Mona Voelkel

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Have you seen the word game, “Wordle” yet? It’s a game that Josh Wardle created for his partner because she liked word games. Each day, you visit the “Wordle” site and you have 6 opportunities to guess a five-letter word. (Update: the NY Times has recently published “Wordle.”)

With every guess, the tiles will turn green if you have guessed a letter in its correct position, yellow if you have guessed a letter that is in an incorrect position, or remain gray to show that the letter you selected is not in the word. If you guess a letter that appears more than once in the word, the game does not indicate that.

My family has definitely caught the “Wordle” bug and we have been sharing our results: proudly, if we could guess the word in 2-4 attempts or sheepishly, if it took us five or six attempts. 

I wondered if my orthographic knowledge could help me crack the “Wordle” code this week!

Let’s get started:

Wednesday, January 26 

Day 1:

I was in the middle of writing when I realized that I hadn’t played Wordle today! I know that some people have a word that they always use to get started, like adieu, but I prefer to let a word come to me and let that be the word that I first choose.

PEACH was in my head so I typed that in and held my breath:

Strategy Tip: Select a word to start that has 5 different letters.

Whoa!!! That reveal was so exciting. How hard could it be to figure out what the word is with 3 letters; two in the correct position? Well, it felt pretty hard. I looked at it for a long time and couldn’t think of a word that had an <h> in the first or second position. The only words I could think of ended in <e> which I knew wasn’t in the word from the greyed-out color above. Hmm. That’s enough of that for now. Time to get back to work!

Strategy Tip: I can close the website down on my phone and when I come back to it, whatever I’ve guessed so far is still there. A great lesson for students is to show them when you are mired in difficulty, sometimes the best thing you can do is take a break.

I take a break but I start thinking, “How hard can this be? I have 3 letters?”

I look at the puzzle again but I can’t figure it out.

Then, I get really excited! I will use what I know about spelling to figure this out!!!


          ↓            ↓                                               ?

Thinking Steps:

  1. I start to wonder if the mystery word starts with <ch> but can’t think of any words that fit.
  2. I realize, orthographically, that there are A LOT of letters that this word CAN’T end in like <u> or <v> and I decide to go through the alphabet until I come to a letter combination that works. I say NO to “aca”, “acb”, “acc”, “acd”, “acf”. “Acg” because I don’t know words that end with that combination of letters.

 “ach” maybe but no actual words come to mind so I keep going…

 “aci” is there some kind of sweetener that ends with that combination? I keep going?

 “acj” NOPE

 “ack” YES!!! That would work! The <ck> consonant digraph would work.

  1. Now, I’m pretty sure that I need a consonant digraph at the beginning of this word and I know that I have an <h> which feels like it will be in the 2nd position so: -HACK…

CHACK isn’t a word. How about WHACK? I don’t even think about the <sh> digraph, which is lucky, because I am bubbling with excitement as I put in WHACK and all the letters turn green. Hooray!!!

I wonder if WORDLE can be used to reinforce some orthography concepts. Today, we could have talked about “expected grapheme positions” to reinforce that not every letter can end a word and, in fact, there are some letters that are explicitly not allowed to end a word, like <u> and <v>. It might be fun to keep a chart of hypotheses related to grapheme position!


              Word Position Hypotheses

                    Initial               Middle          Ending
                 <wh>            <ck>

I am committing to a week of combining Wordle with orthography! Wish me luck!!! Happy Wordling to all of us!

Thursday, January 27

Day 2

First Attempt:

Second Attempt:

Third Attempt:

Why? I quickly attempted “nutty” and it was not the best of guesses, I initially thought, as I felt like I wasted an opportunity to figure out another letter. Also, I might have been better served, since I knew that there is a <k> and an <n> to pick a word that has 5 letters that have not been used yet!

Fourth Attempt

Hmmm….now I analyze the possible positions of the letters I have discovered so far:

________      _________    ___________    _________   _________

                                                   U                       U                  U

                                                                             N                  N

       T                     T                                                                 T


Now, I am pretty happy when I realize that my choice of <nutty> allows me to eliminate <t> not only from the 3rd position but also the 4th. 

Now I know something important: <u> and <n> MUST be at the 3rd-5th position. Since there is no <e> in this word, I am thinking <t> is the last letter. I continue to ponder:

  1.  Since I know that English words do not commonly end in <u>, I eliminate that letter from the last position.
  2. <unn> is not a recognizable letter string 
  3. <unt> is a recognizable letter string and I immediately think <count> but realize <mount> would also work! Grr!!! I decide to go with my first instinct, <count>:

I smile wistfully and try again:

Fifth Attempt:

Would be meaningful game for students? When I play “20 Questions” with students, I give them one guess. Immediately, they slow down and think more analytically before making an informed guess. In the same vein, could I encourage analytical thinking with Wordle? Maybe an initial game is posted and groups work together to offer an initial word, with their reasoning, with the correct and incorrect letters revealed, and then they have to confer over a period of time before they get a chance to share their next guess.   

I just love Wordle! It’s a just-right thinking opportunity to start my day. It encourages me to think critically and makes good use of orthographic knowledge. What about if I create some “Orthographic Wordles”?

Friday, January 28th – Sunday, January 30th

 Last Day of “Wordle Week”

I am cutting short my “Week of Wordle” experiment because, upon reflection, I am thinking:

  1. I just enjoy my daily time solving a Wordle and am sure that students would, too! No need to teach the joy out of everything. Maybe just introduce the Wordle website and let students engage as they see fit.
  2. I absolutely despise the idea of “Orthographic Wordle” now and feel very strongly that this precious time would be better spent investigating a word (using the 4 questions of Structured Word Inquiry (Bowers, 2006) the student chooses to investigate from their reading. I like to ask myself, “How does (any instructional activity) contribute to student agency?” and selecting a word for investigation contributes more to student agency.
  3. Yes, my orthographic knowledge may help me to puzzle out the daily Wordle but so does luck and inspiration, especially concerning the 5-letter word that initiates puzzle play. I love the “thinking through” of each Wordle guess as much as solving it. I also love the commiseration that my husband and I engage in over our daily Wordle travails. I don’t need to share it with the world. For me, it’s enough to share with my husband and/or my children or, on most days, nobody. I just enjoy the game.

2/10/22 Update: I have continued to play and love “Wordle” but shied away from using it as a teaching tool. What I would recommend, as a vocabulary review, including during content area units, that students “Create their own Wordle” to share with a partner or the class and be invited to solve their classmate’s “Wordle.” Links could be shared with the teacher ahead of time and all the links could be compiled into a table. Here is the link to create your own “Wordle”:

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