Having a Word with Wordle

I’m a game player. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but I love games. Card games. Strategy games. Video games. I especially love word games. Scrabble and Boggle are probably two of my favorite games of all time and I’ve probably logged hours playing those games in my lifetime. But my word game obsession isn’t limited to Boggle or Scrabble. Through the pandemic, I have a played a daily round of Word Hunt through Game Pigeon with a colleague. Some days, I win. Some days, I lose. Over the course of the last 22 months, however, we’ve literally played hundreds of rounds of Word Hunt.

So, I was excited when someone shared the existence of Wordle with me. If you haven’t seen it on your social media feed or in the news, Wordle is a daily word puzzle you can play online. The game itself is pretty simple. It’s kind of a cross between Mastermind and Scrabble. A player tries to guess a five-letter word by guessing other words. The site communicates whether the letters the player has guessed are in the word (or not) and whether they’re in the right location. Based on that information, the player can guess another word. Each day, players get six tries to guess the word and only one puzzle is available each day.

To say the game is a viral phenomenon would almost be an understatement. When the game was released in November, only about 90 people were playing. Now, months later, an online survey estimates that more than 14% of American adults are playing the game daily. That’s how quickly it’s spread. Before anyone thinks that the creator (his actual name is Josh Wardle!) is making lots of money off of the game, he’s not. He created the game as a gift to his partner and the site just took off. There’s no cost to play and the site doesn’t have any advertising.

If the title of this post suggests that I dislike the game, I apologize. I love the game. I’ve played every morning since the game was shared with me. As I’ve played, however, I’ve noticed some really cool features that deserve to be celebrated and embraced. As always, I see aspects that can inform the work we do as educators.

Embrace simplicity. When I first came to the Wordle site, I was shocked by how simple the aesthetics were. The site isn’t overloaded with advertising or unnecessary graphics. It embraces its core mission (gameplay) and doesn’t distract the player from that goal. While I’ve been advocating for the need to reduce entropy, Wordle demonstrates how impactful simplicity can be.

Provide effective feedback. When a player makes a guess, the site provides feedback that is direct and actionable. When I look at Wiggins’ seven keys to effective feedback, Wordle’s feedback is goal-referenced, tangible and transparent, actionable, timely, consistent, and progresses towards a goal. I know it’s a game, but it models a lot of the qualities of effective feedback.

Connect with a community. I think a lot of Wordle’s viral spread is due to the community that has formed around the game play. Each morning, I see my friends and colleagues sharing their Wordle scores. I also see the discussions that have arisen over the day’s puzzle. Sometimes, the conversation involves commiserating over the difficulty. Other times, the conversation strays into guessing strategies or tips. Learning is a social activity and Wordle embraces that by easily fostering interaction through social media. To be clear, I’m not advocating that instructors need to post student work to Facebook or anything. But Wordle demonstrates the power of cultivating conversation around learning activities.

While I’ve taken an educator perspective on the site, there’s a lot to like about Wordle. If you’re interested in hearing a technological point of view, check out Clive Thompson’s recent post about the Six Lessons from the Success of Wordle. Personally, my favorite take is Thompson’s lesson for app builders to “engineer for occasional use, not for addiction.” But that’s a post for another day. I need to get in my daily round of Word Hunt. Wish me luck.

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One thought on “Having a Word with Wordle

  1. Pingback: Top Posts from 2022 – Part 1 | The 8 Blog

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