Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Chain Game - Links for Fast Finishers

When I was younger I often kept myself amused with a pen and a piece of paper.

I would select two words composed of the same number of letters and see how quickly I could transform them from one to the other.

To make it more fun normally the words would be opposite, or funny. For example, "How many steps does it take to get from wheat-bread?"


As you can see, the rules are simple. You change one letter of the word, but it has to create a word. 

I can change wheat-cheat, but not wheat-wheap.
I don't remember how I learned this, but in high school I found out it was actually a word puzzle invented by Lewis Carroll!

You can download his original writing, Doublets A Word Puzzle by Lewis Carroll for free. I don't follow the exact rules, but it is an interesting read and it has lots of examples you can use.

I rarely use this activity as an "assignment" but I do introduce and use it for fast finishers.

Can you spot the error in this graphic? Keep reading to see what I'd do
At the start of the year we go over how to play. From then on every week I write two new words at the top of the board. If at any point in the week students finish early they can attempt to connect the words in the fewest words possible.

For example, I may write: Cat-Dog

One student may submit: Cat-Hat-Hot-Dot-Dog 5 links

And another student submits Cat-Cot-Dot-Dog 4 links

The "winner" is the person who completes it with the fewest changes. In this case the second person wins.

To add a vocabulary aspect, I have the students define and write a sentence with each word. Their submission is not valid if it includes a non word, or a fake definition. (update: 6/12) I am relatively lenient with the definition. As you can see in the example above, the student defined bare incorrectly.

Bare should mean naked or uncovered. They mixed it up with bear to carry or hold. However, the sentence could be seen as correct: the right to "naked" or not-immensely altered weapons. Most importantly to me, it is an "academic" sentence that means they probably paid attention in a Social Studies class (where one of the teachers at my school discusses how some people argue that people should have the right to bare weapons, but not AK47s). As a result, I would probably leave a short note here, but not disqualify them. However, you can be as strict as you need to be. Many teachers would not allow that word to pass leave a note about homophones and declare the winner a different student.Which hopefully means student one will have learned a valuable distinction! 

Whenever a student finishes their work early they can tinker with their word chain to see if they can cut a step out or try a different approach to get a smaller number.

Here's a copy of the worksheet in case you'd like to use this with your class. This is free for the next 5 days! After June 15th, the price will be adjusted.


  1. thank you for sharing. I like word puzzles and I must admit I didn't know about Carroll's. I'll try it next year with my students.

    1. I love word puzzles too! I hope you enjoy these :)

  2. "Bare" mean "naked" or something like this, I assume you meant "bear" though!

    1. Thanks for commenting! I meant to point this out, and I completely forgot. This was an example of the student getting the definition wrong. As you can see in the example, I had them think of "the right to bare arms" but use the wrong definition. Since they were thinking of a homophone, and their sentence was right, I would probably still give them the credit here, but I'd make a note so they would learn from it.

      Thanks so much for reminding me to add this part to the blog! I'll edit it right now :)

    2. I should probably explain why the sentence was "right." The second amendment does say, "bear arms." However, in one of the history classes on campus the teacher discusses how many people feel it is closer to "bare" arms. That is. People have the right to guns, but not AK47s. They have the right to "naked" weapons. Since I know that another teacher explains it this way, I would be less inclined to simply mark the sentence as incorrect.

      I hope that made more sense!

  3. I love word games! I love Text Twist, Book Worm, Scrabble, etc. I also love solving crossword puzzles. So thank you for sharing this. I noticed that you're a teacher? I would love to teach in a classroom setting! However, I am a stay-at-home mom as of the moment so the best that I can do was apply at . I keep looking for jobs for ESL teacher online because I can only conduct classes via Skype. See, I have a sickly one-year old who needs constant care and supervision.
    I envy you and the others who get to teach in school. :( I know I'll get there too. Although I'm enjoying my job at Preply, I get frustrated sometimes.
    But as my husband always tells me : "For as long as you are helping people learn, it doesn't matter how you do it".

    1. Text Twist is tons of fun :) Thanks for commenting

  4. Hi Carissa,

    Just to let you know that we’ve shortlisted this blog post for this month’s TeachingEnglish blog award and I’ll be putting up a post about it on Sunday’s TeachingEnglish Facebook page, if you’d like to check there for likes and comments.


    1. Thanks for letting me know Ann :) Always an honor to be shortlisted!


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