In a word: impressive.

That's one way to describe the performance of Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School's WordMasters team in its first competition of the school year.

The team finished eighth among 221 teams taking part in the fifth-grade-level competition in the Blue Division of the WordMasters Challenge, held in November.

The Blue Division is suitable for students of average to above-average reading and reasoning abilities, according to the WordMasters website.

"It shows not only their skills with words and vocabulary comprehension but (also) their dedication as students and as a team," said Joan Grundey, an enrichment teacher at the school who serves as the WordMasters team coach.

Grundey and another enrichment teacher, Jannel Kumar, teach the Extended Learning Class offered to students in grades 3-7.

The class focuses on process skills, including critical and creative thinking and problem-solving, she said.

Twenty-six fourth- and fifth-grade students participate in Edison/Larson's WordMasters team as part of the class. They also take part in the Continental Math League competition, which is led by Kumar.

Extended Learning Class students meet daily, one week concentrating on WordMasters, the next, on Continental Math League.

The latest challenge event marks the first time the school's WordMasters team has earned a top-10 ranking nationwide, Grundey said.

The Grandview team -- WordMasters Blue 5 -- scored 188 out of a possible 200 points in the first of three meets this year.

"It's quite an accomplishment because it's quite a challenging program," Grundey said.

Two Grandview students -- fourth-grader Lola Van Ausdal and fifth-grader Luca Reo -- earned perfect scores of 20 on the challenge. Nationally, only 83 fifth-graders achieved this result.

Earning a perfect score is an impressive feat, Grundey said.

But she said she's proud of the team's overall performance, as well.

"We earned an eighth-place ranking because of a lot of 18 and 19 scores," Grundey said. "It was a real team effort."

Nearly 125,000 students nationwide in grades 3-8 participate in WordMasters.

"In WordMasters, you develop the ability to think in analogies," Grundey said.

Students become familiar with words that are far more difficult than grade-level vocabulary and then are challenged to use the words to complete analogies expressing various kinds of logical relationships, she said.

"We do lots of practicing because there are 10 or 11 different ways to form an analogy," Grundey said.

Students must understand the nuances between two words that might seem similar, such as cackle and hoot, she said.

"They are encountering words they normally wouldn't encounter (at their grade level)," Grundey said. "It requires them to develop a really deep comprehension of words."

Luca said he wanted to be part of the WordMasters team "because it's a good opportunity to improve your vocabulary and just your overall word knowledge."

Lola said she just likes reading and learning about words.

"It's a lot of fun practicing, but the actual challenge tests are kind of stressful," she said. "That's when it gets real.

"What's cool is when you're reading a book and you see a word you just had in a practice session," Lola said.

A key to WordMasters success "is that you have to know the word," Luca said. "You can't just wing it.

"The tests are challenging because they try to trick you," he said. "They might give you sets of words that might seem like they're synonyms, but they're really not. You've got to watch it."

Fifth-grader Lily Rickert said she likes how WordMasters has helped her enhance her vocabulary by learning and understanding new words.

"One day, in English Language Arts class, our teacher was talking about racism and said it was detrimental," Lily said. "So I turned to my friend I sit by and we agreed that it's a real pitfall. It was fun to be able to come up with that word as a kind of synonym."

There's another advantage to improving your vocabulary, fifth-grader Kate McIntosh said with a grin.

"My parents use some big words and now I understand what they're saying," she said.

The next WordMasters challenge event was set to take place Feb. 26.

"We're hoping we can do better, maybe get seventh place or higher," Kate said before the event. "A lot of that is Mrs. Grundey. She really does a good job of making us want to do better. She makes it fun."

WordMasters students help each other like a team, Lily said.

"I feel like it's our little ELC family," she said.

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