Category Archives: Fun

Christmas writing

Little kids (and quite a few bigger ones) are often keen at this time of year to write Christmas lists, letters to Santa, cards or do other seasonally-adjusted writing.

They are often less enthusiastic about continuing to do structured spelling work.

It’s the silly season, so fair enough. It’s great to find a writing task they’re still keen to do, in between all their parties, concerts and swimming.

I often give up on the structured spelling work at this point of the year and just go with the silly season writing, aiming to give kids enough guidance for them to sound out all the words they want to write, while making sure I prevent spelling mistakes.

The first encounter with a written word matters, and spelling it correctly maximises your chances of getting it right again next time.

There’s no need to give up on sounding out words for this activity, and revert to visual copying or reciting letter names.

Instead, you can give kids the spellings they need for any words they can’t spell independently, and ask them to build these words before writing them. Continue reading

Made-up words in children’s books

Desmond Digby, the illustrator of one of my favourite children's books, Bottersnikes and Gumbles, recently died. Sad face.

At age seven, I got my first library fine from the mobile library visiting my tiny rural school because I couldn't bear to give Bottersnikes and Gumbles back.

In honour of Desmond Digby, because it's the Queen's Birthday Long Weekend (how brillig!), and just in case there's anyone out there muttering "but they don't MEAN anything" about the pseudoword spelling test I posted the other day, I thought I would post a nice long list of some of the many pseudowords in kids' popular culture.

Such words are also interesting to discuss with anyone who thinks the dictionary contains all the words children need to be able to read, or that reading and spelling involve memorisation of words, not encoding and decoding. How can we read or spell these words, if that's the case?

A pseudoword becomes a word when someone attaches a meaning to it, and in kids' popular culture (as well as popular culture for adults, think Westeros) this happens all the time.

Pokemon, Yu Gi Oh and Konami swap cards are all the rage at a school I visit, so yesterday I was given a lovely tour of a collection (not literature, but still a child's book) by a little chap earnestly intent on sounding out names like the ones in the picture below, because to him they really, truly were Real Words:

Yu Gi Oh

Continue reading

Printable wordbuilding card games

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.

It’s been pouring for most of today here in Melbourne, so I’ve been feeling sorry for everyone stuck indoors during the summer holidays. On the plus side, this has motivated me to finally stop obsessively polishing my four new word-building card games, and make them available here.

These games are designed to help learners practice their blending and phoneme manipulation skills, and to learn how to use and combine a variety of graphemes (spelling patterns) representing individual phonemes (speech sounds) in English.

You can find fairly detailed descriptions of each game in each one’s entry in my website shop, so I’ll just put little videos about each one plus a summary in this blog post.

“Short” vowel wordbuilding game

Here learners build words using single-letter vowel spellings, and consonant spellings including “ck”, “ng”, “ff”, “ll”, “ss”, “zz”, “x”, “tch” and “dge”, “sh”, “ch” and “th”. This game also provides lots of opportunities to learn which consonant combinations (blends) are typical of English, such as “fl” and “str” but not “vm” at word beginnings, and “nch” and “mp” but not “jn” at word endings. Continue reading

Make them laugh and let them win

Parents often report difficulty getting their children to work on their reading and spelling at home. Sometimes it’s hard even to get them to play games.

Children with reading and spelling difficulties tend to associate these activities with failure and unhappiness, so of course at first they aren’t too keen on them.

We need them to associate reading and spelling with success and happiness, so they’ll work willingly and get through the amount of work they need to do to catch up. It’s vital to choose work that’s at the right level and give them lots of strong and specific praise.

Games are a great opportunity to really heap on the success and happiness. Here’s a short video of me teaching the great little boy who appeared in my last two videos how to pay memory, using cards from the Get Reading Right Picture This card game.

He didn’t read a lot of words during this game, but he had a great time, and learnt how to play the game. The next steps would be to speed up the game and add more cards so he is reading more, and then introduce different cards with additional sounds and letters, and/or longer words. There are six decks of cards in this card game, so it gives lots of opportunities for controlled reading practice.

As always, thanks so much to the boy in the video and his parents for letting me make and share this video.

Books need to make sense

After yesterday posting a video of myself assisting a beginner to read a simple decodable book, I went looking for similar videos by others. Surely there must be lots of good ones out there on the amazing internets, right?

Well, it was slim pickings, and much of what I found was rather cringeworthy. People showing off their overachieving preschoolers, people teaching in a dull, didactic way and children memorising and reciting books or looking at pictures, first letters and guessing. Perhaps I am not searching correctly, please someone tell me if I'm not.

I found one interesting, 2010 homemade video of a great little kid called Kaylee reading a couple of decodable books to an adult, presumably her mother. They clearly had a nice relationship, and were on the right track from a decoding point of view.

Here's the video, I hope you will just watch Kaylee reading the first book (the first two-and-a-half minutes) and then read on.

Continue reading

Teaching beginning spelling

There’s lots written about how to help a child learn to read and write, and lots of people talking about how to do it on video.

However, there seem to be very few useful video demonstrations, apart from a few classroom-based Direct Instruction ones, like this one.

Parents of struggling readers/spellers are mostly working one-to-one with their child, not in classrooms. So I’ve decided to make some short video demonstrations of activities parents and others can do with beginners at home to build reading and spelling skills. Seeing is believing, and all that.

Here’s the first cab off the rank, a demonstration of how I use my downloadable, printable Workbook 1 with beginning writers/spellers. I’ve highlighted useful teaching tactics with onscreen text.

Thanks so much to the wonderful and hilarious little boy in this video, and his parents, for allowing me to make and share it. Continue reading

Phonics crosswords

I have a student working on vowel spellings who’s keen to do crosswords, so I went looking for ones with words organised by spelling pattern.

I found lots of crosswords in the book “Activities for Successful Spelling – the essential guide” by Philomena Ott.

I’ve had this book for a long time, but I found incorrect information in the introduction e.g. it says “oo” as in “cook” and “oo” as in “pool” are diphthongs, and that some people are auditory learners, others kinaesthetic learners etc, so I was put off, and after having spent a lot of money on this book, haven’t really used it.

Here’s a crossword from this book:

Crossword that doesn't crossThis crossword provides practice with “ay” as in “bray, betray, jay, hay” etc. So it ticks my “does this activity make a point about spelling?” box. Continue reading

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