Truchman. Yerk. Psittaceous. Florilegium. For years, has sent a delicious linguistic nugget from "A Word a Day" in each of my weekday emails. And one of these emails recently gave me a great idea for a word game to use in the ESL classroom.

In 1994, Anu Garg — computer wizard, word aficionado, author and public speaker — began while a computer science graduate student at Case Western Reserve University. For 22 years, the website has grown and developed. In addition to A Word a Day, it now includes items like Wordsmith Talk (a moderated forum for wordies) and Wordserver (a public access reference server), among others. is Garg's labor of love. He occasionally asks for donations, but regardless of contributions, subscribers still receive their word fix.

Each linguistic nugget includes pronunciation, meaning, etymology and usage. The usage examples are authentic, taken from books, magazines and newspapers.

In 1996, Garg began weekly themes. The themes are wide-ranging and inventive and include new words, loan words, eponyms, toponyms, words with silent letters, words better known by their negative forms, words using all the vowels, words about trees, words about teeth, etc.

Perhaps my favorite was "There's a word for it," composed of words describing an action or thing for which I — if not most of us — didn't know a word existed. Consider, for example, acnestis — a noun Microsoft Word does not recognize — meaning "the part of the body where one cannot reach to scratch."

Recently, the weekly theme was "Playing with Words," and the words inspired me to develop activities based on them. It is well documented that using games to teach and reinforce vocabulary can be successful.

Nguyen Thi Thanh Huyen and Khuat Thi Thu Nga are among those researchers whose results "suggest that games are used not only for mere fun, but more importantly, for the useful practice and review of language lessons, thus leading toward the goal of improving learners' communicative competence."

Osha Saeed Al Neyadi found "games provide comprehensible input while learners interact in the group, allowing students to clarify meanings of words in such contexts. The use of games also enhanced students' motivation to learn vocabulary. ... The games also provided a challenge, where they need their concentration to get the tasks done which strengthens students' mental work."

Here is the first of those activities based on the word acrostic: "a series of lines or verses in which the first, last or other particular letters when taken in order spell out a word, phrase, etc." The lesson is adaptable to various levels, and it can be done in one or over a couple of class sessions. It taps linguistic, logical, inter- and intrapersonal, and visual-spatial intelligences while nurturing vocabulary expansion and student and teacher self-reflection.

A crossed stick, a cross tick, acrostic


  1. Begin with the knowledge in the room. Ask students if they know what an acrostic is or what they think it is. Put their answers on the board, ideally inside a brainstorm bubble with their answers stemming from it.
  2. Ask if they know what part of speech it is and why they think that.
  3. Show them an easy and accessible acrostic example and ask them — either in pairs, small groups or as individuals — to see if they can discover what an acrostic is.
  4. Put their answers on the board; work on a common definition.
  5. Provide the dictionary definition of the term and compare it to their definition. Make adjustments as necessary.
  6. Have students write their own acrostic; they can begin with their names.
  7. Have students illustrate their work.
  8. Ask students to make a short presentation about their acrostic. Have them answer, "Why did you choose the description of yourself? Why did you illustrate as you did?"
  9. Have students write an acrostic about a classmate, a friend, a season, a concept, their favorite or least favorite book, sport, video game, food, place to shop, place to visit, etc. Your and their imaginations are the only limits.
  10. Have students illustrate and present their work to the class; have them explain why they chose the topic, the descriptors and the illustrations.
  11. Compile the acrostics in a publication students can take with them at the conclusion of the course. You can have students choose publication cover art from clip art or have students contribute to an illustration; perhaps one of your students is an artist and would enjoy creating the illustration.

Ideally, instructors will write, illustrate and share their acrostic with the class.

Here is one I've written based on my name: