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Knockout Whist with Spellings

I used to teach a bright dyslexic boy, for whom spelling was a nightmare. He was 14 (And incidentally a champion dog trainer who had got twice to Crufts! Spelling isn't everything!...) I had devised a whist game which we were using to learn spellings and I asked Lee what he thought of it. He said "This is the first time I realised that there was such a thing as letter patterns!"

How many words had he learnt to recognise by age 14? He had learnt each one as a "sight word", without seeing any of their "family" relationships. Many poor spellers (dyslexic or otherwise) do just that. Quite an amazing feat of intellect, if you think about it. So, with acknowledgements to Lee, we'll have a look at one thing you can do to bring spellings onto your children's menu: play whist with them.

How to play Knockout Whist with ordinary cards (2-4 players)
Before dealing, cut the pack for "trumps", then deal 7 cards each. The player to the left of the dealer 'leads' by laying down one card. Each of the other players in turn now lays down a card but they must follow suit if they can. If they have no cards of that suit, they can lay down a card from another suit. One card from each player makes up a 'trick' and the basic principles of the game are:

A high card in the same suit that was led beats any lower card in that suit (aces high)
A trump beats any card which isn't a trump
A high trump beats a low trump
A card in a suit that wasn't led and isn't a trump, can never win
The winner of the last trick leads in the next one.
The winner of the round is the one with the most tricks when there are no cards left.

Sample game for 2 players Cut for trumps: clubs. I lead the 10 of hearts. You play the Queen. You win the "trick", and keep it on the table. Don't put the cards into your hand. We now both have 6 cards. You won the trick, so you lead . You play the Ace of hearts. I don't have any hearts left, so I play the 2 of clubs (trumps) I win. 1 trick each, five cards left in our hands. I lead the King of spades. You don't have any spades. Unfortunately you don't have any clubs either: you were only dealt hearts and diamonds. You discard the 5 of diamonds, and I win again (sorry and all that!).

The Knockout Element
The winner of the first round is the one who has most tricks after all seven cards have been played. Let's say it was me, since you didn't have any trumps in your hand. I get to choose trumps on the next round, when we have 6 cards each .This time you absolutely thrash me, and I don't win a single trick.I AM KNOCKED OUT- except for one lifeline: the "dog's chance" That means I can have ONE card, to play when I want. If it happens to be a winner, I am back in the game next round. We play right down to one card each, and the winner is the person who wins on the last card! Great game! Try it.

Playing Whist with Spellings
To play whist with spellings you need to make your own pack of cards. Basically, there are two ways to do this:

playing with a single list of words (such as your child's homework spelling list)
playing four different family "suits".

Single List Version
Your "suits" are four different colours. Don't use more than eight words (you can use fewer).

Write each word on four separate cards, once in each colour. (32 cards so far). Then write the whole list on four cards again, once in each colour. This is the highest card in each suit - the "ace". Your full pack, therefore, consists of 36 cards in this instance.

Give each card a value from 1-9: the "ace" card being 9, and the word that is easiest to spell being 1, with the values increasing with spelling difficulty.

Family Suits Version
Use the four colours again, but this time group words in spelling "families"- words ending in "ight"; words with "ai" in the middle; words ending in "tion" etc. Only use this version of the game if you are grouping words by spelling patterns (or "letter strings" as they are also known). If your children are learning unrelated words, stick to one list in four colours. When they are looking at more than one group of words for spelling, you want them to be able to identify letter strings that the different groups have in common. That's how the "penny dropped" for Lee.

Now you have your spelling packs !
Play just as explained for Knockout Whist above, using the colours as suits. Words must be AT LEAST read out, if not spelt out, when cards are played. The important thing is to keep within your child's confidence level: You could say, for example: "Spell the last three letters/first three letters without looking", "Tell me the fourth letter" etc. to bring spelling skills actively into the game. But if they can't, don't let it spoil the game for them. Remember Winnie the Pooh: Owl said, "Can you read, Pooh?" To which Pooh replied, "When Christopher Robin tells me the words, I can."

The only card that doesn't require reading/spelling during the game is the group "ace" card. However after you have finished playing - a couple of hours later, the next day etc. - use this card for simple "Can you remember?" activities, from remembering what the words were, to remembering how to spell them.

© 2000 Bob Hext

Bob Hext qualified to teach English and French in 1973, and has been working for the last 13 years with children experiencing dyslexia and other learning difficulties. He founded Crossbow Education in 1993 to concentrate on publishing fun resources for learning literacy and numeracy skills and also lectures and leads workshops on using games as effective teaching tools.


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