+ Twelve Easy-to-Implement Word Games

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Kevin Feldman’s literacy Newsletter attached Nancy Padak and Timothy Rasinski’s article “The Games Children Play” from The Reading Teacher 62(4). 

Try them.   Just remember never to let your child become frustrated.  Stop while you’re still having fun.


  • Talking Like Turtles — Stretching words out or talking slowly “like a turtle might” can help children learn that words are made of sounds.  Select four or five words from something you have read to your child.  Then say each word very slowly, doing your best to say each sound, and ask your child to figure out which word you just said.  Next, ask your child to say the words “like a turtle,” and see if you can guess the word.
  • Presto Chango — This game focuses on word families.  A child who knows the word cat and the word family –at, for example, can figure out many related words: bat, hat, mat, pat, and so on.  Select a word family, and think of several words that belong to it.  Now, using cat as an example, say to your child, “Let’s start with cat.  If we take the /c/ off, we have /-at/.  Now add /m/ and PRESTO CHANGO what do we have?
  •  Word Ladders — An extension of Presto Chango, this involves having children move from one word to another by adding, subtracting or changing one letter at a time.  Try to connect the final word to the first word in some way.  Here is an example: read (change a letter; this is a small, rounded piece of glass often used in jewelry)… bead (subtract a letter; this is the opposite of good)… bad (add a letter; this means having no hair)…  bald (change a letter; this is a round toy)…ball (change a letter; this is the opposite of short)…tall (change a letter; you pay this when you drive)… toll (change a letter; a screwdriver or hammer is one of these)… tool (change a letter; Yesterday we ___ a test)… took (change a letter; this is what you read)… book !
  • Which One Doesn’t Belong? — This activity is sometimes called Odd Word Out.  It’s a variation of the Sesame Street sketch that asks viewers to decide which three things belong together.  To play it, assemble sets of three words, two of which share a feature.  For example, with beginning sounds, you might have cat, cake, and tree.  With word families, you could selct pin, tin, and tip.  Say each set of words to your child and ask, “Which one doesn’t belong?”  Then remember to ask “Why?”
  • Riddles —  This game asks children to solve a riddle by figuring out a word that matches clues.  To play, select four or five words.  These can be words from a text you have read to your child, or words related to a word family.  Then develop a brief riddle for each.  For example, using the word fish, you could say, “I am a living creature.  I live in the water.  I rhyme with dish.  What am I?” 
  • Clapping Words — This game helps children understand the concept of syllables.  Children do not need to know lots of syllable rules, but it is helpful for them to recognize that long words have “chunks.”  To  play the game, start with a short poem or song (or other text that your child knows).  Then invite your child to read the text along with you and to clap the syllables in the text while reading.  To add variety, you and your child could march to the text, taking a step for each syllable.


For the last four of these you will need word cards.  Prepare them yourself.  The games are useful for developing sight vocabulary, providing additional practice with new vocabulary words, and of course — having fun!

  • Word Sketches — This game is based on Pictionary.  To play it, first select several words from a text your child has read.  Put each word on a small slip of paper, and put the slips of paper in a cup.  Then play the game like Pictionary. You and your child each select a word and make a sketch that shows its meaning.  You might want to set a timer for perhaps one minute for sketching.  Then trade skethes and each of you can guess the other’s word.  This is fun for the whole family.
  • Word Theater — This game is based on Charades.  To  play it, first select several words from a text your child has read.  Put each word on a small slip of paper, and put the slips of paper in a cup.  Then play the game like Charades.  Ask your child to select a word and act it out (no words allowed!) while you guess the word.  Then you take a turn.  This is also a fun family game.
  • 20 Questions — Select a word from a text you have read to your child.  (It is helpful to have the text available for your child to see.)  Tell your child to guess the word you have in mind by asking up to 20 yes or no questions.
  • Concentration — Use about 10 pairs of word cards (20 words all together).  These can be the same word on two cards, a word paired with a word family, synonyms, or some other logical pairing of words.  Shuffle the cards and lay them upside down in a rectangle.  Now you and your child can take turns turning up two cards at a time.  If the cards match, you keep them.  If they do not match, turn them back over.  The winner is the one with the most cards then all have been matched.
  • Go Fish —  Assemble sets of word cards, 9-12 cards per player.  Each set should be related somehow, e.g. by word family (down, town, brown), by root (look, looks, looking).  Deal seven cards to each player.  Put the rest upside down in the center of the playing area.  Players first look for matches in the cards they were dealt, which are laid face up.  Then the game is played like Go Fish.  Players take turns asking others for cards they need to make matches, e.g. “Do you have a word fron the –own word family>”  “Do you have a look word?”  If the other person has such a word, it is given to the player who asked.  If not, the player is told to “Go Fish,” and the next player asks for cards.  Play continues until someone is out of cards.
  • Word-Part Rummy — Cards for this game should be word parts (prefixes, suffixes, roots) that can go together to form words.  Prepare about 10 cards per player, shuffle, deal five to each player, and place the remaining cards face down in a stack.  Players look for cards that create words and place them face up on the table.  Then they take turns drawing cards from the pile.  If the drawn card does not make a match, the player discards a card, which the next player may take.  Play continues until someone has matched all of his or her cards.
  • Word War — This game is played like the car game War.  All words cards are dealt to players.  Each player turns a card over and says the word on it.  The player whose word is longest (alternatively, first in alphabetical order) wins the cards.  In cases of ties, another card is turned over.  Play continues until all cards have been turned over, and the player with the most cards wins.


Research has demonstrated the benefits of parent-child practice with short texts accompanied by a few minutes of word play.  Children who engage in the activities at home outperformed those classmates whose parents did not engage in these games in reading achievement and reading related skill development. 

 A recent meta-analysis found a moderately large effect from parental involvement on young children’s reading acquisition.

In addition, the effects of parents teaching skills (or playing games like those described in this piece) were found to be twice as effective as parents listening to children read; they were found to be six times more effective than parents simply reading to their children.

Word play is motivating, it calls on students to reflect metacognitively on words, word parts, and context, and it requires students to be active learners.

source: “The Games Children Play” by Nancy Padak and Timothy Rasinski in The Reading Teacher 62(4).  Padak teaches at Kent State University, Rasinski also teaches at Kent State University .

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com


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