We started school officially today, and Ana charged me with doing a technology session for Pea. I had this grand idea of having her come up with a 6 paneled comic strip that she could create with this cool and simple comic generator I found. Um…yeah…I still forget sometimes that I’m working with a 5 year old attention span. We spent about 15 minutes on that. While it’s a really cool (and free) tool, it takes too long for kids that age to get any results for their efforts.
But I was able to salvage our time by doing something that was really easy, entertaining, and hilarious. Why not start with helping her get familiar with a computer keyboard, right? And what if we could work in some sight word exercises, vocabulary expansion, and foreign language practice too? Pea’s Spanish has been suffering lately. She understands fine, but refuses to speak. I think I may have stumbled onto something that will help with that though.
Silly Sentences and Google Translate
I wrote some silly sentences on paper, then Pea typed them into Google Translate. She tried to read all the sentences, and she could get most of the words, but I made it just hard enough that she couldn’t read it on her own and was so ridiculous that she wouldn’t get the joke until she listed to it. She loved hearing the silly sentences in Spanish and actually ran to repeat them to Ana. She actually chose to speak Spanish.
Now the challenge is to keep coming up with silly sentences and working the same words over and over until she can read them on her own. She’s already pretty good at finding the letters on the keyboard, but it’s good practice!
A while back, Ana made up a fun game we call Sight Word Shuttle Runs that not only helps the kids with learning new sight words, but also lets them burn up some energy. We just realized at dinner last night that we can play the game in reverse too.
The original game was to have the child look at a word, read it correctly, then run to a designated spot to pick up pennies, toy soldiers, stickers, or whatever else motivates your child.
The reverse game is to say the word to the child, then have them run to the designated spot to find the correct word written on an index card with a bunch of other words written on cards. If they bring back the right word, they get the motivational item to add to their pile. If not, they take the card back and try again.
Yet another fun twist to help build vocabulary is to begin a sentence and leave off the last word, having them run and pick out the word that makes the most sense to complete the sentence.
Here’s a quick and easy game you can play in the car or around the house.
Learning to count the number of syllables in words they hear and say can help your child learn to “chunk” sounds in a word together when they are reading. A simple way to introduce this concept is to have them make a fist and place it just under their chin. Whenever they say a word, they can count how many times their chin bumps their fist to count the number of syllables in the word.
You can be in charge of keeping a running total of all the syllables they’ve counted, or make it a math/counting game by having them add the syllables in the last word they counted to their total. You can even challenge them to get a “high score” by learning and saying bigger and bigger words to increase their vocabulary.
Here’s a fun way to help your child expand their vocabulary when you aren’t even “working” on reading.
Chick Pea is working on a weekly art project that is geared towards helping her learn the numbers that are multiples of ten. Each week, she gets to glue the appropriate number of objects onto the numbers, counting them out (with Ana’s help when needed). There’s also a corresponding sentence that accompanies each number that describes what’s going on in the picture. These will later be put into a book that she can look through on her own for review.
She loves to do art projects, and it’s really helping her get a concrete idea of amounts of objects. That alone makes this a great activity. But while I was admiring her work last night, Ana pointed out something very interesting about the project that I hadn’t picked up on. Can you see it?
Notice that the words “speedy” and “fierce” are used to describe the animals in the project. This is important because Chick Pea doesn’t know what these words mean–at least she didn’t before. She knows what “fast” and “angry” mean. Those are words she can naturally understand because they are used so often. And even though she may not make sentences with the new words on a daily basis, just being exposed to them is helping to expand her vocabulary.
Another activity Ana has planned once an entire book is finished is to point out to her that all of the sentences start the same: “I am as…”. Notice how those small words are one line by themselves. This can be used to help her expand her bank of sight words and also introduce the concept of similes.
This simple activity will do wonders for your child’s oral vocabulary (which is important to build so that their reading vocabularies can grow) while working on their comprehension at the same time! You can do this with kids of all ages that can listen to and discuss a book or story.
- Prior to reading a book to your child, try to notice words that represent an easy concept for your child that you can replace with a harder, more mature word (this is really easy to do with adjectives). Choose about 3-5 words that you will focus on along with their “big word” synonym.
- Read the book as it is with/to your child. Either during or after the reading (while you’re discussing parts of the book with your child), talk about and show them how you can say certain things in a different way. For example: If a character in a book was really hungry, you can say they were famished during your discussion of the story. Talk about how the new word tells the same story, but makes it a bit more interesting!
- Here are some other examples of common words and their “big word” synonyms:
These synonyms are examples of Tier Two Words – read more about the importance of these words.
- You’ll find that the more you do this while you read (or just in conversations with your child) the more they’ll start to use these new words on their own!
This is another fun game you can play in a group or as a family in the car. Even mom and dad will be challenged with this phonemic awareness excercise.
The rules of the game are pretty simple–each person, in turn, says a word that begins with the same sound the previous person’s word ended with. Note that it is not the last letter of the previous word that matters, but the sound that is important. For instance, if mom starts off with the word “steak”, the next player must say a word that begins the /k/ sound–‘cake’, ‘climb’, and ‘kindergarten’ are all acceptable.
A variation of this game is to use words from a common category, for example “names for boys” or “things you eat”. This is also a great activity for older kids where the focus would be on building vocabulary rather then phonemic awareness.
Here’s an entertaining way to get your kids thinking about and using synonyms. Synonyms are a great way to build your child’s vocabulary because it’s easy for them to learn new words that match a concept they’re already familiar with. Here’s how to play this easy game:
- Start off by telling your child that you’re going to say a word and they have to think of another word that means the same thing. You can start off with easy words till they get the hang of it, and then go on to use some harder words.
- Sample conversations:
Parent: “I say mad, you say…”
Parent: “I say huge, you say…”
- You can swap roles and have your child start off by choosing the first word for you to respond to with a match. This will give you the chance to model the use of bigger words that are more challenging. For example: If your child says sad, you say melancholy. If your child says hungry, you say famished.
- As shown by the examples shared here, you can easily make this game as challenging or as easy as you like depending on your child’s level. Have fun helping your child expand his/her vocabulary!
This can be a fresh change to the usual vocabulary activity of “Write a sentence using the word…”. It’s important for your child to practice using newly learned words in addition to talking about them. So this activity can help your child use the word in a meaningful way which will help them internalize its meaning. It’s also a great way to work on your child’s writing skills!
- Choose 3-5 words (or more if you like) that you have chosen as vocabulary words for your child.
- Use these words to write sentence stems for your child to complete. The goal is to really make your child think about a word’s meaning so that they can complete the rest of the sentence in a way that makes sense and shows they understand its meaning.
triumphant : The gymnast felt triumphant when she…
coax: I tried to coax my sister to ride the roller coaster with me because…
shabby: The house looked shabby because…
- You can make this as challenging or as easy as you like depending on your child’s level.
This hands-on activity helps to reinforce the use of affixes (suffixes and prefixes) to help build and add to your child’s vocabulary. You’ll need some index cards or sentence strips, markers, some baggies, and a list of root words and affixes.
- Use a list of root words and affixes to help you make word cards – you can also pull words from the books or selections you have worked on or plan to work on with your child.
- Choose a different color marker to write the prefixes, roots, and suffixes onto the cards. For example prefixes can be green, roots purple, and suffixes orange. Place all of the word parts in labeled baggies.
- Have your child try to build as many words as they can with the word parts given. You can even have them practice their writing by making a list of all of the words they come up with. Kids love to compete with each other to see who can make the most words – so involve a sibling or friend that can also work with these words for even more fun!
- Sample words using prefix: out-, root: stand, suffix: -ing
Those are three words from just from one set of word parts. Imagine how many words your child can create with baggies full of word parts!
- It’s important that your child comes up with real words that make sense! You can let them use a dictionary and/or thesaurus to check their words to make sure they’re real.
- This is an excellent time to discuss the meanings of these word parts and how affixes can instantly change the meaning of a word. It’s a fun way to make your kids see the power of words!
I love to play golf, but I’m not a golfer…yet. That raises the obvious question–what are the differences between a golfer and someone who plays golf? Well, they’re basically the same differences between someone who can read and a reader.
Golfers have spent countless hours practicing chip shots and bunker shots. They’ve hit thousands of buckets of balls with their drivers and irons. They’ve spent time and effort tweaking small nuances in their swings in their basements. They are prepared for every situation the course, which they’ve played dozens of times and know intimately, can throw at them. As a result, they score well on the weekends when they play.
Guys who play golf (like me) usually go out once a week or less to play 18 holes. Maybe we hit a bucket of balls before we play to warm up. We get a little stressed when put in the situation of having to chip downhill onto green because we don’t really have that shot. We lay up instead of going for greens because we can’t hit our 2 iron well every time and can’t rely on it. We basically play every hole shot to shot, reacting to the latest situation we’ve created for ourselves instead of setting ourselves up and executing a strategy.
So what does this have to do with reading? Maybe you can see where I’m headed with this…
This take on the classic game of Twister is a really fun way to get your kids moving while learning to read and spell words! You’ll need some sidewalk chalk and a large writable surface that’s outside (sidewalk, driveway, patio, etc.).
- Make some word cards of 2-4 letter words that you want your child to practice reading and spelling. These can be high frequency words and/or words from a story you are working on.
- Then draw a large grid of random letters (found in the words you chose) on the ground. A good size grid would be a square with 4 rows and 4 columns. You can make this bigger or smaller if you like depending on the size of your letters and how far your child’s limbs can reach! Your child will be using these letters to spell out the words with their hands and feet.
- Show your child a card, have them read it aloud (have them blend if needed or read it to them if it’s an irregular word) and then find the letters to spell it with their hands and feet. It helps if you have them read the word, spell it, say the letters as they find them on the grid, and finally call out the word when finished.
- Once they complete a word, they can then practice writing the word with chalk on the ground to make a list of all the words they were able to twist. They’ll be amazed at what they’ve accomplished!
You can also play different variations of the game depending on your child’s level of ability:
Synonyms have been shown to be an excellent way to build our vocabularies because it’s really easy to learn and attach a new word to a concept/meaning that we already know. Kids can have fun learning and adding to their vocabulary by playing this version of the classic game of memory. You can use store bought word cards or make your own out of index cards or card stock to play. Although you can use any set of random words you like (click here for word ideas), it’s also a good idea to choose words from a book or selection that you are working on with your child.
- Pick out some synonym pairs (the number will vary depending on your child’s age and reading ability – anywhere from 5 pairs for younger kids to 15 pairs for older kids) and review the words with your child. Have your child practice reading the words and take the time to discuss their meanings.
- Lay the word cards face down in rows on the floor or table.
- Have your child choose a card, read the word aloud, and try to find the word card that matches its meaning. If they find the right card they get to keep the pair. If not, they put both cards back where they were and it’s the next person’s turn.
- Continue until there are no cards left. The person with the most cards wins!
- You can make this as simple or as difficult as you like. For younger kids you can use simple words with pictures to help them with the meaning (ex: small/little, hat/cap) – harder words for older kids (ex: alone/isolated, exhausted/weary).
- This is an excellent time to introduce your kids to mature vocabulary words that can be tied to easy words that they already know – this really helps to expand their vocabulary in a rich way! Examples: sad/melancholy, friendly/amicable, mad/indignant.
- You can also change this up by making the word pairs antonyms.
This fun game will help your child learn the meanings of words from a story or book that you are working on. It also gives your kids a great chance for fluency practice if they get to read the words several times before they actually start reading the text. Or you can simply play it after a reading to reinforce the meanings.
- Choose several words from the selection you are about to read with your child (this can vary depending on your child’s age, reading ability, and/or difficulty of the text – but usually between 5-10 words).
- List the words on a white board or chart and have your child try to read them – blending them if necessary or you can read them together. Discuss the meaning of each word with your child. You can look them up together, talk about what they mean, use them in sentences, etc..
- Then tell your child that you will be playing a riddle game where they’ll have to guess which word matches your clue. They get to cross off each correct word they guess – maybe even win a treat (an m&m or extra minutes earned to spend on a favorite activity).
- For example: For the words mast, remote, and link, you can use the following riddles:
I’m tall, very strong, and you can attach sails to me.
I mean the opposite of being close or near to things or people.
If I’m missing, then you can’t keep the chain together.
Remember that you can keep this as difficult or as easy as you want depending on your child’s age and ability. Have fun with it!
An oldie but a goodie. You can play this with the focus being on sounds or letters. This helps develop their ability to match sounds and/or letters with objects and reinforce their knowledge of word meanings. Play at home, in the car, at the store, at the mall, or anywhere!
- Pick some random object in your surroundings that begins with the sound or letter that you’d like to work on.
- Say “I spy with my little eye, something that begins with the sound/letter ____.”
You can have your child repeat the rhyme when giving you the answer. Then they can even take a turn asking you to find an object!
- Take this opportunity to discuss meanings of words they don’t know by choosing/pointing out objects they may not be familiar with.
A fun and educational way to spend some time…
- Tell your child that you will pretend to go somewhere (park, beach, store, etc.) and see lots of things that start with the letter /(target sound)/ sound.
- Practice words that start with the sound you are working with. For example: /p/ – porcupine, potato, pants, panda.
- Then you can start by saying or singing, “On my way to the store, I saw a panda, that starts with a /p/.”
- Then they can take a turn saying it once they get the hang of it. This game is great in the car, while you’re waiting for an appointment, or where ever. The sillier the answers the better!