Catchphrase Vocabulary Development

Jen Duell

One of the issues in a science classroom is with each chapter there are numerous vocabulary terms that a student must master in order to understand the content that is being taught. Especially when reviewing for a midterm, there are long lists of vocab words that the students would never be able to focus for the length of time necessary to define all the words involved. I actually used this activity in a high school forensic science classroom of juniors and seniors as one of the review activities for their midterm. The task develops the students vocabulary using a game format.

I modeled the activity off of the electronic party game Catchphrase. I took the vocabulary terms the students were expected to know or needed to understand in order to communicate the content on the midterm. Using Microsoft word, I formatted a document so the pages were the size of index cards and there was one vocabulary word on each page (see attached document). Then I printed the document on index cards. I now had a stack of 108 index cards with one vocab word on each card. You could just hand write the vocab words on the index cards or pass out two index cards to each student and ask them to write one vocab word they had trouble remembering on each index card. I printed the cards so there was no issue reading my handwriting.




On the day we played the game in class, I set up the classroom so the desks were in one giant circle in the middle of the room. The students were divided into two teams. The students sat around the circle alternating between teams. This means on either side of each student were people from the opposite team. So the circle was set up so there was a student from team a, team b, team a, team b, etc. On the computer, I set up a YouTube video with the catchphrase timer (Catchphrase Timer Video). Any one minute timer would work. What is nice about the Catchphrase timer is it has a series of beeps that speeds up as time passes so it adds a pressure element to the game. I explained the rules to the students:

  1. On each index card there is a vocabulary term that you need to know for the midterm.
  2. I will start the game by handing the stack of index cards to one player and I will start the timer.
  3. The player will read the vocab word on the card silently and give verbal clues to their teammates trying to get them to guess the word or phrase on the card.
  4. The player giving clues cannot use gestures or act out the word, tell the number of letters in the word/phrase, use phrases like "sounds like" or "rhymes with", or spell out the word.
  5. The player continues to give clues while their teammates shout out guess of what the word or phrase is.
  6. When a teammate guesses the word, the student indicates there was a right answer.
  7. The student puts the index card to the bottom of the pile and passes the index card stack to the person on their right.
  8. The next person (who should be from the opposite team) repeats the process of trying to get their teammates to guess the word on top of the stack.
  9. When the timer goes off the round ends. The team left holding the index cards when the timer goes off gets a point.
  10. The timer is restarted and the game continues.
  11. The team with the LEAST amount of points at the end of the period wins.

This game could be played in any subject to work on vocabulary development. The nice part of the game is the students have to verbally define the terms and if they do not know how to define the term, they have to think up of a creative way of getting their classmates to understand what they are talking about. After the round, I would define these terms for the student so they understood the term with its proper definition.