The game of dissecting definitions

Healthcare and science is littered with complex terminology that forms a barrier to learning by increasing cognitive load. It is easier to learn something if we understand it, and a lot of time is spent within curricula defining these new terms. Helping students find meaning in words by breaking them down into their grammatical roots reduces rote-learning and increases their vocabulary.

Siobhan Moyes and John Chilton, from Peninsula Medical School at the University of Plymouth, created Wordotomy® to support students learning technical terms. By combining game-play with visual cues, learners can find meaning in complex terminology. The University of Plymouth is also supporting development of Wordotomy as a civic engagement and outreach tool.

Wordotomy® - Makes etymology more accessible and enjoyable

Wordotomy is a new and innovative approach to self-directed learning. Designed as a dynamic scaffold, Wordotomy introduces the fascinating world of etymology to learners, empowering them to grasp language in an entirely novel way.

Our unique approach is centred around visually and textually emphasizing the meaning of morphemes, the smallest units of language, rather than delving into complex linguistic derivations or relying on homonyms.

The Key Advantages of Wordotomy:

  • Meaning-Centric Learning: Understanding words by breaking them down to their core meaning. Wordotomy enables learners to focus on the meanings of words, fostering a deeper understanding that goes beyond memorisation.
  • Building Essential Skills: Wordotomy equips learners with valuable skills that extend beyond vocabulary acquisition. Learners develop the confidence to decipher new words on their own, enhancing their language skills.
  • Enhanced Retention: By engaging with the intrinsic meanings of morphemes, learners experience heightened retention of knowledge. The meaningful associations formed through Wordotomy are more enduring.
  • Ideal for All Disciplines: Whether you're a student embarking on a journey of discovery, an educator looking for quality resources or a clinical professional seeking to expand your medical lexicon, Wordotomy is ideal for all disciplines. Whatever your role in health professions, Wordotomy offers invaluable insights into specialised terminology.
  • Versatility in Education: Wordotomy isn't just a tool; it's a transformative experience that reshapes how language is learned and understood. Incorporate Wordotomy into curricula or induction programs to cultivate linguistic proficiency from the outset.

How does Wordotomy® work?

Wordotomy can be played either as a team game (2 teams up to 4 players per team) or as an individual game for 2-4 players.

Getting started

All you need to play is a table, possibly some chairs, people to play and Wordotomy.

What’s on the cards?

We chose 48 of the most common technical words seen in first year anatomy teaching.

Each card has a root on one side.

The reverse side provides a definition, a visual representation and examples of how the root is used. Roots purposefully vary in difficulty.

How to play

Team game (basic play)

Cards are laid out with the root facing upwards. Players take turns to pick a card and define a root to their team. They then turn the card over to see if they are correct. If correct, the card remains turned over to show the definition. If incorrect, the card is returned with the root facing upwards.

Individual players (2-4 players)

Deal each player 7 cards and lay three root cards down in a triangle. On their turn, players must place a card over at least one root to make a new word with one of the other roots. They can even lay two cards, over two roots, but must make a word using all 3 roots!

If a player can't go they must pick up a card. If a player is bluffing and the word is wrong, they must pick up all the cards from each pile they laid a card on. If no-one can go, pick up all the piles, shuffle and lay out three new roots. The first player to get rid of all their cards wins.

Where does Wordotomy® come from?

Like most great ideas, Wordotomy came about over a cup of tea but what laid the ground for that momentous chat in the staff kitchen?

For many years, Siobhan had been passionate about finding new and engaging ways of making anatomy relevant and memorable for her students. She had noticed many were unaware complex terms could be understood by breaking them down into components. Her solution was to create an anatomy etymology game with common clinical word roots printed on one side and the definition on the other, for example ‘cardio-‘ meaning ‘relating to the heart’. This was an immediate hit and soon gained interest across our own medical school and further afield.

Meanwhile, John was busy subverting his role as a medical biochemistry lecturer by incorporating as much of his passion for art and cartoons into his teaching materials as he could reasonably get away with. Word slowly crept out that he knew which way up to hold a marker pen and this brings us back to the boiling kettle…

Siobhan was describing the successful use of her cards in a teaching session that morning but regretted their lack of visual impact. Seeing a chance to draw a whole new range of ideas, John offered to provide some illustrations and mock up some designs. It snowballed from there. Before long they had prepared dozens of cards and after an afternoon spent overheating the printer and wielding a guillotine, the genesis of the first pack of Wordotomy was complete.

Who invented the game?

Siobhan Moyes

I was a science geek from an early age. This borderline obsession with figuring things out led me to my Phd on what happens to radioactive particles in the gut once we’ve eaten them (don’t worry, I used cell culture, not friends and family!). During this time two surprising things happened, I realised that I found teaching medical students even more rewarding than research, and I discovered a love of anatomical science. So, I learned my anatomy with the Anatomical Society and here I am. Lead in anatomy at Peninsula Medical School and making fun and memorable ways to learn.

John Chilton

On leaving school I had to choose between art college or a science degree. I reasoned if the science didn’t work out I’d still be able to draw - it’s much harder to be a professional artist running a lab in your shed, at least legally anyway. I spent over 20 years researching the development of the nervous system and teaching biomedical science. I really enjoy teaching and now concentrate on that which allows me to work on projects such as Wordotomy®. Finally I have my dream job of science and art!

Visit the Focus Games online shop to buy Wordotomy® and to see our other games.

Price of game:
£9.99 exc. VAT, P&P

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