Can Scrabble Help Teach Writing? One Rhodes Professor Thinks So

professor teaching college students in a classroom

National Scrabble Day is observed each year on April 13, but during the fall semester at Rhodes, Professor Scott Garner includes Scrabble, chess, Monopoly, and other board games among discussion topics for his first-year writing seminar.

Rhodes College offers the First-Year Writing Seminar, a course taught by professors of different departments, which enhances students’ capabilities in reading and thinking critically, refining ideas via discussion and writing, and expressing these ideas in effective prose. Topics are selected by individual professors.
 
“Board games develop according to the historical context in which they are created, and both culture and communities develop around these games,” says Garner, an expert Scrabble player who has competed in world championships. “We have been investigating how American society has shaped and in turn been reshaped by the games we play.”

Garner first used board games as a course topic fall 2016 and decided to continue it for the fall 2017 semester. His course entails case studies of how board games have been developed, exploring their significance and analyzing how communities form around them. Students read texts focusing on the history of board games such as The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World's Favorite Board Game

“In this class, I learned the basics of writing with a topic that was tangible and something I enjoy,” says Katherine Polster ’20. “Because of Scott Garner's class, I sometimes participate in Scrabble tournaments in Memphis.”

Garner began playing board games at a young age. “I cannot remember a time I didn’t play them, but it wasn’t until about eleven years ago that I got hooked on Scrabble,” he says, referring to the times he played weekly at an Illinois bookstore.

Garner’s endeavors have led him to compete as far as Perth, Australia, which Garner acknowledges is a place he never would have traveled to if it were not for Scrabble guiding him there. In 2016, he and his Scrabble partner Marty Gabriel of Charleston, IL, set a world record for the highest Scrabble score in a 24-hour period, scoring 216, 439 points while playing 241 games that averaged more than 900 points each. Garner’s studies and competitions are far from over, and he is waiting to see where this passion will take him next while passing on his appreciation for the culture of board games through his writing course.

By Meg Jerit ’20