When we tabulated the schools with the highest point totals on the Vocabulary.com leaderboard for the past school year, the overall winner was no surprise. Corkscrew Middle School in Naples, Florida, which won the monthly championship banner three times (in November, January, and April), accumulated a total of more than 220 million points over the last nine months.

Four other schools managed to break the 100-million-point barrier over the same period (September through May): Brooklyn Technical High School (Brooklyn, NY) with more than 146 million points; Palm Desert High School (Palm Desert, CA) with more than 119 million points; High School for Public Service: Heroes of Tomorrow (Brooklyn, NY) with more than 116 million points; and Plymouth High School (Plymouth, IN) with more than 107 million points. Unlike those powerhouses, however, Corkscrew is a middle school, not a high school. What's their secret?

Look no further than Kelly Ducham, 6th grade science teacher and athletic director at Corkscrew, who played an instrumental role in Corkscrew's leaderboard domination. We talked to her about how she has managed to energize an entire school community to make learning vocabulary a competitive sport and a source of pride for her students.

Vocabulary.com: Corkscrew has won the Vocabulary.com monthly Champions banner three times! How did Corkscrew manage this accomplishment?

Kelly Ducham: Vocabulary.com is very motivating for anyone trying to learn new vocabulary. I myself was hooked right from the beginning – all those points!  All those achievements and THOSE LEVELS!  The names of those levels are just amazing.  That little voice that says, "Third time's a charm, huh?"  You can just hear it! It makes one think, "Oh, Yeah, I'll show you!"  So, you do another round and then another, then another…..

Most importantly, the teachers at Corkscrew have given students time to work on Vocabulary.com. We have made classwork and homework assignments and kept the program very visible. Since November, there have been many reminders on the news program to practice and lots of encouragement to earn points and master new vocabulary!

In my classroom, I developed charts to go along with the different Levels – NOVICE, HOT SHOT, PHENOM, etc. Every two weeks, I update the Achievement Level Charts. The students can not wait to come in on Monday and see their name up on the next level. They are very proud of their accomplishment!  

VC: What is the most interesting use of Vocabulary.com you have observed at Corkscrew?

KD: I encourage students to be working on a variety of lists at one time — a science list, a history list, something from Language Arts. Many of the students also made lists focusing on topics they were interested in: Minecraft or dolphins, for example.

This variety helps to prevent boredom! We wanted them to see that this is not just a teacher program, something that we are making them do, but we wanted them to make the program their own — to have fun and practice vocabulary as a word game.

I like to see students choose to play Vocabulary.com on their own initiative. Sometimes I have had to tell students to stop practicing Vocabulary.com and to complete another assignment in class. I have reminded some students that they have to eat and sleep when they go home at night!