Three literacy and movement games your students can play today

Boys playing magic ball game

When we think about promoting literacy skills to school-age children, we often rely on reading and writing strategies. Of course these are in our toolkit. But it’s useful to think beyond these conventions.

I lead literacy professional development workshops and classes for teachers, community educators, and parents of school-age children. A favorite best practice I share stresses that children benefit from learning that involves their bodies. Children (and adults) learn in their bodies, and if their bodies are “asleep,” their minds work slowly. Also, movement games reinforce concepts and help children make deeper connections to literacy skills.

In addition to reinforcing literacy skills, learners of all ages typically have fun and take risks when playing literacy games. They revel in having an opportunity to play! So turn literacy on its head and have some fun.Your students will thank you for it!

Here’s three literacy games that will get students moving and learning:

Magic Ball — In this game participants learn about adjectives by acting them out. A large ball is introduced that has “magical” qualities.  As the leader, the instructor picks the first adjective to describe the ball. Let’s say it’s “heavy.”  As the ball gets passed around the group, participants have to act out passing a “heavy” ball. After the ball makes its way around the circle, another participant gets to turn the ball into a different magical quality. Maybe the ball becomes “sticky” and participants have to act out sticky as they pass the ball around. The game continues until each participant has a turn.

Alphabet Word Relay — This game supports alphabet recognition and word development. Two large sheets of paper are posted that list the alphabet for their respective teams. The class is divided into two teams. The first players have to run to their paper and write a word that begins with the letter “a.” Then they run back and tag the next player. The next player goes to the board and writes a word that begins with the letter “b.” The game continues until all 26 letters of the alphabet have words. Players are encouraged to help their team if a difficult letter arises (like x, q, and z). The team who finishes first is the winner. To reinforce reading, the instructor should review the responses aloud in alphabetical order, with the children chiming in, to make sure the words match up with their assigned letters.

To make the game more challenging for older children, a specific topic can be selected. Topics might be: sports, heroes, food, historical events, music, etc. Another option that works well for younger children is to permit shorter words.

My Ship is Loaded — This is a literacy game that develops memory and listening skills. All children are seated in a circle. One child starts the activity by rolling a ball to another child and saying, “My ship is loaded with bears” (or any other cargo he wishes). The second child who receives the ball has to repeat what the first child said and add another item to the list:  “My ship is loaded with bears and chocolate.” She then rolls the ball to a third child. Each child who receives the ball has to repeat what the other children have said and then add another item. This game leads to laughter and frequently elicits the children’s sense of humor. Also, this game can be adapted in many different ways. It can include an entire class of children, or children can be grouped in smaller circles. Children can also support each other to remember items. In addition to strengthening memory and listening skills, this activity links children together.

Note: These games were not created by me. They were gathered at various literacy trainings through the years, and I’ve tweaked them to reflect my style and approach. I appreciate learning them and passing them along.

An educator for over 23 years, Anna Adler brings a diversity of teaching experiences to her current focus on literacy leadership and professional training. Anna currently works for ReadBoston, a non-profit children’s literacy organization. ReadBoston partners with organizations, schools, early childhood centers, after schools, and parent programs to provide literacy professional development, books and best practices. As Manager of Literacy Programs, Anna develops literacy curriculum and leadership training for teachers, directors, educational leaders, and parents. Anna has taught at city, state and national literacy workshops. During the summer Anna’s creative side takes center stage and she can be found storytelling as part of ReadBoston’s Storymobile, a citywide initiative that travels to 80 programs each week, providing storytelling and books to young children. Anna can be reached at