The travel restrictions imposed by the Corona Virus in the past couple of years has made it very difficult for families spread around the world to meet up as often as they used to. Many families (like ours) have relied heavily on video calls to keep family ties strong. Many in-person language classes have also adapted to an online format.
As a teacher, and a father raising children whose grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins all live in other countries, I have sought for ways to make video calls more than just little chats. I have included activities to help strengthen family ties, and make my online lessons engaging.
Today, in this post, I share with you 8 literacy games you can play on video calls to practise reading and writing in a fun way.
Before we start, let us summarise the constraints of video calls.
Constraints of a video call:
The main, obvious obstacle we encounter when video calling is that we are not physically next to each other, and are separated by a screen. It is therefore very difficult to point precisely at something that is on the other side of it, and impossible to pass anything to each other. When it comes to practising reading and writing, this can understandably be seen as a big disadvantage. Luckily, this situation can also become an advantage.
Let’s have a look at various activities that will help strengthen the family ties (and that can also be used in online lessons).
Reading a book together with SCREEN SHARING:
To start with, One of the favourite things my mum enjoys doing with her (very!) active grandsons, whenever she comes over, is to read them a bedtime story (Probably because it is a lot less tiring than playing hide-and-seek or football!!)
When she is in France, she also reads them stories by sharing her screen with us. Screen sharing allows my sons to read at the same time what their Nana is reading. (Note that Facebook messenger and Zoom both have the screen share function). If you have an e-reader installed on your computer, you just need to open it and share your screen. Otherwise it requires a little organisation beforehand, as you would need, for example, to scan the pages of the book read.
This set up enables as well for the two people on each side of the screen to read a book together.
Reading together with 21 dares
You can also help your child read by playing a “21 dares” type of game. In the original game, each player say 1, 2, or 3 successive numbers. The player who ends up saying 21 loses and is given a dare.
You can play a similar game where each player reads 1, 2, or 3 words. The one reading the last word of the paragraph / text loses, and is given a dare.
This game is ideal if your child if starting to decipher words relatively confidently (emergent reader). Indeed, your child CHOOSES to read up to three words, but can also read only one. The task FEELS more than achievable and the fun your child gets outweighs the effort required (read related post on balancing fun and effort if you want to learn more about it). The game aspect will encourage your child to read.
Connect 4 to read single words or characters
Because a screen separates both players, you can use that as an excuse for one player to guide the other one. This can be made easy by introducing a reading element in the game.
The adult has the “Connect 4” game. They stick different words at the top of each column. Your child reads the word corresponding to the column they want the adult to put the counter in. If your child gets very confident, to the point where they are not even reading the words, you can move the words around, or swap some with new ones.
Here your child will have to read the words properly to indicate their moves.
(game detailed in The Parents’ Guide to Raising Multi-literate Children)
Similarly, in this game, your child has to read the cards (with words) the other player put down to work out the correct combination.
Noughts and crosses / tick tack toe
The adult draws a noughts and crosses grid on a white board. In each box, they write a word / letter / character (depending on the child’s level). The child will then be able to indicate easily to the adult (holding the board) where they want to put their circle or cross.
Write in the air
Here is a very easy “no-prep-game”. Each person writes a word in the air with their finger, and the other person needs to guess the word written.
Please note that the adult needs to write backwards (like in a mirror) for the word to be easily readable by the child on the other side of the screen.
To avoid spelling mistakes when the child writes, they can pick a word from a list of words or a book.
When two people say the exact same thing at the exact same time, they compete to say “Jinx” first. The first person who manages to say “jinx” wins.
This game is directly inspired by it. In this written version, in turn, each player describes a word. For example “Write the name of an animal beginning with the letter E” both players write an answer in the comments. They then count down and press the “send” button so that each player's word appear in the comments section roughly at the same time. If it is the same word, they need to compete to say “jinx” first.
Note that if a person says “jinx” without the two words being the same, they lose. Spelling mistakes do not count, but it is a good opportunity to mention what needs to be corrected.
This game can also be used to revise a list of words. In turns, each player need to describe a word without referring to its meaning. The description needs to refer to at least two words from the list E.g.: “Write a word containing the sound [g] / the letter ‘g’”; “Write a verb”; etc.
Write a story together
In order to do so, you need to use a document where each person can write at the same time such as “Google docs”, and share your screen (such functionality exists on Zoom or Facebook messenger for example). You also need a dice (you can either use a physical one, or find one online)
Player 1 throws the dice and write as many words as indicated by the dice. E.g.: if the player throws a 4, they need to write 4 words. It is then player 2’s turn.
Silly sentences (On mobile phone)
If you do not have the predictive text option set up, go to the settings and switch it on.
In turns, each player says the beginning of a sentence. Both player writes them on their end and finish it by simply pressing one of the options from the 3 given by the predictive text. The aim is to come up with a silly sentence.
Here are a few examples of sentence starters:
When I am tired, I love to ...
Yesterday, I went to ...
If I could have a wish granted, it would be to ...
I am scared of ...
I love eating ...
Here the child does not need to write a lot, but it is still good practice. The silliness of the sentences should encourage them to come up with more ideas of sentence starters to complete. The game therefore encourages them write more!!
By looking at what we have rather than what we do not have, we can find many unexpected benefits to difficult situations.
I hope this post gave you some ideas to include reading and writing practice in your video calls with your family and/or students.
Let me know in the comments:
What benefits have you found to video calls?
Which of the activities presented above do you want to try?