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Monday 15 December 2014

Speechie's Couch: D is for Do It Again

The more you practice, the better you get. This theory about the power of repetition for learning is just as true for language and literacy as it is for athletics or any skill. However, another level to this truth is often overlooked: if you are having fun, learning accelerates.

So, what better way to consolidate the skills learned in the school year than by playing games to help these recently learned skills be not only consolidated, but also mastered for life.

Children in the first two years of school will love simple games that require the mental manipulation of sounds. Long car trips are a perfect time to introduce these.

Pick a letter/sound in the alphabet and take turns thinking of words that start with this sound. Keep going until someone can’t think of another word. Then change the letter sound and start again.

Children who have been reading successfully for a couple of years will be ready for a little bit of mind bending. In First Sound, Last Sound, one person thinks of a word and the next person thinks of a word that starts with the last sound in the word. This is not about spelling: it’s about the sounds you can hear in words. So ‘ball’ can lead to ‘lion’, which can be followed by ‘nest’. Watch out if you suggest a word like ‘funny’: the person who follows will be thinking of a word that starts with the sound ‘ee’, not ‘y’. Do you get it? Adults can often struggle more with the sounding out concept, because of their habitual ‘spelling thoughts’. The game will always end if someone names a word that ends in ‘ng’.

For the experts, there is a game that always turns my brain inside out, especially if I’m driving. It’s called Cows and Bulls. One person thinks of a four (or five) letter word: it’s preferable if this item is visible to everyone in the game. Whenever anyone guesses what the word is, the clue giver awards a ‘cow’ for every correct letter in the word that is not in the correct position and a ‘bull’ for every correct letter in the correct position. For example, if the target word is gate: a guess of ‘goat’ would receive a ‘bull’ for the ‘g’ and two ‘cows , one for the ‘t’ and one for the ‘a’. You might want some notepads and pencils on hand.

So why not have a bucket load of phonological awareness fun on those long, boring road trips? You’ll be stretching your brains, learning new words and consolidating foundation skills for spelling while you’re at it.

Jo Burnell is KBR's Development Editor and resident paediatric speech pathologist. A reviewer of children’s and YA books and shortlisting judge for Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year, Jo is familiar with effective writing for Upper Primary and Secondary students.