Want to make learning to read even more adventurous? There are so many reading games and activities that will not only help your child to improve reading skills but that are fun to play! A few of these games have options for purchase, but most of the games can easily be created at home for free or with objects you probably already have at home. E’ve broken them down by reading level, but many of these games can be easily-modified for other reading levels.

A homemade Memory game, for example, can be adapted for all different abilities. This is a stimulating game that can be played with pre-readers with pictures and letters, beginning readers with word families, and stronger readers with vocabulary or spelling words. For pre-readers, find two pictures in a book or magazine with the same animal, cut them out, and glue them to index cards. Or for other readers, write letters, word families, vocabulary or spelling words on the index cards. Still for other readers, write a vocabulary word on one card and a definition on another card. You could even choose new words related to winter, spring, summer, or fall, whichever season it happens to be at the time.

To continue the Memory game, shuffle the cards and place them face down on a flat surface. The first player turns over one card, and then turns over a second card. If the two cards match, that player takes those two cards. If the two cards do not match, then both cards are placed face down again, and the next player plays. Start with a limited number of cards and increase the number of cards as the skill level increases.

Some of these educational games will be just as much fun as non-educational games, with added benefits. A few of these games will involve some extra effort, and special attention will be needed to make those games more exciting. Being as cheerful and supportive as possible will help. After all, this is still work, as learning to read is work – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, too!

Pre-Reading Games

Taking a Trip

Start off with something like, “I am taking a trip to the beach. I am taking a cat with me. What else rhymes with cat that I can take with me?” Correct responses include words that rhyme with cat, like bat, hat, and sat. For more rounds, move onto more rhymes. Then expand to letter prompts with something like, “I am taking a trip to the beach. I am taking a ball with me. What else begins with the /b/ sound that I can take with me?” Correct responses include words that begin with the same sound as ball, like balloon or blanket. For more rounds, move onto new letters.

Head, Waist, Knees

Stand up and face your child. Choose a simple 3 or 4 letter word that has 3 sounds, like the words cat, read, or bake. Say the word, then say the sounds. Each of you touch your head for the first sound, your waist for the second sound, and your knees for the third sound. For the word nap, for example, say the word, then touch your head when saying the /n/ sound, your waist when saying the short /a/ sound as in cat, and your knees when saying the /p/ sound. Try about 10 to 15 words.


Children need to learn how items are similar and different in order to become successful readers. Matching numbers will help a child to match letters, so try this traditional matching game. Make modifications to pictures instead of numbers. Make further modifications for older children to include homemade dominoes with words that rhyme, letters, words that begin with the same letters, sight words or high frequency words, or spelling words.

Alphabet Soup

Materials needed include: colored paper, markers, scissors, a cooking pot, and a spoon. Print your child’s name on a card, or ask your child to print her name on a card to keep in front of her. Print all players’ names neatly on colored paper, cut out the individual letters, and place those letters into a pretend pot of soup. Pass the pot around with a wooden spoon and invite everyone to stir the letters. Each player then takes a letter from the pot. If it matches a letter in their name, they take the letter. If not, the letter goes back into the pot, and the pot gets passed to the next person. Play continues until all of the letters are matched to all of the players.

Letter Bingo

These games can be purchased at a store or can be made at home. To make a game, start by making a 5-by-5 grid. Put random letters into the grid. Choose letters you child still needs to learn. Also make a pile of letter cards. Play with regular rules. Modifications can be made to matching letters with given letter sounds. Instead of reading the letter, make the letter sound. Further variations for older children include creating Bingo cards with sight words, vocabulary words or high frequency words, or spelling words.

Connect the Dots

Connect the Dots activities are easy to make. Create pictures, letters, or names. Start with just dots, then graduate to the traditional numbers, and then graduate to letters that follow the alphabet. Not creating something needing all 26 letters of the alphabet? That’s fine. Start with a letter in the middle of the alphabet and practice that part of the sequence.

Beginning Readers

I Spy

This is an easy game to play almost anywhere, and whenever there are a few free minutes. The prompt is: “I spy something in this room that begins with the /b/ sound.” (Make the sound that the letter b makes.) The child then asks more specific questions such as, “Is it blue?” or “Is it bigger than a bread box?” or “Is it on that wall?” Answers can be “yes” or “no” until the child discovers the correct answer. Additional hints can be given after each question if necessary. This helps improve both comprehension and processing skills. Graduate to play I Spy during a read-aloud and relate to the story, or relate to another story that your child may already know.


Memory is perhaps the best matching game that can be adapted to many different reading skills. Take some words, about 5 or 6 words, from your child’s reading or that your child is working on. Make two cards for each word, place the word cards face down, take two cards at a time, and try to find words that are the same. Be sure to read the word. This can be modified for older children to include words on one card to be matched to the definitions of the words on the other cards.

Make a Face

Choose a word from a story being read, a vocabulary word, or a spelling word. Draw a short line for each letter in the chosen word. The child guesses a letter. If correct, the letter is written on the appropriate line. If incorrect, a part of a face is drawn. The goal is for the child to guess the word before the face is completed. For more amusement, create the silliest faces possible.

Making Words

Cut 2-by-2-inch squares from paper or cardboard and print letters and letter combinations on each square. Include about 12 consonants and 2 vowels. Place the cards letter side up in front of your child. Ask your child to make and say words using the letters available. For example, your child could choose the letters f, g, o, and r and make the word frog. Then change some of the letters to make a new word such as dog, fog, and log. Try to make as many words as possible that follow a pattern, and then move onto new patterns.

Silly Sentences

This could either be a silly sentence game or a serious game. Ask your child to write a sentence on a piece of paper, or find a sentence from a recent read-aloud. Cut out the individual words to the sentence. Jumble the words and then recreate the same sentence. Afterwards, try to rearrange the words into a new sentence or something silly.

Statue Tag

The adult starts as the tagger. The child runs around. When the tagger tags the child, the child freezes like a statue. The child can run around again when he can say two words that rhyme. For example, the child can say something like bag and tag. This game can be modified to include multiple players. It can also be modified to two words that begin with the same sounds. For example, the child can say tag and truck. Or can be modified to segment words. The child can say tag, and then can say the 3 sounds in the word, as in the letter /t/ sound, the short /a/ sound as in cat, and the letter /g/ sound. Expand to defining or spelling words.

Strong Readers


Crazy Word

Ready for a game designed just for your family? Create a night when everyone takes a crazy word to the dinner table. Challenge all family members to find words with unusual spellings. Start with the newspaper where you might find a wealth of words and a variety of usages. Scanning the dictionary should be acceptable and even suggested. An internet search might reveal some interesting words, too. Words like vacuum (one of the few words with the double letter u) might become the most unusual presentation one night. Look for words with the double letter i together. Look for words or names that have five or more connected consonants. Participants can vote for the craziest word.

Board Games

Almost all board games require some sort of reading. It’s important here to remember who should do most of that reading. Is the oldest player doing all of the reading? Or are all of the players doing their own reading? In Monopoly, encourage your child to read his own cards. Remember to help when needed as this is still a game and the goal is fun. However, the more reading, no matter what the setting, the better.

Word Games

Many children enjoy traditional games like Risk or Monopoly. However, there are many more board games that promote word building skills. Check out games like Boggle, Boggle Jr., Probe, Scrabble, Scrabble Jr., Quizzler, or Word Yahtzee (many variations of these games are also available online or on phone apps). Presented with some challenge, these games can quickly become the games of choice.

Scavenger Hunt

Play a scavenger hunt game by writing notes that send your child to another note and eventually to a surprise. Start with a message in the kitchen that instructs the reader to go to another part of the house, look for something special, and then look for an additional note. Create about 9 or 10 notes. Lead the reader back to the kitchen for an ice cream sundae, or to the bedroom for a book on the bed as a present. Request to your child that she make her own scavenger hunt for you to complete.

Crossword Puzzles

Are you interested in crossword puzzles, word finds, or jumbles? Share your interest with your child. Start with age appropriate puzzles, and help your child learn more about word parts, definitions, and variations. What are the long-term benefits? Researchers say that word puzzles keep the mind active and healthy for all ages. A crossword habit started now just might become the crossword habit continued forever.

Secret Codes

Playing with letters is a wonderful way to reinforce letters and letter sounds, and to challenge your successful reader. On a sheet of paper, write a simple message, for instance: “You are a fantastic reader.” On another piece of paper, write the letter that comes after each letter, for instance: “Zpv bsf b gboubtujd sfbefs”. Your child can then attempt to break the code. After your child masters this code, create something more difficult. Please note that some children may need some extra help to get started.

Reluctant and Struggling Readers

All Games

Do you have an older child in your house who can pair up with a younger sibling? Encourage that child to play one of the previously mentioned games with a younger sibling. Whether it’s one of the pre-reader games like Memory, or one of the beginning reader games like Silly Sentences, your reluctant and struggling reader will not only benefit by teaching the directions, but may also benefit from reinforcing present skills.

Word Search

Some reluctant and struggling readers like a challenge. Make a word search with words from a reading, a spelling list, or a vocabulary list, for your reader. First, make a simple grid on a sheet of paper, or use graph paper, that is 8 squares across and 8 squares down. Second, write 7 or 8 words in the grid, with one letter per space. Make the words across and/or down. Next, fill in the empty spaces with random letters. Challenge your reader to find the words. Note that you may need to include a word bank. That is a list of the words to be found.


This simple game is the perfect game for letter practice. Set up a traditional Tic-Tac-Toe board. This means a 3 by 3 grid. Instead of using the usual X and O letters, choose other letters the child is learning. For example, one player takes the letter b and the other player takes the letter d. Players take turns putting down letters, and the first player to make a pattern of 3 letters in a row becomes the winner. Instead of letters, older players can use sight words or high frequency words, vocabulary words or spelling words.

Homemade Games

Sometimes struggling and reluctant readers are the most creative. How about inspiring that reader to make an original board game for the family to play? These games will most likely need to come with directions which the reluctant and struggling reader will need to read and write, but will also most likely come with cards which will require additional reading and writing. Anything that increases reading time, whether in small increments or larger doses, is beneficial.


Jigsaw puzzles are perfect for increasing attention span and focus skills. Readers need to be able to do this in order to be able to read and focus on longer and longer passages. Start by finding appropriate puzzles for the present attention span and slowly increase as appropriate. Want to make your own jigsaw puzzle? Cut out a picture from a magazine, glue to cardboard, cut out individual jigsaw pieces, mix up, and put back together.

Baseball Catch

These children may need to get up, head out of the house, and move around. All you need is a ball to play a game of baseball catch. Instead of just catching the ball and returning it, the catcher says a word that rhymes, begins with the same letter, or blends a word together. For example, the thrower says: ball, and the catcher says call. Or the thrower says ball, and the catcher says bat. Or the thrower says the three sounds in the word bat as in the sounds /b/, short /a/ sound as in cat, and /t/, and the catcher says bat.

Fun on Computers for All Ages

Author Websites

Computers offer a variety of options these days. For all ages, check out some author pages. Jan Brett, for example, presents a webpage that offers basic information about herself as an author and illustrator, but also presents a variety of activities from additional topic information to word searches to coloring pages. Check it out at www.JanBrett.com. Also check out www.MaryPopeOsborne.com or www.JKRowling.com. These are all worth the visit.

Educational Games

There are other sites that offer a variety of mind stimulating and challenging reading games. These include crossword puzzles, word searches, word scrambles, word plays, and coloring pages created for all levels. For starters, check out www.FunBrain.com, or www.ReadWriteThink.org, or www.PbsKids.org, or www.SurfNetKids.com. Do an internet search for others.

Just Games

What about just games? What about just computer/phone games for complete fun? There is still plenty of value. First of all, there are the directions to the games to read. Second of all, there are the websites that further explain special moves. Encourage your child to explore those websites (under adult supervision) and learn more. Monitoring and assisting may be necessary, but the motivation to learn is high, and these readers will soon see that reading to learn has value. The key is to balance with other reading. Allow some time for computer play, and then afterwards insist upon reading with books, magazines, or newspapers.

Bruce Johnson is an educator, reading specialist at the Merrimack Valley School District in New Hampshire, member of CLiF’s Advisory Board, and author of Helping Your Child Become a Successful Reader: A Guide for Parents. Learn more at www.guidesforparents.wordpress.com.

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