When I form small workshop groups in my writing classes, I like to introduce the new groups to each other by playing a game. What we play varies from term to term — years ago, I blogged about playing Taboo with students, and recently I’ve introduced the new Word Dominoes game my wife got me as a gift — but lately, I’ve been sticking to the original, definition-only Balderdash game.


Because we’re playing in groups — or teams — I play a variation of the rules: we use no board, the teams collaborate on their definitions and voting, and I control the word cards throughout. This year, though, I added a new element: because of the logistics of this particular class, I wound up with three larger groups, which meant we’d only have four definitions to choose from, so I added a definition of my own this term, which was a lot of fun.

I needn’t have bothered, though. I did pick up some “points” by getting the class to vote for mine, but the students chose each other’s definitions just as often because, in their workshop groups, the whole class was in top form on writing convincing definitions! And, as it happened, that same class period, one of the students asked if I ever blogged about my classes, so I decided to share some of their definitions (and some of my own!) with you here on the blog.

(A note: the “true” definitions are those provided by the game, and while they’re generally pretty accurate, I have noticed that sometimes the game authors play with vagaries and short-cut half definitions in the interest of fitting things onto the cards, so any word nerds out there, if you have quibbles with the definitions, blame the game.)

Poonac: “residue left after pressing oil from a coconut”

My definition: a tree nut native to Canada

Definitions from the class:

  • nesting ground for birds in the Middle East
  • the inability for someone to perform a task
  • a coffee bean that is ingested by large cats — the acid from digestion alters it and, after extraction, it is gathered and processed for human consumption (those students were thinking of kopi luwak, and kudos to them for playing off my well-known obsession with coffee)

Dorado: “a fish resembling a dolphin”

My definition: a species of jackrabbit common in the Southwestern United States

Definitions from the class:

  • a Spanish word meaning “cut”
  • another word for gold in Latin America (I see what y’all did there)
  • a fallen angel replevied from Heaven (during class, I had revealed how much I love the word “replevied,” so that group was after brownie points!)

Noddlethatcher (my favorite word of the whole class!): “a maker of hats and wigs”

My definition : an Italian bird that builds its nests entirely from dried pasta (at this point, I began getting increasingly silly in my fake definitions)

Definitions from the class:

  • a type of knot commonly used by deep-sea fishers
  • the practice of repairing leather work
  • a farming tool used for irrigation

Pinchem: “the cry of the wild titmouse” (I can’t tell you how much I love this definition!)

My definition: Appalachian slang for a baby with chubby cheeks

Definitions form the class:

  • a woodwind instrument from the medieval era
  • the process of cross-breeding plants in an industrial greenhouse
  • treated, debarked wood

Jillick: “to skip a stone across the water”

My definition: like a cowlick, but in women’s hair

Definitions from the class:

  • a tool used to sharpen blades on industrial machines
  • a type of folk music from Scandinavian origins
  • a nomadic farming society that herds sheep on the northern coast of Scotland

Carfindo: “a ship’s carpenter (from the word carf, meaning a notch in the wood)”

My definition: a smartphone app showing nearby vehicles worth stealing

Definitions from the class:

  • a fish that is only found in the Mediterranean Sea
  • a music note that demonstrates a slow tempo
  • an Italian wine connoisseur

And that was all we had time for, but honestly this was one of the best classes for fake-definition writing I’ve ever had! It reminded a bit of the chapter in Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man where he has his class write excuse notes instead of essays and is immensely impressed by the creativity and intelligence of his students at faking people out!

That we were playing this game as a group-building exercise and an audience-analysis exercise, and that my class is currently working on writing definition essays? Well, hopefully I Miyagi’d them into learning something while they all were laughing and having fun. 😉

Anyway, congratulations, any of my students reading this. You’ve done me proud.


Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

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