It seems like everyone is playing Wordle lately. Just this week, an eighth grader asked me at lunch, “Did you get the Wordle yet?” It’s been quite a while since teachers and students have had a pop culture phenomenon in common. Why has Wordle gone viral for kids and adults alike?
Wordle’s balance of appropriate challenge and success combined with the scarcity of one word per day keeps us coming back again and again. This balance relates to the educational psychology behind Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. As educators, we aim to create learning tasks for our students that fall into the zone of proximal flow, meaning that the task is satisfyingly difficult but attainable without help.
The daily challenge of guessing a five-letter word with scaffolded hints fits right into the flow zone.
The ubiquitous popularity of this game across the generations got me thinking: How can I use Wordle as a teaching tool? How can teachers strike while the Wordle popularity iron is hot? Sure, the application of Wordle in a reading or language class is straightforward—reinforcing the concepts of consonant clusters, vowels, phonics, and spelling is right there in the game. But what about Wordle’s application in the math classroom?
Data Displays and Statistics
As a middle school math teacher, the statistics screen that appears after finishing a daily round gave me flashbacks to teaching histograms and data displays. If our students are playing Wordle, they are reading a histogram every day, whether they realize it or not. A histogram displays frequency of an occurrence in a bar chart form. Beyond learning the basics of a histogram, students can analyze the data further by finding percentages or measures of central tendency.
- What percent of my guesses were correct in three or fewer tries?
- Over the past week, what is my average score?
- What are the mode, range, and median of scores for our class today?
To expand the scope of the Wordle data beyond your classroom, check out Wordle Stats on Twitter. This account collects the Wordle score tweets each day and creates a basic statistical report.
Many classroom discussion topics can arise from these stats. Is this a biased sampling? How willing are Wordle players to share poor or losing scores? What are other more reliable methods of sampling Wordle scores? In what percentile was your score today?
Using Probability to Win
If your students have ever seen an episode of Wheel of Fortune, they might know that the contestant who makes it to the bonus round is given the letters R, S, T, L, N, and E for their final puzzle. (If your students are unfamiliar with Wheel of Fortune, play this short and impressive clip from 2015 to help them get the idea.)
Kick off the conversation about probability by asking, “Why do you think Wheel of Fortune gives those letters in the bonus round? What additional three consonants and one vowel would you choose?”
Students can test their hypothesis about these letters by doing a bit of research. Have students choose one page of a novel they are reading. Make a frequency table by tallying the occurrence of each letter. This takes a while, but it’s important to stress the increased accuracy that comes from a large sample.
From this frequency table, students can create a histogram (see above) to visually see which letters occur most frequently. After they create their own histograms, they can compare it with this one created by MathWorks.
Based on the research, is kudzu a helpful first word for Wordle? To dig deeper into the math of winning strategies, check out this post on the site Art of Problem Solving and this article from The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Multilingual activity: The letter-frequency activity can be expanded to languages other than English for a comparison of common letters. Are the letters R, S, T, and E also most common in French? Spanish-speaking students may also enjoy playing the Spanish version of Wordle.
Like numbers more than words? If Wordle just isn’t your game, number lovers can check out Nerdlegame.com. This game involves basic arithmetic while also providing the same satisfying statistics screen after each play.
If your students are talking about Wordle, these activities are a great way to connect statistics concepts to a game they already enjoy. When students are guided through the analysis of the data, they will become not only better data scientists but also sharper Wordle players. Students can no longer ask in the middle of a data display lesson, “When will I ever use this in real life?”