Teaching Grammar
and Sentence Construction
Using the Sentence Cube Game

sentence cube game box


We don't really need the voluminous research that shows there is a connnection between humor, having fun, and effective learning. Common sense tells us that learning is fun: just watch a four-year-old experimenting with environmental control strategies once he grows to a height where he can reach the light switch. We learn how to play games because game-playing is intrinsically rewarding, and we learn how to play them better because success at game playing becomes more satisfying the more successful we become. Involving students in games that promote learning is a sure way to stimulate lively interaction and turn learning from a chore into, well - a game.


Supplies/set up

Directions (numbered steps)

  1. Break the class into groups so that relatively equal numbers of students are on each team, depending on the number of sets of the game which are available. For instance, if there are 24 students and three sets of the game, each team will consist of eight players.
  2. Play the game by following its basic rules.
  3. The Sentence Cube Game is played with 21 six-sided cubes (like dice), each side having six different words imprinted on it.
  4. All 21 cubes are rolled from a cup onto the playing surface, and the players begin to form sentences using the words that come up on the top surface of each cube.
  5. The first sentence is the base sentence, and other sentences are made using one of the words in the base sentence.
  6. The sentences are laid out in a crossword puzzle arrangement after the fashion of the word game Scrabble.
  7. Also similar to Scrabble, any word cube that is touching another word cube has to form or be part of a sentence including the words displayed on the adjacent cubes.
  8. The game set includes an hour-glass style two minute timer, which is used to time each round.
  9. Score is kept by multiplying the number of cubes in each grammatical sentence by itself. For instance, a six-word sentence is worth 36 points. However, the maximum points for any one sentence is 50, so a seven-word sentence equals 49 points, while an eight-, nine-, or ten-word sentence (or more) equals 50 points.
  10. When each two-minute round is over, any leftover cubes equal minus two points, but if all cubes are used, the team earns a fifty-point bonus


Having only 126 words to work with, some of which do multiple duty as parts of speech, such as the nouns "face" or "fly" also working as verbs, there are obvious limits to sentence content; and only 21 of the 126 words can be used in any one round. Therefore, while a sentence such as "I made her face laugh" may sound a bit awkward, a sentence such as "The good live boy took his slow leg off" may take some explaining or justifying. Additionally, there are no punctuaion marks, so any punctuation is implied. This is actually an excellent feature of the game since it leads to discussion (or justification) of how a sentence makes no sense, for instance, unless "its" has an apostrophe as it is used in a particular construction, or unless there are two commas in a certain sentence construction, etc., etc. Another common discussion during the game is whether subjects and verb agree in number. The game frequently gets hilarious as team members try to explain some sort of context for sentences which may contain a noun and a verb but which stretch notions of logic and rationality, sentences such as "The old man may tatse her new heart later." Maybe his wife just brought home some beef heart from the neighborhood butcher, or maybe she is a recent heart transplant recipient, or (since capital letters are punctuation and punctuation is implied) maybe the popular 70's band Heart just came out with a new album with tracks cut into a rock candy CD, or. . . well. . . yeah.

As the English teacher, I am not only the game emcee, facilitator, and scorekeeper, but also the referee and the ultimate arbiter when it comes to constructions which are not grammatical or contexts which simply have no explanable meanings. In a 50-minute class with three teams competing, we can usually do three rounds, so that is the game limit that I set, and whichever team leads after three rounds wins a prize. I have numerous oversized note pads, purchased at gift shops, that are printed on one side with what looks like American currency and on the other with lines for taking notes on. Therefore, I always say at the start of the game that we are competing for prizes, that I am the ultimate judge and arbiter, and that the winning team will earn "big money." (Which, of course, I don't show until the game is over.)


The game is fun and competitive and generates great discussion of grammar, punctuation and sentence sence. While the game has never gotten out of control, it does sometimes get raucous. I once had a very, um, veteran colleague come into my classroom while we were playing the game and ask me to go out into the hall with her, at which point she royally chewed me out for letting such foolishness go on in a classroom, because "They don't know how they're supposed to act in college to begin with!" Though I'm sure they knew how to act in that professor's class.

The only other warning I have is to never, ever play this game with other English teachers. I made the mistake of playing it on a social occassion along with my wife, a one-time English teacher, and her mother, an English major in college. In the absence of an authoritative and impartial referee, and with several players convinced that they, themselves, are the ultimate arbiters of what is "acceptable" English (if not altogether conventional English), things can get ugly. The marriage survived, but partly because, at family get-togethers now, we play pinochle, bridge, global thermal nuclear war, or other such less risky games.


The game can be purchased on line from numerous sources that will turn up on a Google keyword search. New, it costs $19.99 from the majority of the on-line retailers. I have also seen used versions on E-Bay for half that price. The game has been around since the early 1970's and was orginally marketed as The Scrabble Sentence Cube Game, but it has since been bought out by other companies and has generated some knock-offs.

Rick Dollieslager, English Dept. Chairman
Thomas Nelson Community College
P.O. Box 9407, Hampton, Virginia 23670
Phone:  757/825-3543   Fax: 757/825-3842
Chairman, VCCS Tidewater Regional Center for Teaching Excellence

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