Once again, the Etiwanda Eagles soared above the rest and ended September perched atop the Vocabulary Bowl Leaderboards with 81,848 words mastered. That impressive number was their highest monthly total ever, and is a mere 4,000 words from the record set by Margate back in March — 85,912 words in one month.

With the 2017-18 Vocabulary Bowl just getting underway, and the Eagles — defending 2016-17 Vocabulary Bowl Champions — already going full throttle, we wanted know how these kids are doing it. Etiwanda ELA teacher April Smith was kind enough to give up some planning time to chat with us about how Etiwanda dominates the leaderboards.

Vocabulary.com: It might surprise people that you only started using Vocabulary.com last year, especially since Etiwanda won the Vocabulary Bowl last season. How did you get started?
Ms. April Smith: A colleague introduced me to Vocabulary.com; we explored it together over the summer after we determined we needed to modify the way we were teaching vocabulary.

V: How much time would you say your students are typically using Vocabulary.com, both in class and at home?
AS: Class time vs. home time is an interesting question. It really depends upon the teacher and the level of the class; some teachers give more time in class while some teachers do not give any class time at all. On average, I would say that most students spend 20 minutes weekly in class working.

V: Are teachers assigning specific lists — either ones they find on the List Library, or lists they create themselves?
AS: We've always been a school that values vocabulary development; therefore, most teachers have specific lists for each unit. It isn't just about winning the Vocabulary Bowl or competing with our neighboring schools — we use it as a curriculum tool. Most teachers have words that we expect students to understand and use in both their spoken and written work. We use Vocabulary.com from the beginning of the school year throughout summer school.

Vocabulary Bowl Celebration at Etiwanda High

V: Can you tell us about how you’ve embraced academic competition to motivate practice and learning, and how you’ve attained such success in the Bowl?
AS: Our success in the Vocabulary Bowl was twofold: we fostered a competitive spirit, and were consistent in assigning vocabulary. We competed not just with other schools, but with other teachers on campus. I was encouraging my students to take the lead from another teacher. Because we were consistent in assigning vocabulary, it became a weekly expectation for students to complete.

V: Other than the titles, the banners, the medals, and the enormous trophy, what have your students gained from competing in the Vocabulary Bowl?
AS: I see increased vocabulary usage in both writing assignments and speaking. There's an increased level of vocabulary awareness.

Smith's colleague Gilda Wiedmann told Vocabulary.com last spring when we asked her about learning via competing, “As a teacher, I know they are gaining word literacy, so it's a win-win situation.”

So there you have it, folks. As it turns out, Vocabulary Bowl success is not magic. It's not about being the biggest school, or having the most experience. Nor is it about spending excessive amounts of class time to play. For these champs, Vocabulary Bowl success comes down to two things: consistency and fostering a healthy sense of competition.

Now that Etiwanda's strategies have been revealed — consistency and a competitive spirit  — we hope you'll envision your school at the top of your county, state or division leaderboards and work with your students to make it happen. Maybe you'll snag a monthly win like Nimitz High School, who rose from obscurity last year to claim back-to-back banners. Maybe you'll be the school that shatters Margate's record, or the first to claim the new Vocabulary State Champion banner at the end of the season.

Who knows? Within a year, maybe your school will be the next Etiwanda.

It's never too late to get started. Join the Vocabulary Bowl and experience what happens when your students play, compete and learn.