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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: The Game of Life (09/11/08)

TITLE: Just A Four Letter Word
By Deborah Engle


Jessie Lawson stood before the class, wondering how to reach this group of underachievers. She knew most were very bright, but for whatever reason, unmotivated. Life touched everyone in different ways, and its influence on these kids was clear to see.

Just like that, it came to her. She quickly turned to the board and was ready in just a few minutes.

“Okay, who’s ready for a challenge this morning?”

Relative quiet settled over the room and she began. “I thought we’d start out with something a little different. This morning we’re going to spend some time thinking about a four letter word.” Amid a few snickers and a lot of confused looks, she continued. “The word is life”.

Groans filled the classroom, as she expected. Jessie lifted one eyebrow and scanned the faces before her. “So, here’s the challenge. There’s 26 letters in the alphabet. The goal is to match every letter with a word that describes life.”

“So, who’s going to start?”

Jessie waited, wondering if this was going to work. The expressions on the faces before her were mixed. Some were openly involved, already thinking. Others were hesitant, not sure whether they wanted to play teacher’s game. One even looked hostile.


“How about complicated, for C?”

“That works fine.” Jessie turned to write it in its place on the board. Before she was finished, someone volunteered, “Rewarding, for R”. For the next few minutes, she hurried to keep up.



A smallish blond boy in the third row offered, “My gramma says life is a blessing.”

“Miracle would be good.”

“That’s a good start, but there’s a lot left. Let’s keep going. Who has another?”

“I saw a poster that said, “Life is an adventure.”



“My gramma says life is an education,” the little blond boy contributed again.

“We’re over halfway there. You’ve got the easy ones out of the way. Now we’ll see how good you really are. It’s just like Play Station. You’ve excelled up to this point, but now you’re facing the Boss. Are you up for it?”

At the familiar reference, their enthusiasm returned, but the words didn’t come as easily. Finally, someone called out, “Valuable, for V”.

The student Jessie had initially read as hostile finally spoke up, offering ‘inscrutable’. Such an unexpected word from the likes of Jadin silenced the whole room. Jessie cleared her throat, then smiled. “That’s a splendid word. Life certainly can be impossible to understand at times,” she said, as she added it to the list.

After another lull, someone suggested ‘zany’. Everyone laughed, but Jessie wrote it on the board.

“My gramma says life is uncertain.”

Impatiently the whole class turned and stared disapprovingly at the kid. On the spot now, he shrugged and smiled. “My gramma talks a lot.”

Someone chuckled and muttered, “You’re tellin’ me.” The whole class joined light-heartedly in the mild rebuke before Jessie called their attention back to the board.

“At this point, we might have to be a little creative, so if you can explain it, we’ll use it.”

After some hesitation, ‘you’ was suggested and defended by a boy in the front row. “Let me think a minute… It is what you are, your very essence. Without life, you wouldn’t exist.” Looking toward Jessie with a hopeful grin, he asked, “How’s that?”

Smiling, she answered, “That works for me. How about it, class?”

“Yeah.” “Sure.” “All right.” With the end in sight, the class all agreed it would do. The only letter left now was X.

Knowing that X would be nearly impossible. Jessie was ready to end the exercise, but a timid voice was heard from somewhere in the middle of the room. “Can we just use the letter?”

Jessie searched out the source of the voice. “Maybe. Can you defend it?”

“I think so.” The girl nervously began. “Some people believe that the cross Jesus Christ was crucified on was actually in the form of an X. Down through history, the cross has represented new life…eternal life…to all who will believe.” The girl’s eyes dropped to the floor as she concluded, “I thought it might work.”

Jessie was floored, but at the same time, realized she had accomplished her goal, and so had the kids. Clapping, she turned to her class. “Congratulations! You have impressed me. After this challenge, the rest of today’s assignments should be a piece of cake.”

A collective groan filled the room as she reached for the history text.

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This article has been read 868 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Kristen Hester09/19/08
This is a very creative, nice story. I enjoyed listening to the kids complete the assignement and loved how the girl defended the X. I felt like I was sitting in the classroom and was eager to hear each letter. Great job!
Marijo Phelps09/19/08
Enjoyed the lassroom setting and the kids were quite realistic. Creative way to look at this topic.
Shelley Ledfors 09/21/08
A very creative entry! I loved the realistic interaction among the students and teacher. My favorites were "inscrutable" and, of course, X (and the girl's defense of her answer). Well done!
Jan Ackerson 09/21/08
I'm a word-lover, so this REALLY appealed to me. I was trying to figure out ahead of time what you'd do with X, and you did a great job!
Verna Cole Mitchell 09/21/08
This is very well done on a number of levels--realistic dialogue in a classroom setting, wonderful lesson taught, and excellent use of the topic. I loved the little blond boy's grandma.
Scott Sheets09/22/08
Cute story! I appreciated the students explanation of the 'X.' Thanks for sharing.
Lori Othouse 09/24/08
Great story! I like how it got the kids to really think. I would have loved to hear more!
LauraLee Shaw09/24/08
Wow, this sure is a creative approach to the topic, and I enjoyed the "wordy" plot very much. Nicely done!
Valarie Sullivan09/24/08
Excellent work! Loved the 'x'!
Karen Wilber09/24/08
Very creative and fun--with excellent lessons tucked in. I also wondered what you'd do with 'x' and your solution was magnificent. I liked this.
Chely Roach09/24/08
Ooooh, I loved this. Creative take on the topic, and very engaging. Well done!
Celeste Ammirata09/25/08
This is really cute. I can see the little minds working. And of course, I loved the story of the X. Great job!
Pamela Kliewer09/25/08
What a wonderfully creative way to write on this topic! I was right there in the classroom. I loved the explanation of x. Congrats on your EC.
Sarah Engle09/26/08
You made me want to take that class...or rather, be the teacher. What a great idea Jessie had to involve the class - get them thinking!

I enjoyed this setting very much.
Peter Stone10/02/08
A four letter word with a safe meaning! Great story, and engaging to read as the little ones threw their ideas forward.
Linda Watson Owen10/17/08
Just dipping into your portfolio to say thank you for commenting on my poem and to comment on one of your works. I'm so glad I clicked on this one! It's wonderful! Once I started reading I couldn't stop. I felt like I was right there in the teacher's shoes in that classroom. You are a skilled and delightful storyteller! Loved this one!