"Developing lifelong learners through literacy."

That slogan is posted right at the top of the Baltimore County Public Schools website. But it's more than a slogan, it's a guiding principle that BCPS educators and learners are putting into action every day.

And because vocabulary is fundamental to literacy, Secondary Schools ELA Coordinator Gail Green chose to make systematic vocabulary instruction a priority. After considering several approaches, Green decided to pilot Vocabulary.com because it provides differentiated instruction and is easily integrated with curriculum across the content areas.

Custom-size Competition
Green and her colleagues in the ELA department were eager to implement Vocabulary.com, and they wanted to do something special to encourage engagement. After all, the purpose of the pilot was for students to increase their word-power, particularly their understanding of Tier II academic vocabulary.

That's when Becky Fischer and Stephanie Fanshaw from the ELA team came up with the idea of an intramural BCPS Vocabulary Bowl. Using the custom leaderboard feature, they set up a challenge among nine district middle schools to see which one could master the most words from October through January. The winner of this mini-Bowl would get bragging rights, and the top three students at each school would be awarded a certificate of achievement.

We love this old-school Leaderboard!

It's ON!
The BCPS teaching staff was given training and support by their ELA Resource Teachers and the Vocabulary.com team, and soon everyone was off to the races. Teachers started assigning vocabulary practice and quizzes and projecting the real-time leaderboards in their classrooms. Principals touted the competition in their communications with staff and families. Many teachers encouraged students to log on to Vocabulary.com after they had completed their class work and play The Challenge as an enrichment activity. And — most importantly — the students themselves invested the effort it takes to master words and propel their school to victory.

We Have a Winner
Three schools were neck and neck (and neck) for a while: Northwest Academy of Health Sciences, Deep Creek Middle and Deer Park Middle. In the end, it was the Lions of Northwest Academy who mastered over 5,000 academic vocabulary words, beating 2nd place Deep Creek by just a few hundred points.

Northwest Academy's top students Adam Mgar, Rhoda Ojo, and Ikenna Nwankwo with their teacher Ms. Denise Hoke.

After the big win, we had a chance to check in with Northwest's Social Studies Teacher and World Language Department Chair Denise Hoke. Here's what Ms. Hoke had to say about Vocabulary.com:

"I used the pre-made lists as well as created my own lists for both content-related topics and words relating to our standardized testing."

"I have noticed my students' willingness to interact with difficult vocabulary more now after using the site than before. When reading in class I have heard my students say, 'I know that word! it was on Vocab.com!'"

"I enjoyed the sense of pride that the county-wide challenge instilled in my students. Many times a student has said to me, 'My cousin is at blank school and we have more points than they do!'"

To Be Continued...
So, what's next for these nine schools and their budding word-learning rivalry? Well, now that Bowl Fever has caught on and folks have experienced how a little friendly competition at the local level motivates students, the BCPS Intramural Vocabulary Bowl has added another "season" from February through the end of April. Stay tuned!

Thank you to the following BCPS schools for participating, and good luck!

Deep Creek Middle School - Baltimore, MD
Deer Park Middle School - Randallstown, MD
Dundalk Middle School - Baltimore, MD
Franklin Middle School - Reisterstown, MD
General John Stricker Middle School - Baltimore, MD
Lansdowne Middle School - Baltimore, MD
Northwest Academy of Health Sciences - Baltimore, MD
Stemmers Run Middle School - Baltimore, MD
Windsor Middle School - Baltimore, MD

Spark Excitement and Learning at Your School

Here at Vocabulary.com, we believe that the more students play and compete, the more they learn. That's why we've created a feature that lets users create their very own leaderboards. Imagine vying for vocabulary supremacy with the other schools in your district, besting the school that snatched the debate club trophy from you last year, or even taking down your rivals on the football field by choosing words as your weapon. Now it's possible when you select them — or any schools out there — as your opponents on a custom Vocabulary Bowl leaderboard. Here's how you can create a custom leaderboard.