Really Fun Games to Teach Reading

Games to Teach Reading

Looking for some fun games to teach reading? Want to help kids practice and improve reading skills in a way that feels like play? Then you are in the right place.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you choose which games to play:

  1. Most of these games can be easily adjusted to different reading levels. Begin with words or phrases you are sure your kids can handle, then gradually make things more difficult to keep it challenging.
  2. Play just one game at a time, and pay attention to kids' energy levels. When children are learning to read, these games can be hard work.
  3. Keep it fun. Be playful and silly. Laughter is a great way to keep kids excited and interested in learning to read.

Bean Letters

Materials and Preparation: You will need large, dry beans, like lima beans. Write a letter on each bean with a permanent marker. Include extra vowels. Put your letter beans in a bag.

How to Play: Have kids take one handful of beans from the bag and make words with their letters. How many words can they make?

Note: You can choose whether or not to insist on correct spelling. If you do, you will have kids constantly asking you the right way to spell words. My preference would be to make words that make sense and not worry about spelling at this stage. This will help kids think about their own spelling rules and be more creative in making words, which is a more useful skill in the long run.

Silent Orders

Materials: Index cards or pieces of paper. Play money is optional.

How to Play: Tell the child you are the big boss. Every time they do what you say, they get a (fake) dollar! The catch is that your mouth is glued shut and you can't tell them what to do--you can only write it down.

Games to Teach Reading

Write simple sentences at your child's reading level. For example: Go get a small ball. Find a green thing. Jump ten times. Hug me. Run around the room. Tickle mom!

After your child has completed each task, make a big deal of paying him. You can give a dollar of play money, or put imaginary money in his hand. (This can be just as much fun.) Since you can't speak, play up your facial expressions!

Variations: If your child is like most first graders, he may want a turn at being the boss. Let him write things for you to do. Don't worry about spelling--just respond to the meaning. Do the action and let him pay you.

Treasure Hunt

Materials: Paper, pencil, and a small prize.

Treasure Hunt

How to Play: Write 5-6 simple notes with instructions that will lead your child to a prize. For example, you might give her a paper that says, Look under the couch. When she looks under the couch, she would find a note that says, Look behind the TV. She would continue following the instructions and reading notes until she came to the prize.

Note: Kids love treasure hunts like this! You can easily make your notes harder or easier. Write on top of TV for early readers, or in mom's coat pocket for more advanced readers.

With a little observation and a playful spirit, you can make up your own games to teach reading. Make a game out of finding words around you, sorting them into groups, acting them out, or anything else you can think of!

I Spy

Materials: None.

How to Play: Look around the room. Say, I spy with my little eye something that starts with a 'b'. Try to be sneaky. Kids will try to discover your word by finding things in the room that start with 'b'. Repeat with other letters.

Variations: Make this game a little harder by saying, I spy with my little eye something that starts with a 'b' and ends with 'g'. When kids make their guesses, point out ending sounds. "Ball" starts with a 'b', but what does it end with? "Bug" is a great guess; it starts with a 'b' and ends with 'g', but that's not the word I'm thinking of.

Word Bingo

Materials: Paper, pencils, list of words your kids are learning, paper bingo chips (optional).

Games to Teach Reading

How to Play: Show kids how to make a large tic-tac-toe grid on their paper. Give them a list of at least 20 words they are learning to read. Tell kids to write a different word in each box on their paper (they can't use the same word twice).

Call out a word. If a child has it on his card, he can cross it out with his pencil or cover it up with a bingo chip. When he gets three in a row, he yells bingo! and wins the round.

Variation: You can make the game go longer by playing blackout, filling up the whole card instead of just one row.

The best thing about using games to teach reading is that kids just keep coming back for more! When they discover a favorite game, they will ask for it again and again. As their skills develop, you can easily increase the difficulty and keep things challenging, so kids won't get bored.

One final paradox as you look for games to teach reading: Kids don't have to be actively reading to practice reading skills. Language development is just as important as learning to read (or decode) words at this stage. As you look for games to teach reading, mix up traditional reading games like the ones on this page with spoken language games. Language and reading skills will work together to help kids pull meaning from printed words.


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“Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself. ”
~John Dewey