Part 2 of seriously un-serious* ways to help your child remember serious words

You know your child, you know what they like. The single rule might be: “Many ways for different brains.”

Here is a happy handful of word-learning games. Feel free to use these as springboards to get into the activity of designing or improvising games with your child as co-inventor.

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1. Does your child sing? Have him sing the word, the whole list, or just sing-spell a word. It can be turned into a full impromptu kitchen concert! Try singing a well-known song, but replacing your target word for one of the chorus words, or adding a target word in to rehearse it:

“You’ve got a gregarious friend in me, you’ve got a gregarious friend in me.”

She might write a nonsense (or sensible) song using some of the words.

The extra pattern boost from melody can be powerful. It may get to the point that when she remembers, she’ll sing the word. (I once taught a very musical Y5 student to sing the formula for the area of a triangle; 3 years later, he could still sing the formula!)

2. Allocate words to numbers on a dice. However it lands, the next sentence in a story has to try and use the word in any way possible. It really helps for your child to know and apply; use the serious words in their creative writing. Words are democratic; they belong to us all. Rehearsing them helps solidify spelling, meaning and the confidence to use them again and again. Over time, your child could be encouraged to settle on a handful of lovely, adventurous words to use in more than one story, perhaps saving them for the real writing exam.

3. Use the target words when rehearsing and writing other features.

Inventing a bank of new, favourite similes (fresh, original ones), favourite adjectives (perhaps a couple of compound adjectives), favourite verbs for key actions (e.g. interesting synonyms for walking, running, eating, going, seeing, saying) and moods (happy, sad, angry, frightened, uncertain, euphoric, livid, etc.) is a great way to build options which can be used in all kinds of writing.

You could use a different target word for different features, or…

4. Take a word for a walk. Choose a word each and have a time-controlled, short game of adding the word into as many different techniques as possible. If the word has to change form to make the grammar correct, or so it can be used as a different type of word, even better. Give extra points for handling that!

For example:

Admonish (verb)

Meaning: to warn against doing something, (or in some cases, to do something, but perhaps there may be better words, like advise, for this positive purpose); to disprove of something, but in sort of a kind way. Hmm, this word is looking quite slippery already, but let’s have some fun with it.

Start a countdown timer. Give enough time to write a few different features, but not so long that you lose time to learn something else, and definitely not until your child falls asleep because they’ve written a hundred sentences! Either side of 4/5 minutes should work, but in the moment, you’ll know what’s best. Here’s my shot…

  1. Councils have left up signs to admonish people who continually drop litter in the parks. (Main verb)
  2. Mr Round, the head teacher, admonished Stephan for drawing only triangles in his maths book. (-ed past tense)
  3. Carter’s ears drooped, his tail ceased wagging and his head dropped, looking like an admonished school boy. (Simile) (Admonished becomes an adjective here!)
  4. The storm was an admonishment from Mother Earth for the farmer’s failure to gather her harvest in time. (Metaphor) (admonishment is a noun)
  5. Deeper and deeper, the wind forced its way into the forest, moaning and shrieking through the branches as if it were admonishing the trees for standing too close together. (Personification)
  6. Caring and graceful, kind and thoughtful, Marjory Duck quacked an admonishment at her ducklings to waste no time in entering the water, in case the clever, winter-starved fox had left its den in search of a delicate, youth-flavoured dinner! (With a paired adjective sentence.)

I definitely know the word admonish better than I did before writing that.

5. Collect challenging words alphabetically. You could supply a list and your child can see if there is a word that starts with each letter of the alphabet.

6. Similar to above, but use another prompt: the letters of your child’s name, or their favourite food, etc.

7. Rhyme as many words as you can with your target word in 30 seconds.

8. Draw quick pictures or diagrams around a word to illustrate what the word means: imagine you are translating the word for a person who doesn’t speak any language apart from pictures.

9. Have your child host a quick quiz for you and another grown up. You have to supply the meaning to words she gives from a challenging list. If you don’t know them, she gets a point; if you know them, you get a point.

Occasionally giving a wrong meaning on purpose can help your child learn a word by giving you the correct meaning. It is okay if you don’t know the meaning of a word. We need to let our children feel relaxed about not knowing something and share an excitement for moments when we do learn something.

10. Draw a word tower from the top, starting with the 1st letter, then 2 letters, 3 letters, etc., until the whole word is at the bottom.

It looks cool and can make syllables and suffixes clearer. The last, full word could be drawn in a different colour to help it stand out. Let your child discover that the last letter of each row also spells the word! These designs can be put up around the house – an un-serious exhibition of serious words.

11. Do you have a licence to use that word? If there are words she loves and would like to use, then you could do a spontaneous spelling permit game at odd times in the week. Stop what you are both doing, and say something like: Excuse Me miss, Pedantic Permit Police Patrol, can I see your license to use this word? She has to spell or write it out and show you. You could be given the list at the start of the week and use that to check the licences for each word.

12. Who needs Wimbledon? Word tennis is fun as well. You don’t even need a bat or ball, although you could do it with the real thing in a garden, or a paper ball in your hands. Take a list of anything – connectives, adverbs, etc, that you want to focus on.

Speak out a sentence either beginning with a word/word type, or else use the word somewhere in a sentence. Your opponent can’t hit back until they use another word. If you want, each have a list or a single umpire list that you can run to if you can’t remember the word. Give a time-limit to how long the person has to speak a sentence. Award tennis points however you want.

P.S. No word is too serious. You can have fun with anything. Be playful and listen to the sounds of words, the look of words. Fastidious is not a better word than fussy, or even the phrase incredibly clean, or spotless. If your child knows them all and can use them with their slightly different meanings, it gives him options for creating similes, alliteration, etc., that sparkle. A fastidious flower arranger is a beautiful phrase, but then a gardener who was fussy could also be described as being a fusspot for flowerpots, which has a different sound and feel and contains a pun on words as alliteration.

True, VVV (Very Varied Vocabulary) is a powerful tool with which to dazzle the exam marker, but it is also simply more fun to use!

Hope these help.

*Big disclaimer: Before you tell me off, before you admonish me against using incorrect prefixes, un-serious is not really a word, I just like the sound of it! The preferred prefix is non-serious, so perhaps teach your child that one, although possibly hold onto the hyphen to be safe, rather than nonserious.