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Keene Mill's Word Masters

Students at Keene Mill Elementary School rank among top in nation in vocabulary challenge.

When it comes to the WordMasters vocabulary challenge, Keene Mill Elementary School is near the head of the class.

Up against 203 teams across the country, the Keene Mill students tied for second place overall in the WordMasters Challenge, with eight students receiving perfect scores.

At the beginning of each school year, teachers receive a list of words for students to become familiar with, said teacher Kathy Case. This isn't a typical language arts test, however. Students are required to web the words, breaking them down by part of speech, become familiar with definitions, various tenses, even turning the word into a picture.

"I'll give my students a particular word and they'll have to go around and talk to other students in order to make connections among all the words," Case said. "These kids learn everything there is to know about the words on the list."

Written as an analogy test, the competition has two levels, blue and gold, she said. Keene Mill Elementary School has a gifted and talented center, and children there compete at the more difficult gold level.

Students are not timed or taken out of their classrooms to compete with students across the country, Case said. "They figure out how well they do based on how many correct answers they get. For the most part, it doesn't take too long for the kids to finish the test. They either know the answers or they don't," she said.

COMPETING WITH 23 teams at the gold level, Case had 53 students enter the WordMasters challenge, in which more than 6,700 students nation-wide participated. The median score for the test was 135 for a team.

At Keene Mill, the median test score for the group was 198. A total of 111 students nationally got a perfect score of 20, eight of those students are in Case's class.

Many of the students who received perfect scores said that English isn't their favorite subject, but were glad to hear how well they'd done on the test.

"The test was boring. It took a long time to finish," said Ben Joyner.

Classmates Caroline Jones and Luka Marcich agreed, adding that they had studied the words for so long "we knew them pretty well," Jones said.

"We did a lot of activities to learn the words," said Klaudia Amenabar, including playing bingo with various word definitions.

One game, called Hot Seat, lead to the classroom erupting in laughter.

"Ben was the first person to play hot seat," Amenabar said. "He had a word on card on his forehead and everyone could give him one word to describe his word."

When he was finally able to guess his word, "I jumped out of my chair and it bounced," Joyner said. "It was pretty funny."

Students received rewards for learning the words in addition to earning a high score.

"The best part was getting cookies for winning bingo," Jones said.

The biggest challenge for the students was being able to link the words based solely on definitions, said Morgan Silvers.

Students had several months to learn the words for the first WordMasters test of the year, compared with the two weeks they've had in the past, Marcy Laub said.

"Finding the definitions was the hardest part of the test," said Diana Tanner.

But being able to go home with a high score "made my parents really proud," said Courtney Lawson.

Fifty third grade students in Caroline Golstrom's class also participated in the WordMasters challenge, competing against 199 teams and 6,080 students nationally. Overall, the third graders came in ninth place in the nation, while the sixth graders tied for second place. The contest is given out three times each year, with individual awards given out at the end of the school year for the highest scoring and most improved students being recognized, Case said.