Review by Stacy Zeiger, Common Sense Education | Updated March 2012
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Words With Friends

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Social word game has slim learning potential, might build vocab skills

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Critical Thinking

Subjects
  • English Language Arts
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
7-12
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (3 Reviews)
2

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4 images

Pros: No time limits means players have time to form the best words as they play against their friends.

Cons: Liberal dictionary allows questionable words; iffy chat feature distracts from the game and raises privacy concerns.

Bottom Line: Similar to the popular board game, it makes spelling words a little more social and a little more cool.

Teachers can use Words With Friends to get students thinking about vocabulary and spelling. They may incorporate it during some free time to boost kids' confidence in their spelling abilities or allow kids to play it if they finish their work early to keep them focused on academics while rewarding them for a job well done. Teachers may also opt to use the game as a sort of competition, pitting themselves against the entire class and playing a round a day or having groups of students (or even multiple classes) compete against each other to see who can get the highest score in a week.

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Editor's note: As of July 2016 there is a new, education-specific version of this game. Click here for our review of Words With Friends EDU.

Words With Friends is an online game that echos the look and feel of a popular board game. Players make words by placing tiles on the board. They earn points for each letter played and additional points for playing letters on bonus squares. Since the game does not have time limits, players have plenty of time to make their words. Players also don't have to play an entire game in one sitting; instead, one player can make a move and walk away from a game, coming back a few hours or even a few days later to see if the other player has made a move. Whether they opt to play the entire game at once or over a period of days, players can interact with their opponents through the game's chat feature. Traditionally, players will start matches with friends who have also connected to the game, but a smart match feature also pairs users anonymously with other players from around the world.

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Invite kids to play a board game, and most will decline. Invite them to match up in Words With Friends, and they're likely to give a different answer. This app brings a cool factor to spelling and vocabulary, which means it has some potential for helping students learn. However, the randomness of the letter tiles and the very forgiving dictionary keep it from being truly educational. Kids will build their puzzle-solving skills and knowledge of common spelling patterns as they unscramble letter tiles to place words on the board. However, since the game allows players to attempt to submit words without penalty, they can also string together random combinations of letters and hope they make a word. This feature leaves far too much to chance; rather than reinforcing knowledge or building new skills, kids might just submit words until something sticks.

Also, be wary of the ability to play against people you don't know; this feature could open kids up to playing -- and chatting -- with strangers, making this an iffy choice for kids without close supervision and rules for use.

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Overall Rating
2

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
3

Experience crossword nirvana: Users can play several games simultaneously, playing against friends or strangers as much and as long as possible.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
2

This fun, social game might help kids learn the value of strong vocabulary and spelling skills, but it lacks focus on specific words or explicit connections to learning.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?
2

Games are limited to two players, and there are few hints or cheats to help players.


Common Sense Reviewer
Stacy Zeiger Homeschooling parent

Teacher Reviews

3
(See all 3 reviews) (3 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Jessica L. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
3
Fun Supplemental Vocabulary Game

I think that the game is fun and many students immediately engaged. Zynga tried to beef up the educational aspect and so there is a teacher dashboard, additional lesson plans that can be used, power vocabulary words ( high-value academic words as identified by WestEd) that, when a student uses it, he or she earns bonus points, and a dictionary that shares the meaning of the vocabulary word. I think that as a supplementary vocabulary resource Words with Friends Edu is a great resource. Still, if I wanted to really focus on vocabulary development (of all students), this would not be the app I would choose. The choice of words learned is student-driven (rather than by an algorithm based on how people learn vocabulary and what vocabulary is most useful to learn) and student controlled. Yes, this potentially will engage students even further ("I am learning the words that I pick") but as a teaching technique, learning random words based off which 7 letter tiles a student receives and then uses isn't sound. Yes, student vocabulary increased but students with limited vocabulary learned the least number of new words.

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