When I tutor reluctant readers or bad spellers, sometimes I reward them with a word game in the last five minutes of an hour-long lesson. The kids love the game and ask at the beginning of the next lesson if they can play again. I never play this word game at the beginning of a lesson or they will balk at doing other kinds of reading work, but it is great as a reward.
This game is also a good game to play in the car on long trips or when a child is bored. It turns dead time into learning time.
- Start by choosing a long word or a phrase. I try to relate the word or phrase to the season or to what we are studying. For example, “NEW YEAR’S DAY” or “JUNIE B. JONES” might be appropriate. After the first game, the child will want to choose the word or phrase, but you must steer him to pick an appropriate word or phrase for the game’s purpose.
- The word or phrase should have ten to 15 letters but not many more or the game becomes too easy. Good words or phrases to work with contain several vowels, including the letter “E.” Bad words or phrases contain few vowels, do not contain the letter “E” and repeat many of the consonants.
- I write the word or phrase at the top of a blank paper, often in all caps, so the child realizes capital letters are irrelevant.
- Next, I explain that we are going to make little words from the big word or phrase, using the letters in any order. So for the phrase “NEW YEAR’S DAY,” I might write “ear,” “way,” and “weed,” and point out how each letter in the little words is part of the phrase.
- I also point out that if there is only one “N” in the original word or phrase, then there can be only one “N” in the made up words. Also, if there is punctuation in the original word or phrase, it can be ignored or used.
- The object of the game is to find as many small words as possible in five minutes.
- Eventually you want children to discover word families, words whose letters can be moved to create other words (tea, eat, ate), words within words (heard, hear, ear, he, head), and how having certain letters (E and S, for example) makes the game easier. This shows the child is thinking about word patterns.
- I help younger children find words, and show them word families that can be made by changing a single letter. Once they understand the game, they usually do not want help.
- For older children, I compete with them, sometimes giving them a handicap.
- At the end of five minutes, if there is not a competition, the game ends. If there is a competition, the child names his words aloud, and if he and I have duplicates, we cross them out. His score becomes the number of words he has without duplicates plus the handicap.
- Additional points are given for words of five letters or more and perhaps for the word which is the longest and which seems to be the most clever use of the original letters.
- I allow proper nouns, but I do not allow repeating the words in the original word. You can make your own rules depending on the ability level of the child. Some children will put an “S” on every noun.