Tim Rasinski is a renowned professor of literacy education whose research on reading fluency and word study has made him a literacy hero to many. Below, he shares his thoughts on how games can be used for word instruction. 

Scroll for printable word game freebie.

In last month’s blog, I made the case that words are important when it comes to reading and learning to read, and that words do need to be taught. I also noted that there is no one proven way to teach words that is effective for all students. Given that many contemporary students think of word study as something boring, I challenge all of us to find ways to make word instruction joyful and interesting for both students and teachers. This month’s blog focuses on an approach to word teaching and learning that happens all the time, but is seldom thought of as important in school – word games!

A few years ago, all of our four adult children were home for the holidays. We had a great time together. One distinct memory for me was that every evening between Christmas and New Year’s Day we would have dinner together as a family, do the dishes, and then return to the dinner table to play a favorite family game for an hour or so. It was a joyful time to be playing games with my family. A few days after New Year’s, my children left for their own homes in different parts of the country. My wife and I began our clean-up by putting all the games we had played back on the shelves where they belonged. That’s when my wife, the speech and language specialist, made a quite interesting observation –  “Tim, did you notice that nearly every game we played last week with the kids was a word game of one form or another.”  She was right! We had played Scrabble, Scrabble Slam, Boggle, Balderdash, Password, Code Names, Wheel of Fortune, and several more. OMG!   

For many of us, games are an integral part of life with our families and friends.

For many of us, games, and in particular word games, are an integral part of life with our families and friends. Yet, if we take a look into schools, games are often missing from the school curriculum. Games may be seen as a fluff activity to be done only when the “real” work of the classroom is complete.  Following this rule, our struggling readers and learners rarely ever get to play games, as they are the ones who never get their work done!

Word games can lead to some pretty solid learning. Have you noticed that if you ever played a word game regularly, say something like Scrabble, your score will increase gradually? We have a special name for when your scores on games improve over time – it’s called learning! I am a regular player of Words with Friends on my iPhone. It is a Scrabble-like game that actually, in graph form, shows how your total score changes over time. My score graph shows a constant improvement over the months. Many of the friends I play with have shown me the same thing.   

Making word games a regular feature of classroom word learning will lead to more word learning …

I say that we make word games an integral part of the school day, much like word games are a part of our own lives. Making word games a regular feature of classroom word learning will lead to more word learning, and, perhaps even more important, a greater joy in and appreciation for words by students. In this blog, over the next several months, I plan on sharing with you some of my favorite word games that you can bring into your own classroom.

Win With WORDO

One of my mainstay word games has always been WORDO. WORDO is a bingo-like game in which every student is given a WORDO card (see end of this blog). The card is essentially a 3×3, 4×4, or 5×5 matrix. The teacher chooses 24 or more words for the 5×5 card, 15 or more for the 4×4 blog, and 8 or more for the 3×3 card and displays them for all players to see. The words can come from any curricular areas – spelling, reading, science, math, social studies, etc. Students fill in each empty box with a word (they are often invited to choose a FREE spot, much like in Bingo, and write FREE in the box).   

Once all cards are filled with words, it is time to play WORDO! You, as the teacher, should initially act as the Master of Ceremonies. You randomly choose words from your list (it’s a good idea to put the words on individual cards, shuffle, and draw randomly) and call out the word, the definition of the word, a sentence with the word in it, or some other clue to the word. Students must determine if they have the word on their WORDO card. If so, they put a chip or mark on the box in which the word is located. Like in Bingo, when a row, column, or diagonal is filled with chips, the student with the filled row, column, or diagonal calls out WORDO! Once the student’s card is checked and a prize is given, a new game starts as students clear their cards.

It’s time to play WORDO!

My WORDO playing days go back more than 40 years, when I taught elementary and middle school. Students love playing WORDO and are usually willing to play it for extended periods of time. Strip away the fun and game-like nature of WORDO and what you will find is solid practice in learning to recognize the targeted words and their meanings. Word study should be fun. WORDO is just one way to make it so.   

Download the Freebie! WORDO Game Board and Pieces

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Tim Rasinski is a professor of literacy education at Kent State University. His research on reading has been cited by the National Reading Panel and has been published in journals such as Reading Research QuarterlyThe Reading Teacher, Reading Psychology, and the Journal of Educational ResearchRead more about Rasinski here, or connect with him on Twitter @timrasinski1

For more from Tim Rasinski, continue to follow us for his exclusive VocabularySpellingCity blog series and be sure to watch a video recording of his webinar “Automaticity (Fluency) in Word Learning Improves Comprehension”

Rasinski’s research on word fluency is cited in the report, “Applying Best Practices For Effective Vocabulary Instruction,” written by VocabularySpellingCity in partnership with McREL International.

Word Games for Word Instruction

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