Teach it Tuesday: PRISM Word Game

It’s Teach it Tuesday, I’m not working today, and it’s pouring rain…perfect day to dig in to the blog and share with you all one of my most favourite and simple “go to” activities.  This word game is called PRISM, but I like to refer to it as the “$20,000 lesson” because PRISM is probably the only strategy/game/activity I have used repeatedly from my B. Ed days at Uni.  Thanks to my language and literacy prof, Alison, for teaching this one to us in 2009!  *Note: this game might very well be published in a teacher resource book somewhere.  I do not intend to steal this idea or take credit for it, because I did not create it…I only have the handout from my Uni days, which has no reference on it!

Here’s how the game works:

PRISM acts as a word bank and can be used as a pre-write activity.  There are only three expectations:

1) You may not use proper nouns (will likely have to refresh the concept of a proper noun)

2) Each line may only have ONE word on it

3) You may use words only once, even if they reappear in a compound word (e.g. if you use the word “dog”, you may not use the word “doghouse”)

First, demonstrate PRISM by leading the class through one game on the board.  Set up the line like this:

Notice the lines are arranged by doubles: 1 line, 2 lines, 4 lines, 8 lines...and then 4 lines, 2 lines, 1 line.

Notice the lines are arranged by doubles: 1 line, 2 lines, 4 lines, 8 lines…and then 4 lines, 2 lines, 1 line.

Next, invite the class to play! Come up with a starting word (e.g. water) and write that word on the first line.  Then, ask the class: “What word do you think of when you hear the word “water”? and write down the first suggestion that is offered.  Note: the words do not have to be related in any way, although they likely will turn out that way.  Imagine a student offers the word “ocean” to be connected to the word “water” – this is how you would chart in on the board:


Continue on with the second set of lines and ask the class what else they think of when they hear the word “water”.  Imagine one student suggests the word “fish”…add “fish to the PRISM:


Move on the the third set of lines and notice you are now working from the words “ocean” and “fish”.  Imagine a student offers the word “whale” to stem off of “ocean” and another student offers “seaweed” off of “ocean”…chart the words this way:


Continue your way through the PRISM with your class and eventually you will have a PRISM full of words.  You can then have your students work with this word bank in various ways.  I usually have my students create a sentence (one that makes sense!) using the first and last word from our PRISM.  We usually talk about how in the world those two words, whatever they may be, ended up on the same PRISM.  Other times I’ve had students write poems using the words from the PRISM.  I’ve also had students choose ten words and write a short story using all the words (this version was done around Hallowe’en last year, so we started off with a Hallowe’en-y word and our PRISM was gory, scary and terrifying, to say the least).

Two weeks ago I played PRISM in my grade 7 language arts class (my “start up” job for this year).  I let the students work on the white boards (dream of dreams come true!) and this PRISM caught my attention:


Isn’t that a cute sentence using the first and last word of their PRISM?

You see, the boys playing this game are both ESL (English as a Second Language) and PRISM was challenging their English vocab!  These two managed to make it through the PRISM using their knowledge of the English language and only had to ask for my guidance once (impressive, hey?)  What happened post-PRISM was amazing though…as the boys went back through their word bank they started to find word connections between their first languages (Arabic and Spanish).  These grade 7 boys got so fired up about the English/Arabic/Spanish connection that they called me over and excitedly described to me how some of the words in their PRISM word bank “must be related, Mrs. Alleyn, because when you say “gum” in Arabic it sounds like ________________, which is similar to how it sounds in Spanish…”  Now, isn’t that CRAZY!?  🙂

Happy PRISM making!

There are many ways you can extend this activity to create writing lessons from it.  Let us know if you try this PRISM game with your class and if you come up with any other ideas/uses for the word bank!

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