back to school · games · writer's notebook

Word Games in the Workshop

Encountering a language different from one’s home or native culture can be a complex experience. I’ve always been fascinated by how authors and creators use language in ways to broaden a character, deepen a scene, or give context to a story. Authors make up words and create whole languages for characters, creating alternate worlds, traditions, and experiences. J.R.R. Tolkien created Elvish, while George R.R. Martin devised the Dothraki language in the Song of Ice and Fire series. “Jabberwacky,” by Lewis Carroll, comes to mind as the most well-known nonsense poem.

While dabbling in the art of linguistics is fascinating to me as a person who loves words, language sciences and patterns, as I said, are very complex. As I began planning for my creative writing class this year, I wondered if tapping into the creativity of language might spur some writing that was out of the box. Seventh and eighth graders like pushing boundaries. I wanted to use this energy to explore language games to push their creative boundaries further.

Last week was my first week back with students. We played some games in my creative writing class to warm up together in a low-stakes environment. Scrabble, which I have several sets of in my classroom, was a favorite. However, this was not the same Scrabble you and I remember. We made our own rules. Students had to come up with word parts, combine them to make a new word, and then give it a creative definition.

This led me to investigate more ideas on made-up words and creative language games that could spur intrigue, novelty, and creativity in our workshop as we prepared for our first poetry unit.

Blabrecs is a website where students can create their own made-up words, develop definitions, and use what they know about language to just play. Here is an example:

Click the image to try it yourself!

Did you know there are even fake language generators? I didn’t. Scriboly will take your text and develop a “fake language” with phoneme patterns.

Here is an example of a short bit of text translated into a new language on Scriboly, which I used as a model for my creative writing students.

Isn’t that fun? When I did not think I could come up with a way to make writing workshop more low-stakes, there were tools at the ready.

There are even fake word generators to help you develop nonsense words. You can visit Random Word Generator to get a “fake word” for your next project.

What I might be most excited about is what else is available on Random Word Generator. Random nouns, verbs, adjectives, and other parts of speech. Even random names. The links below will take you to various random word generators for almost any need when a writer becomes stuck.

When students return to school in the fall, skills are often forgotten or not at the recall level. There can be hesitation to take a risk and get words down on the page. These word games and word generators can relieve some of the pressure to get it all right and, with some intention, get it wrong for a creative twist.

The license to be creative as a learner builds critical thinking skills and confidence. It allows a writer to explore the boundaries of their language to communicate their ideas. I hope you will share your own ideas on how you encourage students to push the boundaries of language to build writing fluency, creativity, and confidence in the writing workshop.