Word Games to Improve Your Writing

By Ali Hale

It’s hard work to increase your vocabulary by memorising long lists of words and definitions, or to improve your spelling by constantly writing out words you get wrong. Why not try playing some word-based games instead? If you have kids, these are great ways to help them with their writing skills whilst having fun!

Scrabble

A hugely popular board game (and even available on Facebook), Scrabble involves creating words from “tiles”, each with a letter on. You need two to four players, each of whom starts the game with seven tiles. The first player must make a full word from the tiles in their hand. After that, each person must create a word that overlaps one already on the board – a bit like words on a crossword puzzle.

You can create more than one word by cunning positioning of your tiles, but the tiles you put down on the board must go in a straight line forming one main word. Each word gets a score based on the letters used, After you’ve played, you take more letters from the tile bag, until it’s eventually empty.

Scrabble is great for building up your vocabulary – though you may want to introduce a “house rule” that everyone should be able to use the word they’ve played in a sentence. Certain members of my family have a “crib sheet” of two-letter words like “el” and “ny” (you can get a list of official two-letter words here).

Scrabble is also a good game to help you with spelling; there’s nothing worse than playing what you think is a killer move only to be told you’ve spelt the word wrong.

There are some variants of Scrabble such as Upwords, a 3D version (you can stack the letter tiles on top of one another).

Crosswords

In the UK, almost every daily newspaper has a crossword. Some are easy and some are fiendishly hard! A crossword is a series of white squares, each representing a letter, which overlap. The words can go “down” or “across”, and each word has a number corresponding to a clue. Once you’ve solved a clue, you can fill in that word.

For practising your spelling and vocabulary, you’ll probably want to avoid “cryptic” crosswords (where the clue only relates obliquely to the answer – for example, you might have to form an anagram from words in the clue to find the answer). Some crosswords also rely on a high level of literary or historical knowledge. You might want to start by trying some crosswords available online.

A fun variant on the crossword is to start with a completed one and then make up the clues – this could be a great game to play with kids or friends to think up some unusual definitions of words.

Hangman

A popular pen-and-paper game, Hangman can help with spelling, vocabulary and recognising letter patterns. It’s most suited to kids or people who are still learning English.

You need two players. One, the ‘Hangman’ thinks up a word and writes down a series of dashes on a piece of paper, each dash representing one letter. So a five letter word would look like this: __ __ __ __ __

The other player must guess letters, one at a time. If the letter appears in the word, the Hangman writes that letter over the appropriate dash. If the letter doesn’t appear, the Hangman writes it in a corner of the paper, and draws the next section of the scaffold to ‘hang’ the other player.

The aim for the Hangman is to pick a word which the other player won’t guess before the scaffold is complete. The aim for the player is to guess the word before being ‘hanged’! There are full instructions at Wikipedia’s Hangman page. You can play an online version of Hangman designed for students of English as a Foreign Language at English Banana.

Consequences

To play consequences, you’ll need at least three people (the more the better), and a sheet of paper per person. It’s a great game for parties – whether young or old – and would be a good ice-breaker for a writers’ workshop. The game goes like this:

  1. Each player writes down a man’s name – it’s funniest if it’s someone the group knows, maybe a political figure – folds the top of the paper over to hide it, and passes it on.
  2. Everyone writes down “met” and a woman’s name – again, try picking a famous person – folds the paper again, and passes it on.
  3. This time, write “at” or “in” and the place where they met.
  4. Next, write “He said…” and a line of dialogue. (Fold, pass it on…)
  5. Now, write “She said…” and a line of dialogue. (Fold, pass it on…)
  6. Finally, write the consequence, eg. “And they lived happily ever after” – but be more imaginative than that!
  7. Pass the papers on one more time. Everyone unfolds their paper, and takes it in turn to read out the mini story.

This always leads to some funny stories, and if you’re playing it with your kids, you might want to use “teachers’ names” or “cartoon characters”. It’s a great way to introduce story telling techniques to children, or to come up with some off-the-wall ideas with a group of adults. It might also help you with dialogue skills or comic writing techniques.

Do you have a favourite writing game? Has it helped you to improve your English – or helped your kids with their spelling? Or do you just play for fun? Let us know in the comments …

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6 Responses to “Word Games to Improve Your Writing”

  • mmhan

    I’m from Burma, where English is not spoken or used anywhere. During my mid school days, I use to play this word game where, one person will write a word and another person will write another word with the last alphabet of the first word as the 1st alphabet for the 2nd word.

    It used to be fun when we started playing, however, as we play it more and more we found that in for our level trying to find words starting with “y” seems to be so difficult and everyone start using adverbs with suffix “ly”.

    It used to help me learn lots of new words though.

  • Nimic

    Great post. I’ve been doing “Word of the Day” for awhile, where Webster emails you an interesting word, etc… But, I find that most of my learning comes from word games. Scrabble is nice, but it’s easy to fall into patterns of 3 letter words. I find crosswords work the best.

  • Confused

    Exquisite Corpse, the writing game invented by (I believe) the Surrealists, is always fun. Basically, EC is a collaborative story in which each new writer has only the last sentence of the previous writer’s effort to go by as they add their own contribution. There are several versions of the game online.

    Not games, but writing haiku or drabbles (words of exactly 100 words) are great ways to learn how to make every word count.

    If you have a blog, getting your readers to give you a prompt and then writing a drabble or poem based on the prompt (within a chosen time limit) is a good creativity booster. When we play this game on Live Journal, we call it “Iron Poet” (a play on “Iron Chef” with the prompt being the “secret ingredient”).

  • Charlie

    Hadn’t heard of Consequences, but the other three were part of my growing up. Mom played Scrabble all the time, with the neighbour ladies, and taught my brother and me how. We even had our own children’s version of it. I inherited her game along with the extra set of tiles.
    She was also big on the Daily Crossword in the paper. Another thing she taught me to do. And Hangman was as common as Tic-Tac-Toe.
    Another fun game was Mad Libs. Stories with missing words that were supplied by the players. One person would have the paper and ask for noun, verb, adverb or adjective. The words were put in and then the story was read. Could really be hilarious and was great with a group.
    And then there was School House Rock . . . learning set to music. “Conjunction Junction”, “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here!” Fun way to learn.

  • Bobbi

    Another good online vocabulary game is available at http://www.freerice.com/index.php

    The best part is, not only can you boost your vocab, but for every right answer, they donate twenty grains of rice to the UN World Food Program to fight world hunger.

  • jim

    Yup, Freerice also has questions on math, foreign languages, geography, and grammar.

    My favorite site for playing scrabble is http://ryan.buterbaugh.org/wabble

    Its ajax-based and requires no registration.

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