Making Words Fun for Early Readers

December 2010

Provided by Jennifer Quinn from Huntington Learning Center

As a parent, you’ve probably heard more than a few times how important it is to nurture your child’s early literacy skills. According to Jennifer Quinn of the Billings Huntington Learning Center, simple and fun word games are one more great tool to expose your child to language - the underpinning of his or her reading success. "There are many fun ways to help children gain spelling, letter and word recognition, and early reading skills," says Quinn. What games develop children’s literacy competency? Quinn offers these five ideas to help early readers and spellers build their vocabulary and word and phonemic awareness:

1. Sentence puzzles - Write out sentences or phrases from one of your child’s favorite books on a piece of paper. Then write each word from the sentence on a separate note card. Place the paper with the full sentence in front of your child and read it aloud, then help him or her place the note cards in order underneath the entire written-out sentence. Mix up the word cards and have your child put them back in order. For a more challenging version, let your child create sentences from word cards without a sentence example to model - or try a word magnet kit for kids (www.mywordmagnets.com).

2. Alphabet sing-song - This game is perfect for road trips, plane rides or rainy days. Starting with A, each "player" takes a turn filling in the blanks of the following silly chant: my name is and I like to . I come from to sell you . As in, A my name is Amy and I like to add. I come from Antarctica to sell you apples; B my name is Bob and I like to boogie. I come from Boston to sell you bananas. Make it challenging by clapping along and getting progressively faster after each player has a turn. Once a player makes a mistake or does not fill in a word on beat, the next player must go back to A and start over - see how quickly you can get to Z. For younger children, eliminate the second sentence.

3. Word apple tree - Modeled after hangman, this game is a fun way to improve on word decoding and spelling. Have your child choose a word - try selecting from the appropriate Dolch word list for your child’s reading level (ask your child’s teacher or visit www.english-zone.com/reading/dolch.html). Draw blanks at the bottom of the piece of paper for each letter of the word. Draw a tree with 10 apples. Have your child guess one letter at a time, and each time a letter he or she names is not part of the "secret" word, cross out one apple on the tree. If your child is a more experienced speller, try word phrases and encourage him or her to sound out and/or guess the word or phrase before all letters are filled in.

4. Sound match - Pick three letters (such as S, R and B) and on 15 note cards, draw easily recognizable pictures of objects that start with each letter - five pictures per letter (such as a sun, snake, sock, swing and slide for S). At the top of three larger sheets of paper, write each of your three letters. Taking turns, have your child select a picture card and place it on the letter sheet. To make the game more challenging, use letter combinations, such as Sh, aw, igh, or wh.

5. Missing letter fun - Using your child’s spelling list (or a simple word list of your own), write each word on separate note cards, but leave out one letter. For example, for "boy," write bo_. Next, cut a blank sheet of paper into small squares, then write each missing letter on its own square. Put the letters face up in front of your child. One word at a time, have him or her select from the letter pile to fill in the correct missing letter on each word.

To make spelling, words and reading enjoyable, Quinn encourages parents to be creative. "Words can be very entertaining," says Quinn. "While drills and rote memorization are not much fun for children, there are countless ways you can add a little excitement and challenge to letter-sound and spelling practice - whether children are early or proficient readers."


Founded in 1977, Huntington Learning Center is the nation’s longest-running supplemental education services provider. Today they continue to be an industry leader providing instruction in reading, writing, spelling, phonics, mathematics and study skills as well as SAT and ACT preparation to tens of thousands of students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Huntington prides itself on its unparalleled programs that help parents, caregivers and educators identify the gaps in skills and knowledge that can limit learning potential. Huntington’s personalized programs of instruction enable children to excel. To learn more or to locate a center near you, call 1-800 CAN LEARN.

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