When literacy coach Victoria Fairbrother-Smith of Sugarloaf Elementary and Middle School in Sugarloaf Key, FL heard about a group of high school students winning the Vocabulary.com school leaderboard for a day of play, she hatched an idea: a "Vocabulary Blast" day-long charge to the top spot on the Vocabulary.com daily school leaderboard.

Originally, she was planning to take the challenge on all on her own. "I thought if a 15-member [high school] team could do it I could too," she reflected. But then, the eighth graders already playing Vocabulary.com signed on to help, and after they introduced the tool in visits to sixth and seventh grade classrooms, Fairbrother-Smith found herself no longer alone on her quest, but accompanied by a small army.

On the day of the blast, students were already playing before school even opened, using their phones on the bus. The excitement grew from there. "We started the day in 55th place and by the end of 2nd period we were in the top 20," Fairbrother-Smith recalled. "The principal gave the kids permission to use their phones during lunch. By the end of the day we were 175,000 ahead of the next closest," and made the first page of the school newsletter, The Sugarloaf Times.

Now that the Vocab Blast day is over, Sugarloaf students are still playing and Fairbrother-Smith's thrilled by their motivation:

It's just exciting for me as a teacher to see a reason for the kids to use their devices appropriately, to request that privilege politely, and to run up to me in the morning, telling me our school rank and how much they've played. The kids are buying in. They want to brag and to get the banner. They know we have work to do, but we will just beat the pants off any school that comes anywhere close to us. We love to be #1.

The result? Sugarloaf students are learning words at a pace Fairbrother-Smith describes as "twice as fast." Fairbrother-Smith credits the "age-appropriate" words selected by the game, the instant feedback, and the multiple exposures. 

She's seeing words her students are learning in the game come up in their conversations with each other, their writing, and their answers in class discussion. "They're very excited to remember these words."