New word-building card games

11 Replies

I’ve been faffing around for ages trying to improve on my old word-building card games, and finally have a new set of three decks of download-and-print cards I’m happy with.

These games are intended to provide practice blending and manipulating sounds in one-syllable words, and learning their spellings.

The basic games are lot simpler, and young children can play them more successfully, as the less-common spellings are now in the harder games. The colour scheme has been revised thanks to feedback from people with red-green colour-blindness (oops, sorry).

The basic “short” vowels game can be used by six-year-olds who know the alphabet and a few consonant digraphs. Two players or teams each build five words using the five vowel cards, then change each other’s words into new words. Here’s how to play it:

The “long” or “split” vowels game can be used by kids who have been taught about split vowel digraphs (sometimes called “bossy E” or “magic E”), and again involves building words and then changing your opponent’s words. There’s no “E” vowel in this game because there are very few words with the spelling “e…e” as in “these”. Here’s how to play it:

The third set of cards is an extension pack for the other two games, and contains a variety of vowel spellings as well as some less common consonant spellings not in the earlier games.

As kids learn additional spellings (extra vowels like ee, oo, ea, ar, ur and ou, and also consonant spellings like ph and kn), and their vocabularies expand, these spellings can be added to the game from this third set. Here’s an example game:

Finally, a longer, more strategic, scoring game involving the creation of words both horizontally and vertically can be played. I hope it will appeal to adults who love word games like Scrabble, Word Yahtzee and Bananagrams, and help get lots of kids off screens and talking to other people more often.


These games provide opportunities to learn about how  sounds typically combine in English e.g. we often put “ve”, “se” and “ge” after “ur” as in “curve”, “nurse” and “purge” and other two-letter vowel spellings, but we typically use “ve”, “ss” and “dge” after “short” or one-letter vowels, as in “give”, “mess” and “bridge”.

Each set of cards is supplied as a downloadable pdf which you print in colour on paper or light cardboard, laminate if you will be using the game a lot, and cut up (or ask kids to hone their scissor skills on it). Put an elastic band around each of the decks, and you have small, cheap, portable edutainment. Save the file to your computer so you can replace any lost or damaged pieces, or make more copies.

Many thanks to Renee Vlahos, Tessa Weadman and Caitlin Stephenson for help trialling these games and making the videos, and for the brilliant suggestion of Benny-Hill-style video theme music, which I think adds a certain je ne sais quoi, n’est ce pas? (Yes, I am up to the French bit in the brilliant History of English Podcast). Thanks also to Sarah Asome and the Sharing Best Practice crew at Bentleigh West PS for giving me a deadline to get these games actually finished (yeek, it’s tomorrow!).


11 responses to “New word-building card games”

  1. Diane Herman says:

    Oh perfect timing My kids will be cutting and laminating in the holidays!!!
    Thanks for your great resources

    • alison says:

      Thanks for the nice feedback! Hope the kids enjoy preparing and playing the games. Alison

    • Beth says:

      Ordering help needed. For some reason when I click ‘add to cart’ for a card game nothing happens. Unlike say Amazon I do not see a cart icon to take me to the next screen to purchase. What am I missing?

      • alison says:

        Hi Diane, after you press “add to cart” the words “view cart” should appear under the button you just clicked, and if you click on them, they will take you to the cart. Hope that works for you. Alison

  2. Kate says:

    Hi Alison,

    I’m new to using Spelfabet and have learned so much from you. I just wanted to ask about the colour coding for beginning/middle/end sounds and beginning&end sounds in these games vs. the moveable alphabet as they are different colours. Is this confusing for students?

    • alison says:

      Hi Kate, my moveable alphabet colour scheme is based on a traffic light: Green for start (word beginnings), orange for middles (vowel spellings) and red for endings, plus the yellow pieces can go either side of a vowel, and so were the original word-building card games. However a few people have pointed out that a lot of people are red-green colour blind so I decided to change the colour scheme for the new game cards, and have just a blue stripe for beginnings, a red one for endings and both a red and blue stripe to show a card can go either side of a vowel, and to make the vowels have a yellow stripe. I don’t really talk about the colour scheme much when I use the alphabet, except that sometimes when a child is searching for a letter, I tell them what colour it is to help narrow down the search. I mostly want kids to focus on the letters not the colours, and they seem to most of the time, as long as they aren’t looking at more than they can cope with at once. Hope that’s helpful, Alison.

      • Kate says:

        Hi Alison,

        Thanks that’s really helpful, I’ve purchased the moveable alphabet and looking forward to using it. I’m a Speech Pathologist and new to working on literacy. Your website and program have taught me a lot already. The only area I’m finding tricky is helping children know which spelling to choose when there are multiple options e.g. when ‘oh’ as in ‘go’ could be written ‘o’, ‘oa’, ‘eau’, ‘ow’ etc. I have charts of all the alternative spellings for each sound, but when my students are doing free writing for example they still get stuck not knowing which spelling to choose. Do we just need to spend more time practicing lists with the same spelling pattern until the correct spelling becomes more automatic for them and generalises into their free writing? Thanks for all your help.

        • alison says:

          Hi Kate, have you done sorting activities where you group all the spellings of a sound and then eyeball the lists to see where that spelling usually goes in a word and what usually goes with it? Kids soon notice which words can go at the end of a word and which don’t usually, and often you can see that a particular spelling is often followed by e.g. /l/ or /n/. Some work on rhyming can also help bring out the patterns e.g. there’s most, post and host but also coast, roast, boast and toast, so these can be grouped, and just the process of studying the words and writing them out as well as seeing them in decodable books should help to consolidate them. Hope that’s helpful, Alison

  3. […] Please note that as of July 2019, the games in this post have been superseded by the ones you can find in this blog post. […]

  4. Robyn says:

    I’ve just laminated all the cards and I’m looking forward to trying it next term. I was just wondering what the numbers on the cards mean. I thought they might be points, but you say the winner is the person who uses up all their cards first. Are the numbers used to decide the winner if no one can go out?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *