Games and Literacy
by Giles Pritchard
If you search through the articles here on Games for Educators you will find many links to studies undertaken and articles about the merits of board and card games to social development and importantly, to academic education. One of the important things about having games is the ways in which they are used. Games have the ability to sneak their message up to the learner, and for this reason they can be a great way of ‘speaking’ to children about relevant aspects of the curriculum. Games are, after all, about having fun. If you are having fun you aren’t counting how many times you have spelt out words, how many times you have added, multiplied, studied or thought (or how many times you’ll have to do those things before recess rolls around to break you free).
For this reason I have been trying to integrate games into my classroom use so they feel like a natural fit, they are not a reward game for good behaviour, they are not a time filler because we have a lazy afternoon, they hold a legitimate and regular place in my classroom. Every morning the first two-hours of the day are devoted to literacy, according to the usual template for the two-hour literacy block, the first hour should be reading, the second writing. I run my mornings in thirds, partly because it allows me to get more activities in, and partly because the children in my class respond better to shorter 40 minute blocks than they do to longer hour blocks.
Over the first two thirds the kids rotate around various literacy activities depending on their group. Different groups will have different activities on different days, sometimes reading quietly, sometimes a CLOZE activity, sometimes a reading comprehension sheet, sometimes a group project, all will be relevant to the level of the individual child.
One thing that is common between all groups is that once a week each group will have an opportunity to play a literacy game. I have a range of these, from games that deal with spelling, to games that deal with reading, to games that are all about verbal communication and aural comprehension. I usually give the groups a choice of a couple of games, and I try and ensure that the games selected target the needs of the group. The kids get to have one literacy session a week where they can relax together as a group and have fun, but also be sharpening their literacy skills at the same time. So far this system has worked really well, the kids are enjoying the opportunity to play games with each other, and are being extended and supported at the same time.
Some of the games I have used include:
- Apples to Apples Junior – A game where the kids select cards (nouns) that best match a particular adjective. Each child will take a turn at playing the judge, and it is the judge’s job to decide the noun that best matches the adjective. The kids really enjoy this game because of the fun and funny match ups, the time that so and so played ‘My Teacher’ (noun) as the best match for ‘Smelly’ (adjective). The kids are reading, talking words, contextualising language, helping each other and having fun.
- You’ve Been Sentenced – A game where each player is dealt 10 pentagonal cards, each side of the pentagon has written along it a different word. Kids line the cards up to make sentences, with each word worth a certain number of points and the more difficult the word the more points it will be worth. The kids playing this game are reading aloud to one another, asking about the ‘sense’ in a sentence and a raft of other skills – and my class at least have really loved it.
- Upwords/Scrabble – Upwords is probably a touch simpler, something that is good for the age group I teach. This is a dyed-in-the- wool spelling game, players have tiles, each tile a letter. Players play their tiles in groups to the board in order to build words, the longer the word and more difficult the letters used the more points. Most people would be familiar with both these games, and both are great for spelling. For my struggling groups I have the kids play with ‘open hands’ – everyone can see everyone else’s tiles, and they are encouraged to help one another out.
- Backseat Drawing/Backseat Drawing Junior – This is a game of pure verbal literacy. The players have to draw certain things and other players have to guess at what is being drawn. As the kids chatter about the drawing, and especially in the Junior version – where one player directs the drawer, this is a great games for verbal/oral comprehension skills.
These are just some of the games I use and some of the ways I have used them. If you have been using games to support literacy, I’d love to hear about it! Jump in and make a comment in the Games for Educators forums!
Editor's Note: You can find lots of great games to help teach literacy skilles in our GameFinder!