7 fun word games to play to boost your child’s literacy

Increasingly, literacy improvement is being prioritised as a key focus within schools. Teachers are recognising the huge impact literacy has on a student’s ability to be successful across the curriculum and outside school. Literate children are confident readers and articulate speakers, able to clearly explain their thoughts and feelings.

At the heart of strong literacy is a broad vocabulary. We can express ourselves more effectively when we have a wide range of suitable words to draw from.

There is plenty that you can do as a parent to boost your child’s vocabulary and literacy. At home, it is easier for your child’s learning to be self-led and fun, and your encouragement as a parent is invaluable. Here, we suggest some fun word games to play together. Many can be incorporated into day-to-day activities such as cooking and eating, meaning there’s no need to set aside extra time. Your child can have fun with you, without realising they’re learning!

As well as adopting these suggestions with yourself and other family members, you can also encourage your child to play word games with their friends.

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1. Rhyme and alliteration
Pick a subject at random, then try to speak only in rhymes, or alliteration (words that begin with the same letter or sound). A funny conversation about a lumberjack in an orchard might go like this: Arthur ate only apples he had accidentally acquired with his axe.”

2. Synonyms and antonyms
Explore meaning by thinking of a word’s synonyms and antonyms (words that have similar or opposing meanings), and challenging yourselves to drop these into conversations. For example, taking ‘afraid’ as a starting word, synonyms could include ‘scared’ and ‘frightened’, whereas antonyms could be ‘brave’ and ‘confident’. You could challenge your child to talk about a topic – for example, thunderstorms –  for a whole minute without using the same word twice.

3. Multiple meanings
Think of words that sound the same but have different meanings. For example, the word ‘date’ can refer to a day in the calendar, a meeting with someone, or a fruit! ‘Flower’ and ‘flour’ are another example of these homophones.

4. Strange spelling
Turn the idiosyncrasies of English spelling into a game by challenging yourself to think of the strangest way to (falsely) spell a word, taking sounds from other words as a starting point. A famous example is the made-up word ‘ghoti’ meaning ‘fish’. Here’s how:

  • ‘gh’ makes an ‘f’ sound in the word ‘cough’
  • ‘o’ makes an ‘i’ sound in ‘women’
  • ‘ti’ makes a ‘sh’ sound in ‘nation’

See what words you can come up with!

5. Roots and affixes
These word parts may be little known outside classrooms, but they’re key to understanding vocabulary and a fun way to help your child become confident in identifying the meaning of new words. For visual inspiration, download our free roots flash cards and learn about 37 of the most commonly-used roots. For example, once your child understands that the prefix ‘bio’ means ‘life’, they will be able to link between words such as ‘biology’ and ‘biodegradable’. How many other words prefixed with ‘bio’ can they think of? Once they also understand that the root ‘graph’ means ‘to write’ – as in ‘graphics’ and ‘autograph’ – they can deduce the meaning of the word ‘biography’, even if encountering it for the first time. And when they learn that the prefix ‘auto’ means ‘self’, they can work out the meaning of ‘autobiography’ too. How many new words can they learn?

6. Discover definitions
Lead by example. Find out the meaning of any new words you encounter – then share that knowledge with your child! Once you’ve learned a new word, it’s surprising how often you suddenly encounter it in completely different contexts. They, in turn, will become more confident in doing the same.

7. Research topics
Literacy in its broadest sense involves reading and research – as well as fun word games! Branch out with an information hunt. Agree a topic with your child. It could be a topical one (such as the history of plagues or climate change), one that’s relevant to your family (such as the history of a favourite TV programme), or one they are studying at school. Within an agreed timescale, each finds out all the interesting, relevant information you can about it, from as many different sources as possible, both print and digital. Meet up and discuss your findings. Who found the most unexpected, most interesting, or most unbelievable fact? What have you learned about the subject having done your research?

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