The Surprisingly Motivating, Impromptu, x-Words Challenge.

At the start of a lesson yesterday, I showed this image from to students and asked them to Stand & Talk about it.  After returning to their seats (they’re seated in groups comprised of 3-4 students), student groups shared a few noticings (there are two groups of shapes here… there are triangles and weird shapes… the triangles look proportional… the weird shapes look weird… I don’t think those shapes in Group 2 are proportional).

Next, I asked students to write a “two-minute paper”, silently and individually, answering the prompt below.

After the two minutes had passed, I encouraged students to share what they wrote within their groups.  Next, rather than asking, “Group 1, share about what you wrote and talked about,” I did something else.

On the fly, I asked, “Can anyone share what it means for two polygons to be similar, but only use FIVE WORDS?”


This tiny modification in my questioning raised the student engagement level in the room by approximately 427%.  No seriously, their eyes lit up!  You could see their eyeballs looking up at the ceiling, and they began tilting their heads the way little puppies do.

Hands shot up!  They shared concisely and excitedly!

“Same shape, maybe different size!”

“What about in only FOUR words?  Or THREE?  TWO words, anyone?”

I don’t think anyone was sitting on seats at this point.  Everybody had something to say!

Then, it happened.  That moment that makes teachers belly-laugh with tear-filled eyes.

One young lady exclaimed, “What about HALF a word?  PRO – PO!!?!”

Yes, friends, an abbreviation for “proportional” was just invented.  My student wrote her new 1/2  word on my copy of the notes at the front of the class, placed it in quotes, autographed my paper to copyright her creation, and sat down, proudly.

All middle-school-silliness aside, isn’t this a cool strategy for engagement, concise use of vocabulary, and fun?  If you use “The x-Words Challenge”, I’d love to hear how it goes with your students!


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