Just when we thought winter was going to go on forever ... April has arrived. The almanac predicting snow this month is just an April Fool's joke, right? In our school district, Spring Break starts next week. I have been trying to think of some fun games to play (and sneak in a little literacy, of course), and then it hit me ...
Mad Libs! Remember those? For those who might not be familiar, Mad Libs is a word game where players create a unique, one-of-a-kind story simply by filling in some "missing" words. One person asks for words to fill in the blanks, and (at least) one person provides them. The reader asks for specific types of words, but doesn't reveal anything about the story. Once all of the words have been gathered, the story is read aloud, usually with lots of laughs. Mad Libs have been around since 1953, and the creators (Leonard Stern and Roger Price) published the first book of Mad Libs in 1958. Mad Libs is a registered trademark, but the name is used universally, much like "kleenex" is used for "facial tissue."
Another form of this word game is called Consequences. In this version, one person writes a word or phrase, folds the paper to hide their answer, and then gives it to the next person. The first two people offer names; the third person a place; the fourth and fifth offer he said and she said, respectively; the next person offers a consequence, and the last person offers an outcome. Although there are seven parts to the story, you can play this game with two people passing the paper back and forth. The finished product might look like this.
Jeffrey and Mary Ellen visited the zoo. He said "I love bike riding." She said "Purple is my favorite color." He gave her a pickled beet. She gave him blue earrings. They ended up with no money. Then they ran away to find the library.
Both Mad Libs and Consequences are "home version" of a writing method called the exquisite corpse. That may sound familiar, as the National Center for the Book (part of the Library of Congress) and the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance are sponsoring the episodic Exquisite Corpse Adventure, where children's book authors are writing a chapter, drawing on content of the previous writer. With each episode, a children's book artist adds an illustration. That alone is cool, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Reading Rockets and AdLit.org have a companion project that lets kids be writers, too. Each month, as part of The Exquisite Prompt project, two of the Exquisite Corpse Adventure contributors ask the kids to write something, based on a prompt they provide. Last month Nikki Grimes asked Kindergarteners, first and second graders to create an original joke, riddle, or short story. Oh there is bound to be silliness there!
When I was a kid, creating and reading Mad Libs was always good for an afternoon of laughs. I remember then as a "summer" thing and something we did at birthday parties. They were fun, and they ALWAYS got us laughing and being silly. What I didn't realize about them - but do now - is how valuable these word games are as a literacy tool.
Some of the online versions, like It's a Mad Libs World website, include prompts about what the various parts of speech do, which is helpful for developing readers and English Language Learners. Mad Libs have always been portable, but technology makes them even more so. There online versions and apps for your iPhone.
These are simple word games, adaptable to readers of all ages and abilities. For kids not yet reading, they can be adult-directed; for developing readers and beyond, they can do it all themselves. Once kids understand the concept, they can create their own word libs from some of their favorite stories. All they need to do is drop out a word here and there and create "blanks" for their friends to fill in. Oh, think of the possibilities for The Three Little Pigs!
Unlike the "old days," you can find Mad Libs for just about every branded character or television show. And that's no fooling!