Writing Exercise: Spelling Games

Image acquired from the Internet Hive Mind

I text with a sister every weekday morning. She homeschools and our little exchange gives her a bit of adult-time every day while letting me stay in touch with family. At the start of February 2022, she texted: “Good morning, we are trying to do a month of spelling for Feb. and to fix our sleeping patterns.”

As a writer and reader and tax preparer in the middle of tax season, sleeping patterns suggestions would be an exercise of speculative fiction on my part so decided my goal for the month would be to send her a spelling game every day we text. This means the goal was to find or create 20 spelling games. I decided the collected materials could make a good writing exercise – how to do spelling games to help your writing and vocabulary. Many of these games are available as small electronic apps and/or have teacher materials available online.

I’ve also gave suggestions of where these can cross-topics outside of the typical “English” subject, since that is important for teaching.

Twenty Spelling Games with Variations
1. Hangman – (See above illustration)

2. Pictionary – a great board game for the whole family. Where art and vocabulary meet.

3. One Letter at a Time – Change a three (or more) letter words to another word, but every in-between stage also must be a word. JUG-BUG-BOG-DOG
Variations: (a) Encourage the older kids to create base start and stop for the younger kids (my sister’s kids range from kindergarten to teens). (d) Another option is option is having a middle word they must go through, like LOG. (JUG – LUG – LOG – DOG) (c) Instead of an unspecified number of steps (with the goal of as few possible between the first and last word), have a fixed number of steps like 5, 10, or 20. (5 STEPS – JUG-BUG-LUG-LOG-DOG) (d) Fourth variation, have some of the steps have letters already filled in (PREFILL – JUG – _O_ – DOG)

4. Describe This – Take an item and write down the five senses, and each person going around gets to describe one thing (since this is spelling and not just vocabulary and art related, they have to spell the word). Can’t repeat senses until all five are used. At least three times around, so they start working on harder descriptions. Helps with art because you start to really LOOK at things. Can also help with panic attacks and sensory issues as a grounding exercise. In addition, it crosses with science in observation skills and describing an object.
Variations: (a) You might have the older kids be limited to scientific words and descriptions. (b) Other ways to make it harder for the older kids, their words must have a minimum number of letters and/or syllables. Ages 0-6 can have any number; 7-10 at least two, over 10 three or more. Or whatever age breaks work. (c) As a writing, instead of head-to-head, fold the paper into quarter length-wise, write the five senses, and fill in three columns. Then flip the paper over and write a paragraph of prose (or poetry) either with a creative writing description OR a scientific description. At least half the words on the front should be used in the paragraph. The prose paragraph could also be a product review, instead of a creative writing or scientific description, like for Amazon or a Google review. Writing reviews is a growing skill set many people are developing.

Sister texted: “The kids like that game idea, since it is similar to the group stories they write.”

5. Cyphers – Cyphers are the place where math and spelling met. Toss in history because the games (in newspapers) nearly always are quotes (which is also cultural indoctrination). After introducing the concept of cyphers, at the start of each history section, have a famous quote by a person in a cypher. I was thinking they read the opening chapter – you find a quote you like and make a cypher for it. Easy ones at first, where you just move each letter one or two spots in the alphabet. I bet a lot will be online, especially since this is a standard newspaper thing in the games section. A great time to introduce cyphers is WWII and/or discussing the Indigenous codetalkers (any code can be broken, so US used codetalkers from the Native nations including Navajo, Cherokee, and Comanche).

6. Scrabble – The most obvious board games for spelling is Scrabble.

7. Subtract One / Add One / Permutations – Start with a word and subtract a letter. Make a new work – you can jumble the letters to create a new word. If the remaining letters don’t form a word, then remove another until you get a word. Less points if you skip a level (Reverse for add one). Example: meant – name – man – am – a / (alternate path) meant – tame – mat – at – a. Starting words with common letters work best – I – in – tin – thin – hints. Math can be a related subject you call the game permutations, tying the concepts to matrix and multiplication.

8. Wheel of Fortune – Board game and video game. You can create your own if you want. Teaches common letters and the importance (and difference) vowels bring to the table. Cultural training in common phrases. Looking on Amazon (in Feb 2020), there is a board game, a mobile app, and a puzzle challenge book for the Wheel of Fortune. At the website, teacherspayteacher.com there are several Wheel-of-Fortune type games for free.

9. Word Jumbles – Where all the letters are there for several words. The solve area has circles for the jumble answer. A standard newspaper challenge.

10. Foreign Roots – This is more a research game (for people who like to go down rabbit holes). Take a word that breaks normal spelling or grammar rules and find out why. Things like goose becomes geese (from Proto-Germantic), but the plural of moose is moose because moose from the Algonquian language (the Innu people of Quebec Canada). This spelling game is very much tied with History.
Variations: (a) you can focus on Latin Roots to get a strong tie-in to science, especially biology and the naming of animal species.

11. Draw the word / Spell-Draw – Tree, running, red. Make the word into a picture. Where art and spelling meet. To create these pictures, the artist must concentrate on each letter.
Variations: (a) Nouns for the younger group, and verbs and adjectives for the elders. (b) If they get a vocabulary list each week, you could have them choose one word from it to spell-draw. (c) Use this concept to introduce concrete poetry (if unfamiliar with it, search for “concrete poetry examples” in the images part of an online search). Concrete poetry can describe the thing in poem, prose, phrase, or just writing the components parts. Like a tree could be Trunk, branch, life – OR green growing tall, hard rough brown, climbing reach sit – OR I never seen a thing as lovely as a tree (writing around the outline form of a tree.

12. Crosswords – They are available for all ages, and specialize in topics like history and science.

13. Boggle – Available in board and electronic game version.

Sister texted: “We like Boggle. They put it on the tables in the waiting room at the spelling bee.”

14. Tongue Twisters – Fox in Socks (by Dr. Seuss) is a book example. The fun part will be the kids creating their own after being introduced to the traditional examples.

15. Spelling Train – The last letter of the first word is the first letter of the next word. This concentrates on the first and last letters, which is how humans read. Zebra – armadillo – octopus – songbird – dog.
Variations: (a) theme (like animals); (b) number of syllables required and/or minimum or maximum number of letters in each word; (c) at least one (or more) words from this week’s vocabulary list before the train is complete; (d) a set number of words in the train (like 100 words required)

16. Word Roundups – A matrix of letters appears in a square, the object is to find the words from a list appearing below the square of letters. The words may appear forward, backward, going up, going down, or even diagonally. Newspapers often have a theme for the challenge, and the letters remaining un-circled will be the answer to the theme. This type of puzzle really concentrates on the letters of a word.

17. Rhymes With – Concentrates on words rhyming. Start with a word and see how many words you can come up which rhyme with it. Can be fun to discover words which rhyme which don’t look the same when spelled; and words which look the same when spelled and don’t rhyme. Overlapping this game with studying Shakespeare or historical poetry, can show where changes in pronunciation have happened in language drift.

18. Bananagrams – A spelling game available for sale.

19. Overenunciation – When speaking, concentrate on saying every pronounced consonant within the word. This is a speech therapy as well as a singing exercise, and helps clean up many accents. It also helps with spelling since the speaker, when writing the word, can hear all the letters in their head. When singing (and in many accents), the end letters are dropped. “Go(d) is goo…(holding ooo).” “I lo(ooo) yoooo. You R beau-i-fu.” Better singers include the closing consonants, making the song have clearer meaning. As a game, it is fun to use this when reading songs, poetry, or even plays. “I aM GoING ouT To THe SToRe.” Be prepared for the kids to use this as a teasing method for several days after the game happens – Overenunciation is a habit which is easy to develop.

20. Head Pop – This is a word association game. Come with a stack of words – the word is read and the group has to come up with an immediate response … and spell it. Apple – Red. Mouse – Cheese. You can have each child take a turn reading them with all responding or have each child respond in turn. The challenge is the words popping into the head might not be the easiest to spell – usually they are simpler words during quick association, but not always.
Variations: (a) Synonym – the word has to mean the same somehow. Apple – Fruit, would work, but Red would not. (b) Antonym – opposite meaning. Mouse – Elephant.

WRITING EXERCISE: Play a spelling or vocabulary game today. You can choose one of the above, hit the word puzzle section of the newspaper, or play a word app on your phone. Comment below on what game you played, and if you learned anything new playing it.