Fighting Words!

Medieval-themed Game Boosts Reading Comprehension

Judah Fields, left, and Brogan Bernard search for a simile against opponent Ryan Fredrickson (in gray)

If you think reading comprehension is accomplished best in quiet spaces, you haven’t done reading comprehension the way Winona Tinholt’s students do it.

For the third year, fourth-graders in Tinholt’s class at Wealthy Elementary are honing their skills through fantasy novels, and bringing the novels to life by way of a game of their teacher’s invention.

This year, seven teams are working from seven different novels. For 40 minutes a day over 3 weeks, they will advance their game pieces on a board at the back of the classroom by correctly answering during “battle” questions Winholt has devised.

Hyperbole, personification, alliteration: Charlie Noordeloos has his weapons ready to draw

On a recent morning, the class readied for what Tinholt called The Master Quest, a day when all teams would battle.

“Remember, you must find the evidence and have it ready,” Tinholt cautioned before the first battle began. “You must start with both hands up. I’m looking at Charlie’s book, and I see he is ready for war.”

The questions ran mostly along the lines of “Find an example of hyperbole,” and “Find an example of alliteration.”

Shields and swords, gems and dragons were won, lost, traded — it all happened so fast. The important thing was what Tinholt sees in her students year after year: “Huge engagement.”

“They run into the classroom every day to see where their shields are on the map, and whether they will do battle that day,” she said. “My fourth-graders have never been so interested in figurative language. They are now.”

This is what war looks like: Fourth-grade teacher Wendy Tinholt, center left, oversees a battle about to be waged; parent volunteer Megan Freudigmann administered the questions
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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