How can your school shift from perceiving vocabulary as an “English teacher’s thing” to a value that pervades an entire school culture? Los Alamitos High School in southern California may have the answer: get creative! 

When recently visited Los Alamitos High School, we had a chance to witness their Vodunkulary event — where students competed in a vocabulary game to win the chance to dunk their teachers. LosAl's principal Dr. Joshua Arnold and English teacher Debby Brosius were the masterminds behind this fun idea.

Weeks ahead of time, a school committee assembled this list of vocabulary words from different categories, including math, science, English, social studies, the SAT, and terms associated with their community.

During Vodunkulary, students spun the game wheel to land on a category, and, depending on where they landed, were challenged to define words like endothermic, exponent, alliteration, and partisan. Upon answering the question correctly, students were handed three softballs to pitch at a target, which, when hit, plunged their teachers into an icy dunk tank.

Even if your school (or your climate!) won’t permit your staging a Vodunkulary event, you should consider what innovative and fun ways you could be celebrating word learning as a school-wide event. Chavez High School in Houston, TX celebrated Cesar Chavez Day by bringing students together for a schoolwide event to learn word lists celebrating workers’ rights. Enrico Fermi School for the Performing Arts in Yonkers, NY made it their business to defeat their local rival in the monthly Vocabulary Bowl contest. Schools across the country are staging Vocabulary parades (and making headlines!). We've collected ideas for other project-based learning here and here. When it comes to getting students excited about vocabulary, don't be afraid to take the plunge.

Los Alamitos High School principal Dr. Joshua Arnold takes a plunge for vocabulary learning.