child playing word games with plastic letters

Fun Word Games for Children’s Literacy Instruction 

When kids are learning to read and write, instruction should be fun and engaging. Not only have certain word games proven to be effective in the learning process, but it’s also common for students to develop attitudes toward reading based on early experiences. An element of enjoyment is crucial if your child is to develop the literacy skills they need and discover a lifelong love of reading. To help you excite and inspire your child on their literacy journey, here are several fun word games to play with them.

Elkonin Boxes 

Elkonin Boxes, or sound boxes, help children break words down into individual phonemes, enhancing their phonemic awareness. To create this activity, draw a grid of connected boxes on a piece of paper or whiteboard. For each sound in a word, place a small object (like a coin or card-playing chip) in a box. For example, the word “dog” has three sounds: /d/ /o/ /g/. Go through each individual phoneme and then place a chip in its Elkonin box.

This activity helps children segment words into their individual phonemes, which is crucial for developing the ability to encode (spell). View a video example of Elkonin boxes from the University of Florida Literacy Institute.

Phonics Hopscotch 

Phonics Hopscotch combines physical activity with phonics practice, helping children blend sounds. To set up, draw a hopscotch grid on the sidewalk with chalk. You can also use masking tape on the floor indoors. Label each square with letters or phonemes of a word.

Children hop through the grid, saying the sound or blending the sounds of the letters they land on. For example, if they land on <n>, <a>, then <p>, they say the word, “nap.”

This game reinforces letter-sound correspondence and incorporates motor skills, making it an interactive and fun phonics activity.

Word Ladder 

Word Ladder games expand reading and spelling skills by creating connected words by changing one letter at a time. This is also called ‘chaining’. 

Plan word ladders ahead of time so you are able to connect key practice words together easily. Alternatively, you can keep the activity more open-ended and see what words your child can come up with.

  1. Start with a base word (for example, “rug”).
  2. Have your child change one letter to alter the word (change “rug” to “bug”).
  3. Connect the words with lines to form a ladder-like structure.
  4. Discuss the meaning of the word.
  5. Continue down the ladder until your child reaches the target word (for example, “rug” to “bug” to “bag” to “bat” to “cat”).

Word Ladder games encourage practice with decoding and encoding skills. Make sure to discuss what each word in the ladder means or use the new word in a sentence. Find more word ladder examples here.

Silly Sentences 

Silly Sentences is a creative game where children construct sentences using randomly selected words. It promotes sentence construction skills and can expand a child’s vocabulary.

  1. Prepare word cards or paper strips with written nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.
  2. Shuffle the cards/strips and place them face down.
  3. Each player selects a card/strip and adds it to the sentence, creating a silly sentence.
  4. Players take turns adding words until a complete sentence is formed.

Silly Sentences enhance grammar skills, expand vocabulary, and foster creativity as children experiment with language and sentence structure.

Alphabet Scavenger Hunt

A fun activity to play with pre-readers learning to identify letters is the Alphabet Scavenger Hunt. First, create a colorful list of letters of the alphabet (A to Z). Give your child a copy of the list to carry. Explain that the goal of the game is to find objects around the house or the environment that begin with each letter on the list (or a specific letter you call out).  

For example, “A” could be an Apple, “B” a blueberry, and so on. Have your child search for items that match each letter and collect them in a basket or container. Alternatively, you can choose one letter sound and find many items to match. For example, a pen, a pear, and pajamas can go in a basket for the /p/ sound.  

This game promotes letter recognition, initial sound awareness, and vocabulary development.

Magnetic Word Building

Building words with magnetic letters is a fun, mess-free game you can play with your kids whenever at home. Using magnetic alphabet letters and a magnetic surface (such as a fridge or whiteboard), encourage your child to spell words. 

Consider changing up this game with themes or a focused concept:

  • 3-letter words
  • 4-letter words
  • Word families (for example, words ending in “-at” or “-in”)
  • Words in alphabetical order
  • Spelling bee (see if your child can spell a word you give them)

This activity enhances spelling skills as children experiment with letter combinations for word construction. Encourage creativity and play with this activity, helping your child discover a love for language.

Early Literacy Games on 

If you’re looking for ways to improve children’s literacy skills while making learning enjoyable, word games are effective. Additionally, digital literacy activities are excellent for keeping your child engaged and entertained while learning! With science-backed literacy apps like, you and your child can strengthen your child’s reading abilities in fun, sequential lessons:

  1. Learn letters
  2. Blend letter sounds
  3. Read books aloud
  4. Practice decoding
  5. Discover reading fluency 

All these activities are based on the science of reading, encouraging your child to develop proven literacy foundations. For more tips on early literacy and reading instruction, follow Try a 7-day free trial of our early reading app for kids when you download the app today.

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