Do games have a place in learning to read and spell for students with dyslexia?

As a member of PATOSS I receive the bi-annual Bulletin Journal.  I read with interest an article entitled, “Does Movement Influence Our Brains Processes? Karisa Krcmar (2018) PATOSS Bulletin.  It made me reflect on games and how they helped my students learn to read and spell.

As an advocate and practitioner of multi-sensory learning techniques, I always endeavour to ‘get bums off seats’ and learn in different ways.  I use a lot of games to enable learning. Not only does it stop the younger children getting ‘bored’, I also consider it engages the brain to process information in different ways, other than sitting at a desk completing workbooks.  Krcmar (2018) identifies Groth (2017) who suggest that when sitting at a table our brains think we are in relaxation mode or resting and ‘turn off’.  Krcmar (2018) makes a valid point that we expect students to sit at desks and work in exams (and the classroom).  The article continues to identify that this may inhibit some learners from learning, processing and storing information.

Many of my students have anxiety, some have sensory processing difficulties and basically struggle to sit still.  Some choose to stand up and complete their worksheets.  I’ve never stopped this, as I advocate students taking charge of their learning and as long as they are ‘working’, I’m happy. Krcmar (2018) gives the example of Aristotle, the ancient Greek who ‘walked and talked’.  In addition, Beethoven is said to have walked through countryside whilst composing. Playing games also aids bite-sized learning, it provides an opportunity for recapping and over-learning, all of which are important to retain learning.

I also strongly believe that students assimilate learning and have ‘memories’ from our sessions together, which they can then link to new learning, linking into existing schemata.  My younger students will often say ‘Remember when we played…..I can recall now the spelling patterns for ….”. Making sessions different, through games, helps students separate and segment their memories and recall specific experiences. The great thing about games, is students can also make choices and take charge of the game by making up their own rules.  It’s really important for students to feel in control and take charge of their learning.








My main and initial purpose of playing games was to provide a visual stimulus for the spelling pattern being taught. For example, I have a golf putting game, football goals, skittles, I find anything which I know will engage a student and a game they often enjoy themselves.  I’ve even used hop scotch mats in the past!  I make a label of the spelling patterns and place it within the view of the student.  For example, if we are learning how to make a /k/ sound at the end of a word, I will make 3 cards with a label ‘k, c or ck’.

I then have my list of words, which have followed a compound and cumulative system.  I then ask the student to spell or sound out a word. Once it’s correct they get a turn of their game.  The aim of the ‘spell aloud game’ is for students to learn to segment words into sounds and select the correct spelling choice, for example ‘snack’.  They may say ‘sn-a-/k/.  At which point they’ll be asked, “Which pattern would they choose to make the /k/”.  We can then talk about the choices which make the /k/ and the rules they’ve learned.

In addition to sounding out, it helps build experience of using the working memory, whilst being supported by visual prompts.

I recall some time ago watching Kara Tointon’s programme on Dyslexia “Don’t Call Me Stupid” Watch it here

In this series of programmes, she learns how movement can help her retain information. Krcmar (2018) discusses how academics are now exploring movement and learning.  In the Creative Academic Magazine (2017) Beard argued, “Movement is an essential principle in the design of effective learning”.  In this same article Groth (2017) discusses the ‘fight or flight’ reflex and our brains switch off when we are learning, if we are in relaxation mode, such as sat at a desk or lying on our bed reading. He argues that we don’t process information in the same way, if our brains aren’t stimulated.

Krcmar (2018) identifies 5 methods to help students learn through movement, these are; gesture, seek and appreciate patterns of movement, engage the senses, play and tapping into emotions. It’s thought that even small or non-sedentary movements can aid focus and thinking.

It’s reported that engaging in movement helps with the intake of oxygen and therefore brain arousal.  So often the children in my sessions become breathless, as they are excited and playing, therefore stimulating the intake of oxygen.  Davis et al, (2011) are cited in the article, which is a study of children exercising whilst taking part in an academic task.  It revealed ‘an increase in bilateral prefrontal cortex activity’.  This is the place where executive functioning takes place and significant improvement was seen.  Executive functioning is the part of the brain which functions without conscious awareness. This part of the brain sifts through information, prioritises and actions tasks.

Krcmar (2018) reports on a further study where moderate exercise was undertaken and reading and spelling were improved. However, an individual with dyspraxia may find ‘sport’ more challenging as they may need to concentrate on balance and engaging core skills.  However, ‘play’, with a game of their own choice, can build confidence.

Students can be encouraged to experiment with how they learn best and when they feel most stimulated to learn.  For some it can be standing or pacing.  Some need to ‘fidget’ to focus and concentrate.  Some require sensory feedback and for this reason, I recently used an exercise band tied to the chair legs and watched as many children started to use it, bouncing their feet on it, receiving sensory feedback.  All was going well until it became worn out and snapped!!

Krcmar (2018) extends her discussion to applying the ideas to study support.  The concept of using a flip chart to encourage students to stand and plan their ideas.

I total agree with Krcmar, that as specialist teachers we are able to adapt and offer different student experiences and go further to personalise learning.  I’m currently conducting a study into the effectiveness of CodeBreakers in schools and within it, I detail how games can be played and schools are implementing these learning opportunities.  I feel these games could be used in group activities too, learning additional social skills such as turn taking and listening. Games can even be led by the students, building on confidence and leadership. I’ll certainly be adding to it, the finding from Krcmar’s study and research.












Further reading:

Beard C (2017) How the human body shapes the mind: navigational tools used to support learning. L. Clughen & J .Willis Creative Academic Magazine: Role of the Body in Creative Processes & Practices. Issue 8.

Davis (et al) (2011) Exercise improves executive function and achievement and alters the brain activation in overweight children: a randomized control trial Health Psychology. Jan

Groth. C (2017) How design and craft practitioners think, make sense and know through their hands in L. Clughens and J. Willis. Creative Academic Magazine: Role of the Body in Creative Processes and Practices. Issue 8.

Krcmar. K (2018) Does Movement Influence Our Brain Process. PATOSS Bulletin. Winter 2018. Volume 31, No 2.