Play On Words

“Don’t gobblefunk around with words.”

The BFG, Roald Dahl

Beloved childrens’ author Roald Dahl must have had a twinkle in his eye as he wrote this for the giant who finds words such a “twitch-tickling problem”. Inventing words like “frobscottle”, “whoopsy-splunkers” and “frizzlecrump”, Dahl gives us not only the joy of reading these delicious words aloud but encourages us to play with language. The skill of manipulating sounds within spoken words is the foundation of literacy – it unlocks the door to written communication and therefore much of the world around us. Yes, oral language is crucial for reading and writing.

Simply, your child must learn that spoken words consist of speech sounds which act as building blocks to create words. For example, ‘dog’ is made up of 3 phonemes: /d/, /o/ and /g/. This knowledge allows your son or daughter to learn to spell (ie. write letters or letter combinations that represent sounds) and read (ie. decode words by looking at letters and “hearing” the corresponding sounds).

Luckily, playing with words is a whole lot of fun (and less messy than playing with food)! Your child will benefit greatly from early, frequent exposure to activities that develop the following:

Rhyming (eg. bake – take – cake):

Alliteration (eg. mean monkeys make a mess):

  • Pick a sound (eg. “sss” or “mmm”) or letter and make up a silly sentence with lots of words starting with that sound or letter, eg. “My mum munches on many M ‘n’ Ms…”

Syllables (eg. te-le-phone):

  • Clap and count the syllables in a word

Blending sounds (c-a-t –> cat):

  • Take turns arranging magnet letters on the fridge into words

Isolating sounds (eg. dog –> d-og):

  • Identify the first and last sounds in a word
  • Write word beginnings (eg. “sp”) and word endings (eg. “ace”) on cards and see how many real and nonwords you can create
  • Speak Pig Latin

Segmenting words (eg. fish –> f-i-s-h):

  • Count the number of sounds and identify the first, second, third sound etc.

Deleting sounds (eg. spill –> pill):

  • See what you’re left with after removing a sound (“Let’s say ‘spill’ without the “sss”…” or “What do you get when you take away the first sound?”)

Substituting sounds (eg. top –> mop):

  • Take away the first or last sound or a word and replace it with another (“Say ‘table’; now take away the /t/ and put /f/ at the start”)

Note that blending ability will emerge before segmenting, with manipulation being most difficult. Play with nonsense words too as this helps children with vocabulary and figuring out the rules of English, such as which sounds are “allowed” to sit together. For example, when substituting sounds, ask your child whether the result is a real word, eg. top à zop, or when playing with magnet letters, ask if you can start a word with ‘zbr’.

Other resources:

Box Hill Speech Pathology Clinic - R Paul Play On Words Image
From Rhea Paul’s “Language Disorders: From Infancy through Adolescence”

By Nicola Anglin (Speech Pathologist)

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