Finding something that really can teach the very basics of reading and not be boring or time consuming can be a problem. Students who are not captivated by learning tend to become slow learners regardless of their intellectual abilities. I have reviewed many reading products in the past. Many of them were great and certainly did prove to be useful and motivating. Most of them were not for the true beginner, though. A parent would have to have started with a good bit of rote learning with flash cards and such. A product I was sent recently might be a little closer. It is simply called “The Reading Game” and is produced by the same author, Kenneth Hodkinson, who created the popular, Wordly Wise series. Learning to read can now be as simple as playing a game.

The game play is simple. It is played in quick rounds in the Memory Game fashion. You lay out cards with colored backs, a printed number 1 to 6, and an animal image on them and the other side is white with a perfectly centered printed word with each black letter clearly printed about 3/8” high. The font used is very similar to actual print handwriting, but properly sized and spaced for modeling of proper manuscript which I think is a plus. After laying the shuffled cards for each game group face down, you and your student each take turns flipping over two. If the cards match, you say the word several times in a clear voice. You keep the cards you matched for later scoring. Obviously, the one with the most matched sets wins. In the beginning, the tutor prompts the student in reading the correctly matched pairs. Use excited voices having a little celebration every time either you or the student makes a match.  A fun, but slightly disappointed voice saying, “oh, no,” or something similar should be used when there isn’t a match to help encourage fun game play.

That is all there is to play, but the learning begins immediately. The cards in the game are divided into card decks of about sixty each with two copies of the thirty words used to make each story book. The book has a matching colored cover and animal image because the story is about that animal. Book 1 is about a skunk. Book 2 is about a snake. Books 3, 4, and 5 are about a bear, a penguin, and a unicorn respectively. Book 6 is about a zebra. The card set for each book is also divided into six groups of five words. The back of each card shows the number of the group it is in. The numbers stand for games dividing the words of the book into smaller chunks to play with at a time making it easier to learn and remember the smaller group of words. When the student has mastered the words in game one, you move to game two words. After mastering the words for games 1 and 2, there are two test sentences using all of the words from the two sets. If the student can read these sentences, he is ready to move to game 3. There are test sentences after game 4 and again after game 6. After mastering the words and test sentences for game 6, the student is ready to read story book 1. You can print the test sentences out on paper individually or in groups, but I think the best way is to use the cards themselves placing them in sentence order. Later, the student can be asked to create the sentences with the cards themselves in preparation for writing. Each book and word sets repeats the same game play and increases in word difficulty. Each round is quick and fun, but the words are already being etched into memory. You can play as many rounds as the student’s attention span allows knowing that every little bit is useful. Follow the student’s leading. As the student learns the five words in a set, they naturally want to play the next set which leads to perfect pace of continued learning.

In addition to fun learning, the educational aspects go beyond word recognition even though that alone is great. By the time all six books have been learned with thirty new words per book, the student has learned a hundred and eighty words. That is a lot of words, but because the words have also been carefully chosen to be predominantly the most common English words (forty-two out of the fifty most common) the ability to recognize more words out of other reading sources increases. The confidence that brings to a beginning reader is very motivating.

The most unusual feature found in this product and perhaps the best almost goes against the convention that modeling of proper grammar is a must. The author has chosen to write his story without the use of capitals and punctuation. However, his chosen technique might do better for the preparation of learning grammar and reading fluency than all the modeling and lessons on larger capital shapes and squiggly lines and dots do in repeated instruction. The story is written without the conventions of grammar and punctuation as just the words they have learned on the cards, but with breaks in the printing where pauses should be teaching the student naturally the proper phrasing of reading and purposes of commas and end punctuation without having those confusing marks to distract from the natural process. After the book has been successfully mastered, tutor and student can explore the concepts of inflections and lead into the learning of the simplest punctuation. The natural pauses they discover in the reading leads naturally to the use and purpose of commas. Students can then be taught how to write in their own capitals to show the beginning of a sentence and place appropriate punctuation in their own books. As would be expected, the use of breaks to show more in-sentence commas is used more and more as the student progresses through the six story books.

With these features leading to a natural priming of the brain for learning to read, you may wonder about phonics. The author has addressed the initial teaching of phonics as well by introducing it after successful completion of game six of each series, you can use cards of the series to show the patterns throughout the series and introduce new words that follow those patterns. For example, three patterns can be found in the book 1 series: (-ay), (-un), and (-o). The words using the (-ay) pattern in book 1 are day, play, and stay. The teacher can use those cards to demonstrate how the first letter changes to create a new word and to help the student create more new words by using other initial letter sounds. The author details all of the books’ patterns in Rules and Teacher’s Guide that comes with the set. This is the simplest method to begin the teaching of phonics, but the best for setting the stage for a true and deep understanding of the mechanics of reading and spelling.

In terms of accessibility, the series is perfect for many special needs populations including those with processing disorders due to the non-distracting, clear, crisp, and contrasting print of the cards and story books where the words are displayed. The illustrations in the books are reminiscent of pencil sketches found in the textbooks of days gone by. Often times, this kind of drawing is great for attracting autistic and learning disabled students due to the unusual contrast it details for the objects drawn. This is normally even good for low vision readers especially when done on regular book paper. The glossy pages which are great for young beginning readers does make the details of some very involved sketches less crisp for students with acuity and perception issues, though. The tutor will need to verbally describe these illustrations to these low vision students. The size and font of the print for both cards and books are larger than many such reading products, so may be fine for those with milder low vision issues. Teachers of some students who need much larger print may need to create larger word cards and magnifiers or a CCTV for the story books. The kinesthetic use of word cards and the game play are useful tools for tactile learners and those who need multisensory techniques. Adding objects with the cards initially can help those who have receptive language disruptions and other processing disorders. The cards were easily brailled for blind and DeafBlind students. For the blind and DeafBlind teacher such as myself, I brailled the cards with not only the word, but also the game number and the book animal to help me keep the cards properly separated for ease of use and to prevent confusion while teaching. I used clear adhesive brailling plastic to place the sentence strips on the storybook for my reading along with the student. I copied the exact phrasing breaks the author used to provide the same natural fluency features. These braille sentences can be used separately for the blind and DeafBlind student, if necessary. The beginning braille reader benefitted the same from this phrasing technique without the braille punctuation and capital cells as the sighted student to my delight. It is wonderful to see a product that is useful as is or so easily modified to benefit the possible varying abilities of many students.

The Reading Game, along with progress sheets and other teaching suggestions, can be found at http://thereadinggame.com for just $24.95 which is a great price for the gift of literacy. The strategies here are simple and easy to implement, but the foundations for reading, spelling, and writing are etched into the brain ready to take your student fully prepared to become a great reader.

To read other reviews about this product and others from The Old SchoolHouse Crew, go to the TOS Crew blog.

Though I was provided a product to review for this blog, I have not been compensated in any other way, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

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