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How to Transform Children’s Games to Make Early Reading (and Other Skill Building) More Fun

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

Are you a teacher, tutor, or parent looking for “new,” fun ways to help your child develop their reading skills? Are you only using books, online games, and workbooks? Maybe you need to mix it up and offer different types of activities and games that will engage them.

There are many effective and fun ways to improve children’s reading skills. One key approach is to use multisensory methods. All of us (kids and adults) remember things better when we learn them through activities that involve seeing, hearing, touching, and moving. This is especially true for children with dyslexia. As an Academic Therapist using the Orton-Gillingham approach, I can affirm what the research says, which is that using fun, multisensory activities is ideal for helping children learn to read. Playing games is just one of many multisensory activities that engage students of every age.

Children Can Learn MANY Skills by Playing Games

Most people think of games as simply being fun, but they actually have many additional benefits. Most games offer at least one (but often several) built-in skill-building opportunities. Games can help develop reading, creativity, focus, executive functioning, math, fine motor, gross motor, interpersonal, and cognitive skills. Add some additional real and nonsense words to the games and voila! Your children can practice reading words at their reading level. While I’m focusing on reading here, you can also alter your games by adding math facts, words in a foreign language, or other skills your child needs to practice.

Here are 5 different categories of games you can transform into new learning games, along with the other skills your child will practice while playing.

5 Types of Games to Transform for Reading Practice

Games with Chips

When it comes to altering games with chips or pawns, I like to write words on round labels and stick one on each piece. On their turn, the player reads the word on the chip they are going to move. Once all of the words have been read, finish playing the game as usual. Of course, reading the words more than once will give your child additional practice and skill-building opportunities.

Instead of adding words to the chips, you could also write words on index cards. On each turn, the player picks a card, reads it, and makes a move. By picking a card on each turn, your child can read more words than there are chips in the game. You can also write longer words on cards than would fit on the chips, or even write a sentence on each card.

Examples: Othello, Connect 4, Checkers

Bonus skills: strategy, fine motor, spatial orientation, directionality

Standard Board Games (with landing spaces)

You can easily alter games with landing spaces by adding words to the spaces. I recommend writing on a small label and then sticking it on the board either in, above or below the landing spaces. This might make it easier to see, especially on dark boards.

If you want to maintain your board in its original condition, write words on index cards that each player reads before moving their pawn. Provide different words or sentences each time you play.

Examples: Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, Sorry, Monopoly

Bonus skills: planning, organizing, attention, decision making, strategy, working memory

Card Games

A standard card deck is a very economical game to alter. Write a word on each card for each player to read on their turn.

If you want to play a game that requires cards to match, be sure to write the same word on 2 or 4 cards. I prefer to write words on matching cards, such as the same word on the red aces, another word on the black aces, or the same word on all four aces.

By the way, you don’t even need to use the entire deck. If you split it, you can make two games with different types of words on them. Maybe make one deck with real words and another with nonsense words.

Examples: Old Maid, Go Fish, or War (known as Battle in the UK)

Bonus skills: strategy, planning, organizing, working memory, decision making, attention

Matching Games

The best memory game (in my opinion) entails putting rows of cards upside down, flipping two over at a time, and trying to find matches. If you already own a memory match game (or even a standard deck of cards), write the same word on matching cards. Players should read each of the words as they turn the cards over and keep the pairs they find. The player with the most pairs wins.

Examples: Matching Game/Memory Match

Bonus skills: working memory, attention, concentration, reasoning

Games with Blocks/Tiles

My Jenga blocks are covered in words. Some of them are in my handwriting, but others my students wrote. Instead of writing words I dictated on paper, they wrote the words on the Jenga blocks. Each time a player pulls a block, they read the word and place the block on the top of the Jenga tower.

To avoid permanently changing your games, write the words on labels and stick them to the pieces.

Examples: Jenga, Dominoes, Blokus

Bonus skills: fine motor, visual-spatial skills, planning

Which Words Should You Add to the Games?

If you’re not sure which words to add to your games, ask me for my freebie, Real & Nonsense Words. It contains word lists of increasing difficulty. Once your child masters reading the simpler ones, move on to the more difficult words. Each list only includes 10 words, so you may want to come up with additional words following the same pattern. My list includes nonsense words at each skill level, too. By reading the nonsense words, your child will develop the skills they’ll need to eventually read longer, unfamiliar words. You can also add spelling words from school, irregular (“sight”) words, or, for younger children, even letters. If you write letters, have your child say the sounds they represent instead of the letter names.

Which game(s) are you going to transform? Need some inspiration? Check out my Instagram and Facebook pages.

P.S.- You may have noticed that the games I suggested here are not existing word games, like Scrabble, Boggle, Upwords, Words With Friends, Bananagrams, or Quiddler. Certainly, there are lots of reading activities you can do with them, too! Please share your suggestions for transforming word games!

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