Sunday, 16 March 2014
I introduced Sasha to a new literacy game recently. I actually got the idea from El, whose son (close to Sasha's age, and also in a similar developmental stage in regards to literacy) invented a similar game himself using a Scrabble board and tiles.
There are only two rules:
1. Players take turns using letter tiles to invent new words. Only made-up words count, no words that are already real words.
2. You have to say your word out loud and give it a definition.
A big area of development for Sasha right now is phonemic awareness, which is basically the correspondence between letters and sounds. This shows up in both her decoding efforts (also known as "sounding it out") and her spelling and writing attempts.
This variation on Scrabble or Bananagrams is great for helping kids work on their phonemic awareness. Yes, the words are silly nonsense words, but that takes the (enormous) pressure off of reading or spelling the words "correctly." But the game still has players working with the basic building blocks and rules of the written English language. It doesn't feel as intimidating as spelling and reading "real" words, plus it makes kids feel powerful to invent their own words -- the sillier-sounding, the better -- and definitions. Providing literacy opportunities for kids where they can feel powerful and in control helps build their confidence in their emerging reading and writing skills. For kids like Sasha for whom literacy is a challenge and a frequent source of anxiety, I cannot overstate how essential it is to prioritize confidence-building activities like this one.
When we played, at Sasha's request we just turned all of the letter tiles face up and chose whichever letters we wanted; you could also play a version more like Bananagrams or Scrabble, where players receive a certain number of face-down tiles at the beginning, and replace them with more randomly-selected tiles as they place their tiles on the board. The grid paper in the photo was something I made to provide Sasha with a little bit of structure; lots of our words extended off the edges as we continued playing. As an added challenge, you could color-code the board and add a points system like Scrabble (or just use an actual Scrabble board!).
As her own extension of the activity, Sasha suggested that we use our invented words to create a secret language. She diligently wrote down every word we created and its translation, and then constructed sentences in code. She had a lot of fun with this activity, and we'll definitely keep adding to our secret language dictionary as we replay the game!