Spin & Spell

My family is full of good sports, at one time or another all of them have been pulled into helping with my teaching ideas in some way. My father is quite possibly the most patient of all, and has definitely been pulled in more often than most (he even pulled empty paint cans out of the garbage in another state for my Paint Can Question Words activity). He’s always been quick to jump in and help bring my imaginings and plans to life, and without his help the game I’d like to share with you today wouldn’t work nearly as well.

One afternoon one of the other ESL teachers and I were talking about a game we wanted to play with students. The problem was the game required a spinner, and we were trying to figure out the best way to go about creating one. We finally hit upon the idea of using Avery CD Labels to print the face, and sticking the labels on old CDs to form the spinner itself. The problem was how to actually use the spinners. We tried spinning them around pencils and stopping them with a finger. We could get it to work, but the students struggled to hold the pencil, spin the CD, and stop it without something going flying off in a direction it wasn’t meant to. Then we tried spinning them around a single finger. A couple of band-aids later we realized the flaw in that plan. We finally gave up for the afternoon and went our separate ways to think about the problem.

At a later time I was describing the problem to my father and expressing my desire for some type of stand to act as our spinner frame. My father asked a few questions, lead me down to his workshop, dug out some scrap wood, and soon presented me with a spinner stand (pictured), asking if it would do. Not only did it “do,” but it was exactly what we needed!

Fast forward a few years and I now have a collection of CD spinner stands (handcrafted by my father, of course), as well as a large collection of scratched, outdated, or otherwise useless CDs and DVDs awaiting labels. I make labels to use in place of dice for games, labels specifically for games, labels for vocabulary practice, and for a host of other uses. One of my students’ favorite games to play with CD spinners though is Spin ‘N Spell.

Spin ‘N Spell is a very simple game that I started playing with my students to help them practice vocabulary and spelling. I create a spinner by printing pictures or definitions of their spelling or vocabulary words in the various sections. The students then take turns spinning the CD, naming the vocabulary word represented, spelling the word, and using it in a sentence. They get one point for identifying the word, one for spelling it correctly, and one for creating a unique sentence (no fair repeating someone else’s sentence) with the word. Each turn has the potential of earning between one and three points, and it is rare that a student will earn zero points. The spinner and stand are then passed to the next student who spins, identifies, spells, and creates a sentence. Play continues until a designated point value is reached, or we run out of time.

Spin ‘N Spell is great because it is quick to set up (the CDs and spinner stands live in my classroom year round), simple to understand, and can be played for any length of time. It makes for a perfect brain break, or five-minutes-left-in-the-period activity. The students enjoy it and like trying to come up with the funniest or most unique sentences possible. The best part is that it really does improve their vocabulary and spelling skills.

If you’re thinking, “That’s great for you, but what am I supposed to do?” fear not. You too can have your own set of cd spinners. The building plans are available for free via the button or links above. A very basic level of woodworking skill is required to assemble them, but even I (who was very nearly and eighth grade shop drop out) can put one together, so you can too, or you can find someone who’ll do it for you. (Time to make friends with the shop teacher?) If you can’t get spinner stands made, you can always try spinning the CDs around pencils or some other object…just learn from our mistake and avoid using your finger as the object. Happy teaching, everyone!