Death by Scrabble
Focus: Theme, Dialogue and Making Inferences
By the end of the lessons, students will be better able to:
Students complete a vocabulary crossword quiz
They make predictions about the story
They discuss the theme of the story
They create a dialogue
Story ‘Death by Scrabble’
Handouts for Learning Activities 1-5
y Charlie Fish
‘Death by Scrabble’ by Charlie Fish
Before the story is introduced, the students will complete a crossword puzzle which is similar to a game of Scrabble, providing a light-hearted introduction to the project. The story also has a nice twist to the ending, which on its own would justify its inclusion in the module. It is a fun piece of writing that can become a fun piece of learning.
‘Death by Scrabble’ is a relatively high level text and should be used with the appropriate group of students.
The story itself moves along rhythmically and gathers pace nicely in line with the model of dramatic development. What may at first glance seem to be quite morbid is in fact a fun and enjoyable read.
At the beginning of the story the students will focus on the thoughts of the husband and move on to develop a dialogue between the husband and wife.
The game of Scrabble is often used in English language teaching platform. Awarded the trademark name Scrabble in 1948 the game has blossomed in popularity until the point where now two million Scrabble games are sold in the U.S.A. every year and 100 million worldwide. But Scrabble is more than a game for our living room. It is highly competitive, with thousands of clubs all over the world. In 2006, the American Scrabble Champion won US$25,000. Scrabble is a useful tool for vocabulary building and in this case an interesting topic for a short story.
In this story there are two characters, a husband and a wife. The man is hot and bored and the target of his depression is his wife. “If she wasn’t around, I’d be doing something interesting right now.” (line 9). The game of Scrabble becomes the vehicle for his anger, when the real problem is with himself.
“My letters are crap.” The game is introduced and each word takes on greater significance. The severity of the words increases the tension and becomes more dramatic. From the husband – MURDER, ZAPS, CHEATING, SLEEP, EXPLODES, FLY, SLASH or SLAY, and finally QUAKE. His wife’s letters seem to be goading him, FAN, READY, IGNORE, SIGN, CAUTION and finally DEATH. Everything is built around the game and the randomness of the letters, sending the husband a message that he can make things happen.
The twist is that it is the wife who has played the winning hand when the score for the game is so close. In reality the only earthquake is that the wife has won the game and she gloats as he chokes on the last piece of the tiles.
Before students start to read the story, introduce the game of Scrabble and the vocabulary and rules of the game: the tiles, letters, scoring, the bag, racks, the little pink star; double- and triple-word and double- and triple-letter scores; the sound of the clack, clack, clack as the letters are shuffled. All of these words will be used in the story.
Learning Activity 1
Before the lesson, ask students to find out some information about the game of Scrabble, e.g. its history, popularity, how-tos and equipment. They may look up the official website of Scrabble (http://www.scrabble.com) or any other website, or see if there is one set of the game in the school’s English Corner. When students come back for lesson, ask them if they have played the game before and to share with their partner what they have found out about the game in Part A of the activity.
The text contains words which many students may find challenging. There are two vocabulary activities to help them:
The crossword in Part B of the activity is designed to provide a focus on the words which appear in the text and are relevant to the plot. They have been separated from other vocabulary because of their relevance to the development of the story.
Catering for Learner Diversity
For less advanced students, give out the crossword answers which are randomly arranged to help them to complete the crossword. Where necessary, they should work with a partner. You may also fill out a couple of answers (e.g. one across, one down) to help them to start off.
2. slash 4. cheating 6. murder 7. begin 8. jinxed 10. slay
1. quake 3. ignore 4. caution 5. fan 9. death 10. sleep
Additional vocabulary with meanings
In this second vocabulary activity in Part B, the vocabulary is given with meanings and line numbers. Tell students to complete the first reading of the story at home. As a while-reading activity tell the students to underline all the new vocabulary they see in the text and put a circle around any new words they do not understand.
Before students do their first reading of the story at home, ask them to make predictions about the story by answering the questions in Part C.
Learning Activity 2
Check any new vocabulary before going on to review students’ predicted answers to the pre-reading questions in Learning Activity 1. Tell the students to look at their predicted answers again and complete the questions in Part B with short answers. A second reading may be necessary for this.
Learning Activity 3
This activity aims to provide students with questions that will help them to understand the story before they move on to the next activity which will require them to make inferences about the story.
Catering for Learner Diversity
For less advanced students, the teacher might consider asking students to do two instead of three words, or provide more hints by asking them to focus on lines 14-18. For more advanced students, provide five blanks which will include the additional words of SLASH and SLAY (line 79).
For less advanced students, enable them to answer the second part of the question by providing them with options such as the word shows (a) he really wants to win; (b) although the wife says she has lousy letters, she keeps on winning; and (c) he cheats by stealing a blank tile.
For less advanced students, provide them with options such as (a) An earthquake takes place and the husband dies; (b) He is surprised as his wife tries to kill him; (c) A tile gets stuck in the husband’s throat, and he falls to the floor.
1. a. Murder b. Kill c. Stab
2 a. T b. F c. T d. F
3. The wife gets static shock off the air-conditioning unit.
4. “Cheating”. The word reflects his dishonest action of stealing a blank tile from the bag.
5. a. explodes b. cheating c. zaps
6. A tile gets stuck in the husband’s throat, and he falls to the floor.
Learning Activity 4
The set of questions in this activity is designed to help students to identify the theme of the story. All answers are possibly correct. We can read different meanings into the text. What is important here is the introduction to the idea of inference in a text, an important concept for the next stage, the creation of dialogue.
The questions here are designed to focus the students on the fact that what we are witnessing is not in fact a murder plot, but something more ordinary. It is not important if they decide that it is a murder plot but give them every assistance to see the lighter side of what is going on.
Catering for Learner Diversity
For less advanced students, consider giving them only two options for each of the questions in Part A:
1. According to the story, the husband
a) really wants to kill his wife
b) is hot, bored and wants to end his marriage
2. The words in the tiles that the husband plays
a) help to make up his mind to kill his wife
b) show his internal struggle with his own feelings
3. The quake at the end of the story
a) is real and causes him to swallow the tiles and die
b) is not real but shows his anger because his wife has won
You may also ask students to explain which lines in the story give them the answers.
For Part B, less advanced students can be given a shorter list of words, e.g. “love”, “hatred”, “anger”, “jealousy” and “marriage”, for consideration while deciding on the theme of the story.
Learning Activity 5
Before this activity, go over paragraphs 16 and 17 in depth with students. Make sure they understand the mood created in this part of the story before they write.
When students have completed their dialogue, ask them to work in pairs and read the dialogue with their partner. Encourage them to read the dialogue with some variation in pace and volume to express the emotions.
Students can also be asked to make use of the Feedback Form on Dialogue Writing on page T60 to give peer feedback.