Thompson Rivers University

Talk to the Experts: The Literacy Games—Easy activities to make you smarter

  Posted on: January 25, 2018

Gloria Ramirez

It’s national Literacy month, a time when literacy groups in Kamloops create awareness through events such as Unplug and Play.

Mainly aimed at teens and younger, Unplug and Play encourages participants to unglue themselves from their digital screens—even if it’s only for a few minutes here and there—through a variety of activities.

What follows is our version of Unplug and Play as created by education faculty member and researcher Gloria Ramirez, who is intrigued by tools and strategies that promote effective language and literacy development.

She also explains how the activities promote literacy on deeper levels than the standard reading, writing and speaking. She touches on thinking critically, thinking hypothetically, memorization and seeing patterns.

Making Words

How many words can you make up using the letters of a word?

This can be played orally, but to help with recall and for the added benefit of interacting with the letters themselves, you should use a paper and pen.

“This develops vocabulary, spelling, awareness of word structure, and awareness of letter sound correspondences. It’s important to develop these skills because vocabulary is one of the major building blocks for any communication activity, whether it’s orally, written, reading or listening. When you have a larger vocabulary, you can be more persuasive and more precise.”


Read a poem and share it with friends.

Write a poem starting each line with ‘I wish…’

“Some people think ‘I’m not a poet,’ so it’s very hard and they’re intimidated to start. But part of what makes a poem—especially these days—is the creative use of language to evoke a variety of  feelings. Starting each line with ‘I wish’ is a prompt and facilitates writing  that in the end, can be poetic. Another easy prompt that can result in simple, beautiful, and powerful poems is to choose a colour and start each line with the exploration of the colour using one sense at the time. For example, blue tastes like the ocean in a Caribbean coral reef, blue sounds like waves crashing on rocks…


Rearrange letters of words to create a different word.

For example, listen = silent or the phrase the eyes = they see.

“This is another way of playing with the language and you can see how fun it can be. The brain stores information through patterns and playing with the language in this is a way stimulates the organization of ideas, patterns and things in the brain. It develops cognitive flexibility and helps us think in unusual ways. It promotes analytical skills because we have to deeply look into the pieces (letters or words) and see how they can work in different ways. Analytical skills and critical thinking are important for any human activity.”

What if…

Strike up conversations with friends by imagining and entertaining hypothetical situations.

For example, what if instead of legs we had wheels to move around? What if we had wings instead of hands?

“This stimulates analytical thinking, creative thinking, critical thinking. It also helps to rescue the art of talking, of having conversations. Today with technology, most of the time we are listening, looking at something, viewing something or reading. These are all passive activities. So less and less we are having these fun conversations. Asking ‘what if’ is an opportunity to disrupt what is normal by entertaining hypothetical, outrageous situations.  It is an invitation to see things from a different perspective and in more abstract ways.”

Word builder

How many words can you make by adding prefixes and suffixes to the root word ‘graph’?

Hint: more than 40.

“This facilitates the learning of vocabulary knowledge and understanding. When you learn the meaning of these small words, then you will be able to deduce the meaning of words they’re combined with.”

Writing in Character

Whether you are reading something for your science course, or a novel for entertainment, choose a character and write from the character’s perspective.

For example, I am a molecule.

“This helps approaching content from a different perspective in a playful way that can help consolidate learning. If the text is just a description and it’s written using  formal language, we removing ourselves from the subject matter. But if we transform it into a narrative text, we get inside the subject, and can help us understanding at a deeper level. This this can be applied to complicated things like formulas. It can also make something abstract more concrete.”

Be a Comic Writer

Take a cartoon from a newspaper, magazine, graphic novel, the web and replace the story line with your own.

“This is about imagination and creativity. When we allow our minds to be free, unexpected ideas come up. What the drawings do is provide a little bit of a scaffolding or prompts. You might even discover you’re a better cartoon writer than the original one.

Devil’s Advocate

With another person or a group of friends, choose a controversial topic and argue both sides.

For example, the use of cellphones in class. Try to use humour as well. You can use the CBC Radio program The Debaters as a guide.

“One of the ailments of current society is critical thinking. Nowadays there is so much information that we’re not always looking at it critically. We need to critically look at arguments and to argue in favour or against something. Because of the algorithms of social media, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to see different perspectives. What that is doing is incubating a type of thinking that’s constantly reinforcing our own way of thinking. That is a huge problem and we need to find ways of taking the opposite perspective and how we look and play around with those ideas.”

Impromptu Collaborative Story Creation

Write topics on pieces of paper, put them in a bag and select one.

Each person has an allotted amount of time—maybe one minute—to make up a story on the topic. For added difficulty, each person ties in information from the previous speaker(s). The idea is to create a story together by tying in the different topics.

“Because there are fewer and fewer opportunities to have conversations, this is a fun way to practice speaking and listening skills. Doing these types of activities brings us together and it’s an interesting to see the unexpected directions the conversations take.”

Tongue twisters

Every language has them and many English speakers grew up with variations of Peter Piper, she sells sea shells, Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear, woodchuck chuck and others.

Say them out loud and gradually speed up. Involve a friend for added fun and laughter.

“These help with word pronunciation and memory skills. I don’t think we’re stimulating our memory as much as we used to—we don’t memorize telephone numbers—and memory is an important cognitive skill in any human activity. When reading, you need to remember what you read before so you can connect pieces and make inferences and associations. These days it wouldn’t be fun to memorize a phone number because what’s the point? But it would be fun to try and memorize songs and poems.”