While killing time in the airport last weekend, I watched a series of Jimmy Fallon Tonight Show clips. While watching Jimmy Fallon and Bryan Cranston playing “Word Sneak,” I was inspired! I decided to use this game format for a vocabulary review in my class.

Here are the steps for any teacher who wants to replicate this thoroughly entertaining vocabulary review game:

1. Start by playing a clip from The Tonight Show, so students know what they are being asked to do. Definitely preview the clip you plan to use to make sure it is appropriate for the grade level you teach.

2. Break up a list of vocabulary words into two shorter lists. I printed them out, so students could mark the words they were able to successfully and seamlessly “sneak” into the conversation.

3. Put students into pairs facing each other conversation style. Give each person a list with vocabulary words. Note: each member of the pair should have a different list of words.

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4. Ask pairs to exchange their lists temporarily and allow students 60 seconds to add 3 random, silly (yet school appropriate) words. This adds some spice to the activity.

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5. Once students have added random words to their partner’s paper, ask them to exchange papers and begin! As they “sneak” words into the conversation, they can check the words off of their list. However, if their partner does not think the word was inserted into the conversation “casually and seamlessly,” then they do not earn a point for that word. Note: I’d suggest setting a timer for 5 minutes.

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6. The person who successfully sneaks the most words into the conversation wins!

This game was ridiculously fun! I tweeted Jimmy Fallon (and The Tonight Show) to thank him for inspiring this fun activity. Look what I got in return! My students were totally pumped.

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The video below provides a window into my classroom while we are playing Word Sneak!

30 Responses

  1. WOW, Catlin, that is so cool that Jimmy Fallon took the time to send you a virtual high five shout out! Your students MUST have been impressed!

  2. Thank you for the idea, Catlin! I tried this today, and my kids loved it. They had a blast and the feedback was that it helped quite a bit.

  3. Hi Catlin!
    I have been reading your blog for a while and love the stuff you are doing. I took a page from your teacher playbook and revamped my spelling lesson for 5th graders. I found that a Monday spelling lesson coupled with Quizlet and a few pages of spelling homework that ended with a Friday spelling test just compartmentalized spelling. My students were learning the words but really only for the test. After the test they rarely used them and this disappointed me because it seemed superficial. Then I read your post on word sneak and I thought I could use but I had to change it a bit. I should also say I have a small class with 10 students but there is only one native speaker of English since I work at an international school. We have 15 words for the week related to a theme. I put the words in a list on the very left of the board. I told students they were free to “sneak” them into the class whenever they wanted. If they could sneak the word correctly and seemlessly in the class conversation they would receive a “party point”. When students collect enough points they can watch a movie, based on one of our readers, and have a party. I also made the rule that once a student uses a word once, it’s off limits for them but not for other students. This forced them to use the other words that they might not generally use. My students were SO enthusiastic and earned 32 points in one week! It was amazing to see them really trying to use them in a sentence and blend them smoothly into the conversation especially considering the fact that most of them only have a few years of experience with English. Thank you so much for such an awesome idea!

    • Hi Jennifer,

      I love this adaptation of Word Sneak! This is such a great way to use it in an ELD classroom. I am a support provider for a new ELD teacher this year, and I’m going to share this adaptation with her. She also has a small class of students who speak English as a second language. Thank you so much for sharing!


  4. Hi Catlin,
    I discovered you this summer. I sooo wish I could clone you. lol. I purchased two of your books, and I’m implementing several ideas from your blog. I do have a question regarding vocabulary, and I would love your opinion. As we know, the research is pretty clear about what doesn’t work regarding teaching vocab, but less clear on what REALLY works. I’m sure this is due to our gaps in understanding the brain, etc. Currently, our school teaches roots in 10th English. The idea behind this is that for every root we learn many words. Using the word parts, analyzing words for their root, etc does seem beneficial for most, but what is your opinion on roots compared to SAT words? Also, are the “SAT words” still relevant with the revised SAT test?

    Thank you in advance for taking time to reply. I’m looking forward to hearing your suggestions and ideas.

    Hope your year is off to a great start!


    • Hi Jodi,

      I’m so glad you’ve found my blog and books helpful! Here are my 2 cents on vocabulary, roots, and the new SAT…

      My personal belief about vocabulary is that the more kids touch, use, write with the words, the more they retain. I’ve had so many kids return to tell me how much our vocabulary practice has helped them learn the words we cover, so I feel like what we are doing is working for a lot of them.

      I’m not sure I’d relegate the teaching of roots to a specific grade. I also haven’t found success teaching roots all at once (like a vocabulary list). I think it’s helpful to have the discussion of roots as a constant in class. Anytime I introduce a word with a root I think kids should know, I point it out. I also play a game in spring with them where they get into teams, are given a root, and have 3 minutes to generate a list of as many words as possible that contain that root. They love playing it!

      As for the SAT words and their relevance given the new test. Who knows if they are the best words given the new exam. I hand picked my words from this master list of 5,000 words kids should know for the SAT. I selected words I encounter regularly in life and avoided the super obscure ones. I definitely think they’ll be words that kids will encounter in reading and probably on the SAT since the vocabulary is still challenging on the exam. That said, no list is perfect and I may need to revisit it when the new SAT is well established.

      Take care!


  5. Question on “Word Sneak.” So. . you have a list of words for an entire lesson. . . each pair of students gets a different list? Say there are 25 vocabulary words? They each get each others list and add (3) some to it? How does the other student work on the vocabulary that they didn’t get on their paper from the list of say, 25? Just from the interaction and listening to the other student? You also allow each student to preview each other’s word list before the activity? Thanks.

    • Hi Jeanie,
      I split our vocabulary list in half. So, each student has a different set of words. I do think they learn from each other’s usage, so I don’t worry that they don’t each have all of the words. It is only one aspect of our vocabulary practice so they have other opportunities to use the words.

      Yes, they switch lists and get to add 5 quirky, unusual, yet school appropriate words to their partner’s paper to make the game more fun. When they’ve had time to add words to each other’s papers, they return their partner’s paper and the game begins.


  6. Good morning! I live in Greece, I am an EFL teacher. I tried this yesterday with my kids and they all loved this activity!!! They had so much fun. We laughed a lot!!! Thank you for sharing your ideas!

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