and I still collect Scrabble games. I even have an original 1955 first edition," she said. "I want to inspire in the pupils a similar love of the game because it is fun and a fantastic way to help them learn."

Mrs Cooper, who teaches Years 3 and 6 at Meir Heath school, has set up a lunchtime Scrabble club. It has 24 members aged from nine to 11 years, and a waiting list.

The school is among an increasing number of primaries using innovative methods to help children learn. Two weeks ago, The TES reported how some had formed darts, knitting and bridge clubs to aid literacy and maths teaching.

Mrs Cooper said that Scrabble had improved children's spelling and encouraged them to find unusual words to outwit their opponents. "They need constantly to think about how to use letters such as Z and X to bulk up their points," she said.

Working out scores based on letter values, and doubling and trebling word and letter scores, helped mental arithmetic skills.

With only four letter Us and one Q in the 100 tiles, pupils also had to work out the probability of pulling out the letters needed to form certain words. "The children learn competitiveness, how to second-guess their opponents and about the luck associated with picking out the squares they need to win," Mrs Cooper said.

"I have also told them the story of how I came to play Scrabble in the first place, and what the strike was like, so that has formed part of citizenship and PHSE lessons."

Last month, David Bell, the chief inspector, said that children whose parents played board games with them did better at school.

He said youngsters grasped important skills through the interaction, including thinking for themselves, waiting their turn and holding a conversation with adults. These improved discipline in class.

WORD POWER

Four letters - Q, Z, X and J - are considered the most difficult, but they have high values and can help you win. The trick, say Scrabble experts, is to ensure you know words containing them.

More than 250 words in English contain the letter Q. These include qat and qua. More than 300 words contain an X, 290 have a J and 312 have a Z.

Jackie McLeod, of the Association of British Scrabble Players, said the game was used extensively in Asia as part of the curriculum for teaching English.

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