The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 24, 2008


Carlisle School Scrabble Club has fun with words

From left to right, Rholee Xu, parent helper Ann Marie Durlacher, Katie Zinke and Gene Stamell ponder the best play. (Photo by Ellen Huber)

“I love words and anagramming,” says Carlisle fifth-grader Sam Heinrich. “Scrabble helps me discover obscure words.”

Heinrich is one of 18 students in grades three through five who meet in teacher Gene Stamell’s third-grade classroom Thursdays after school to learn and play Scrabble. Each meeting begins with a Scrabble tip, explains Stamell. “I have constructed a large board with magnetic letters that I use for teaching. Children take turns coming up and making plays, and we discuss each play. I teach them vertical and horizontal moves, the best use of an “s,” and other strategies.” Some of the younger children are new to Scrabble and are still learning the basic rules of the game.

Children then break up into two-person teams to play the game. Each player has a folder with lists of two- and three-letter words that are basic to the game and to which they can refer during play. Stamell circulates among the players, often assisted by Heinrich, and helps them find the best play.

Heinrich, at age ten an experienced and accomplished player, often plays at the Lexington Scrabble Club where I also play. There he competes against adult players at all levels, and all of us who play against him are impressed with his word knowledge and understanding of board strategy.

Bingos score big

“Bingos” are seven-letter words or longer that use all seven tiles in the player’s rack and score an extra 50 points. “We keep track of bingos by posting them on a board in the room,” Stamell says. “We typically have one bingo per session. [Last Thursday[ one team, with my help, played a bingo, “annotate,” scoring 78 points.”

“A really fun bingo I played on a triple word score was “futzing” for 149 points,” says Heinrich modestly. “Futz” is a verb meaning “to spend time aimlessly.” He shares some of his tips for Scrabble success – he has memorized the two-letter words “and most of the threes” that help him make parallel plays and hook bingos. He remembers unusual words that people play against him, like “ikat” (a fabric of tie-dyed yarns), “ozonated” (to treat or combine with ozone), “catenary” (a mathematical curve) and “fugu” (a toxin-containing fish). Heinrich also studies vowel-heavy words that all too frequently appear on a player’s rack – “naoi” (an ancient temple), “oidia” (a type of fungus) and “aalii” (a tropical tree) are examples.

Club to expand in January

Stamell reports that the club, which began last year, runs for three sessions – fall, winter and spring – with a new sign-up each session. Since there is a waiting list to join the club, it will expand in January when fourth-grade teacher Ken Ashe joins Stamell in directing the club. They will use both classrooms and will be able to accommodate new members. “I would love middle schoolers to be involved,” says Stamell.

“What I love most about directing the club is seeing children having fun with words,” he says. “I can’t help but think that this alone might improve spelling and more important, bring a love of language into their lives.” ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito