Post Tagged with: "games"

Some of our favourite literacy-encouraging toys and games

Looking for a great gift for a kid? Just want to give them something to do when they’re bored–that’s not TV? Well, read on, my friend because here are the best of the best literacy-based games that I’ve reviewed in the past and that are still available and still awesome… Part I.


Microsoft Word - Riddle Edition Sales Oct29.docxuKloo
Recap—It’s a treasure hunt you don’t have to make yourself! (What?! You’ve never made a treasure hunt yourself? Well, trust me, it’s very Pinterest and a whole lotta work. This is muuuuch better.)

How it works
Kids find cards telling them where to search next… at the end is a small treat. The whole thing is great for developing reading skills because the child is super-motivated, not just for the treat but for the whole process.

Update—Since I reviewed this game years ago, they’ve developed a great phone app and a “Riddle Edition.”

Here are my past reviews:


must pop words enterMust Pop Words
Many online “reading” games are BO-ring and slow or both.  Well, here’s one that’s fun AND features a cute penguin. Gotta love that.

How it works
Go to the website:

And click on PLAY.
Then hit Enter on your keyboard to start.

Now, use the letters that fall to make words. Type a word and hit Enter. The balls will speed up, falling faster and piling up. Throughout the game you’ll get little “challenges” like “type a six letter word for 500 bonus points” that make the game more interesting.

Not only reading and word-making, but typing skills as well. Fun!

Here’s my past review:


Rory Story CubesRory’s Story Cubes
A fundamental building block of reading is being able to put stories in sequence: beginning, middle, end.

This is a wonderful game for that. And, bonus, if you have kids of different ages, they can all play at the same time and it will be just as fun for each of them. Many times I brought out these cubes at a restaurant while we were waiting for our order. Keeps kids busy and they don’t even realize they’re “sequencing.” Ha!

How it works
The cubes have pictures on them; you roll them and use the pictures to make a story that you come up with and tell to the others. More fun than I’m making it sound.

These simple cubes have come a LONG way since I first talked about them. Now there are tons of themed cube sets like Batman, Doctor Who, Scooby-Doo!, Looney Tunes and Moomin as well as Voyages, Actions and more.

My past review:


ScrabbleFlashScrabble Flash (known as Boggle Flash in the US)
This is an awesome game. Don’t ask me how it works because the answer is either “magic” or “magnets” or maybe both, I’m not sure.

Basically, you have letter blocks that work together–somehow, see above—and flash letters. You mix the blocks around to form words. The more words you can form with the blocks, the more points you get.

Trust me, this is an awesome game-slash-toy. Kids will love it.

My past review gives you a better idea of how it works:

Disclosure: I don’t get paid for reviews, but usually I do receive a free copy of the game after I’ve called up the company and asked for a review copy. Can’t really review a game unless I have it, can I? Yeah, that’s what I think, too. If I don’t like a game, though, I just don’t review it. So, not that much of a disclosure ’cause there’s not much hiding in this closet, so to speak.

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Taboo Buzz’d will get ’em reading

Taboo buzzd gameHere’s a really fun game that will get your kids reading, and they won’t even knowing they’re practising their reading.

Best of all, this game is electronic, which will make kids like it even more.

Taboo is a popular board game–Taboo Buzz’d is an electronic version of it. You have to get your partner(s) to say a certain word. But you’re not allowed, yourself, to say any of the four “taboo” words.

Here’s an example: Try to get someone else to say sandcastle but you can’t say beachpail, water or moat. Or blend but you can’t say colours, mix, combine or together.

It’s pretty difficult — and fun. And with the electronic (“Buzz’d”) version it’s super-simple, which
means kids can concentrate on the words and the synonyms and the game play without any distractions.

How to play
You press the big orange button on the hand-held unit to start the game. A screen gives you the word plus four taboo words. If your teammate guesses the word, you press the orange button again. If you just can’t get them to guess your word, you can press the “pass” button. And if you accidentally say a taboo word, you press the big purple “taboo” bar on the top of the unit and your team loses a point. Each round continues with six games. The unit keeps track of the scores for two teams.Taboo Buzzd package

The reason the game is so good is that they’ve chosen really appropriate “taboo” words. It’s pretty difficult to think of a way to play the game without using those words. And of course, that’s where all the fun is. “Oops! I said necklace!”

Taboo Buzz’d is most fun when you’re playing with teams of two or more, but my son and I were even able to just play it ourselves, albeit the scoring was kind of wonky but that was fine. The game is aimed at kids 13 and up, but I think younger kids would find it fun. You could modify the rules so that younger kids had to use the taboo words. It would still be silly and fun–and they’d be reading.

Taboo Buzz’d by Hasbro, age 13+, 1,000 words per unit, requires three AAA (not double-A) batteries and they’re not included, so make sure you pick some up when you buy the game. It sells at Toys R Us, Amazon, etc., for about $22. Worth it.

On a different topic: I apologize for the backwards apostrophe in the headline of this article. I can’t get it to go the right way. Frustrating.

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uKloo: Riddle Edition — another great uKloo literacy game

Microsoft Word - Riddle Edition Sales Oct29.docx

uKloo is a terrific literacy game. Incredibly–wonderfully–they somehow managed to top it.

Toronto game-maker Doreen Dotto recently launched uKloo, Riddle Edition.

The premise of uKloo is simple—it’s a treasure hunt. You (the parent) hide cards around the house that kids find and which lead them to the next clue.

For instance, the first clue is “look in your shoes.” The child goes to her shoes and finds the next card, which says “look on the kitchen table,” and so on.

It’s a brilliant strategy to get kids reading because it gives the child a fun reason to read (they want to find the next clue) as well as an instant reward (they find out where the next clue is hidden, and ultimately a grand prize). Fun + reason to read = reading.

Dotto has taken this simple equation and made it even more fun. And she’s added problem-solving to the skills the child will acquire without even knowing they’re learning.

With the Riddle Edition, kids find a card and have to solve a fun riddle to figure out where the next card is hidden.

Depending on the age of the child, the riddles are very easy or quite challenging.

For instance, a level one riddle: “When your hair is full of dirt, get it clean with just a squirt.”uKloo Riddle-cards

A level three riddle: “Not of shell, of turtle or snail, but made of cloth to hike a trail.”

Did you get those? The answers are at the bottom of this post if you want to double-check.

The wonderful thing about uKloo is the way Dotto has adapted it for various reading levels. If the child can’t figure out a clue, she can get a hint: “Lather up for shiny locks!”

If she still can’t quite get it, she can hold a special booklet (in which the answers are written backwards) up to a mirror and find the answer reflected there.

Three levels of clues, a hint and a fun solution give kids the success that is so important for new or struggling readers.

And with different levels, brothers and sisters of different ages or reading abilities can play together. It’s also great for playdates.

As with the original uKloo game, the Riddle Edition ends with a surprise that the parent provides. It could be a chocolate or small toy, or—as Dotto found out from one parent—it could be the announcement that the child is going to have a new baby sister.

uKloo creator Doreen Dotto

uKloo creator Doreen Dotto

uKloo Riddle Edition includes blank cards so parents can write their own riddles (Dotto provides tips on writing riddles) and it includes Surprise cards so that instead of a toy or candy the grand prize could be “a trip to the ice cream store” or “pillow fight with daddy.”

If uKloo is one of the most perfect literacy games, uKloo Riddle Edition takes it one step further. Both are must-get games for any parent who wants to get their kids reading.

uKloo retails for $15.95 and uKloo Riddle Edition for $18.95. Both are available at independent toy stores. You can also purchase them from the uKloo website, here.

You can also check out the new uKloo Early Reader App, currently free (that may change) in the iTunes App Store.

Read my review of uKloo here.

Oh, and I’m sure you figured out that answers are: Shampoo and Backpack.

Lastly, Doreen was on Dragon’s Den. Guess what happened? Check it out:


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beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g game for ages 8 and up

beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-I-n-g game

beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-I-n-g game

If your kids could use a little brush-up on their spelling, beezi might be the game that does it.

My son and I took the game for a test drive. He figures he’s a better speller than his mother (who is a writer by trade, a-hem).

We really enjoyed beezi. For off, it was easy to figure out how to play it–a huge plus. I hate having to read through two pages of directions to figure out a game before you can even play it.

And it was fast-playing. Another plus.

Essentially, beezi takes you around a board; you select cards and spell words. The harder the word, the further you go on the board. Special spaces on the board let you roll again, skip a turn or advance.

The game includes spelling challenges at different levels. That’s good because it means that your eight-year-old can play with your 10-year-old at the same time. And it makes it extra flexible for playdates.

There’s also a Teens and Parents edition, which we will definitely have to get (we were given this one by beezi, for review). We did find that the younger game was a bit too easy for my 12-year-old. Although, he did not—I stress, did not—win against his mother.

Because kids write down their answer, rather than just spell it out loud, the game can definitely help kids improve their spelling. The game provides a real incentive to sound words out and try to get them right. It also gives adults a chance to explain why certain words are spelled the way they are.

Some kids are shy or embarrassed about not being able to spell very well. Even my son, who’s a pretty good speller, didn’t like to admit it when he couldn’t spell certain words, and I can see that. So you may want to keep that in mind when you’re playing. Usually, I was able to explain that “everyone gets that one wrong,” or “that spelling rule is tricky” and then roll the dice and keep the game moving.

The game is themed around bees, a riff on “spelling bees.” The bee theme continues with the die, which features six types of bees (from honey bee – the easiest words to spell, to killer bee – the most challenging). My son likes “Shaggy Fuzzyfoot” the best; Shaggy’s a wildcard. And the object of the game is to reach the “beehive” in the middle of the board.

The illustrations are quirky and modern, and the dice is one of those big, chunky ones that are such fun to roll.

Bonus: The next time I go to a restaurant or a long car ride with my son, I’m going to bring along the card deck. It will be a terrific quiz-me activity, even without the game board. beezi would also be a good game to take to the cottage, because everyone can play it, using different level card packs.

beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g game sells for $29.99 and is available at toy stores and Chapters/Indigo. You can also purchase it from the beezi website ($10 to $15 shipping within Canada).

(If you’re in Toronto, buy it from my friend Sam at her Playful Minds toy store. Tell her I sent ya.)

On the beezi website, click on Take the Beezi challenge for a fun online spelling challenge.

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Phrazzle Me! is a great game for English learners

Phrazzle Me!If you’re teaching English as a second language (ESL) or if you’re wanting to push your students’ English to a more sophisticated level, here’s a well-thought-out game.

Phrazzle Me! is essentially 200 blocks of wood with words imprinted on them.

The simplest way to play the game is to take seven blocks (each block has four words to choose from) and make a sentence. The next person builds on your sentence, going up and down or across. You get a point for every block you use.

If a phrase doesn’t make sense (“The table barked”) you lose a point.

But Phrazzle Me! (“phrase” + “puzzle”) can go beyond just game-play. If you’re teaching ESL, you can take the game in lots of different directions.

For one thing, the words are colour-coded. For instance, green is “to be” and gerunds “-ing words.” Red is “to have” and past participles.

Now, people who already speak English will probably stop right there. Because in North America, most people don’t know their gerund from their modal–that’s just not the way we normally like to learn languages.

But in most of the rest of the world, teachers and students are very familiar with past participles and auxiliary verbs, and are quite comfortable learning that way.

So for them especially, Phrazzle Me! can be a tremendous teaching tool.

For instance, the teacher can take just the question words, the auxiliary verbs and the subjects and then tell the students to make questions using this format:

Question + auxiliary + subject + verb.

“Where are they flying?” Boom, that’s a great question with every word in the right order.

You can easily change the rules. If you’re working on gerunds, make them worth double the points. If you’re working on past tense, make that key to the game. Let students take more or fewer blocks.

Phrazzle Me! is elegantly designed and sturdy. There’s no board; players set up the game on any flat surface. And it includes a draw-string bag that holds the pieces afterwards.

The game can be played without a moderator, but it works much better when a teacher is involved who decides if phrases are correct or not. It’s designed to provoke discussion and a long-term understanding of English.

We played Phrazzle Me! with our family and found that it can be quite challenging. It just goes to show how complex and difficult the English language is, even for native speakers.

The game is available through There is also a Toronto-based distributor; contact them at

At $100 UPDATE: $79.99 a game (which includes shipping) it’s not in the same pricing ballpark as most just-for-fun games. But this is the kind of game an ESL teacher would buy and use throughout her career because it will last forever.

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Big on literacy… big on gross

Gross-abulary, bacteria cardGROSS-ABULARY is very up-front about what it is.

It’s a literacy game that’s gross.

And we all know that kids—okay, especially boys—love gross.

If your kid is “one of those,” then GROSS-ABULARY will be right up his alley.

It’s a game about building gross sentences, using starter concepts like belch, armpit and flu for inspiration.

You take a card with a caption like bacteria and your job is to build a sentence around the word before the three-minute timer runs out.

You’re given a pile of words and word endings (suffixes) to choose from. And your sentence can be as silly, serious, gross or normal as you’d like. The longer the sentence, the better, since you get a point for every word you use.

The winner of each round gets to answer a multiple-choice trivia question on the back of his card:

How many more bacteria are on an office desk than in a toilet, 20 times, 200 times or 400 times? A: 400 times—I think it’s time to clean your desk.


If the player answers the question correctly, he wins that card; the player with the most cards wins the game.

My son and I were a bit worried that GROSS-ABULARY would be a bit too gross. But as you play it, you find that the sentences don’t have to be gross–unless you want them to be.GROSS-ABULARY

To add to the literacy angle, my son and I read each other’s sentences out after every round. That also added to the surprise factor, since I could shock my kid a bit with some very ridiculous sentences that unfolded for him as he read them out.

So if you’ve got a kid who loves gross more than reading, GROSS-ABULARY is definitely your game. He’ll be so caught up in the gross, he won’t even realize that he’s building his literacy skills.

GROSS-ABULARY (ages 6+, 2-10 players) sells for $24.99 and is available at Chapters/Indigo and Mastermind stores.

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Fun online spelling bee

Oxford Spelling BeeThis one’s for kids who are already good spellers and who think spelling is fun. (To me it’s a no-brainer, but I have to remember that not everyone reads the dictionary for fun.)

Anyway, that kid will appreciate this great online spelling bee from Oxford. It’s fast and it’s fun – and it’s challenging.

Go to the Oxford Spelling Bee site.

Choose British English or US English. Then choose your level, from Tricky to Fiendish, and then click Start.

Warning – Fiendish will require you to spell words like gymkhana and belligerent, one of which I got wrong (Does the word not look better to you with one l? Look: beligerent. Oh. OK, that looks wrong.)

The website reads the word in a lovely British accent, so make sure your computer sound is turned well up. You can hear the word again if you want before you try to spell it. If you get it wrong, you get an X. If you get it right, you get a checkmark. Each category goes up to 15, and at the end you get your score.

I love that they start with “Tricky” as the lowest level which implies that if you get one wrong in that category, well, it was tricky. (It’s not you, it’s me, Oxford is saying.)

You can work your way through the levels, and you can do a level again to try to get a better score. When you do that, the words change so you can keep playing over and over again.

Now I’m feeling a bit belligerent about my score so I think I’ll go work out in my local gymkhana. Wait – with my horse. (I just looked it up.)

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Literacy opportunities are everywhere

Mandarin oranges signYou don’t always need books to help your kid read better.

When my son and I go for a walk, there’s always something weird, funny or unintelligible to read, correct or figure out.

Example. We went on vacation and on the buffet we saw this sign. (Click on the picture for a larger image.) I called my son over and showed it to him – I didn’t say anything. He said, “hey,  that should be Mandarin!” And together, we showed the buffet lady and we all laughed about it.*

It was a great opportunity to get a bit playful with words, while at the same time showing my son the way to approach typos (and the people who make ’em) – while it can be helpful to point out someone’s typo,  it’s not cool to be judgmental or become some kind of self-appointed “grammar cop.”

Another time we were playing some miniature golf. As you go around the course, sometimes you have to wait for others to finish their hole. Rather than just wait, I would point to a sign and ask my son to rearrange the letters in the sign to form new words.

OK, it sounds nerdy, but it’s actually a pretty funny game because you wouldn’t believe some of the stuff kids come up with! There are no “rules” to the game – you can use all the letters, or just some of the letters – you can even add some letters if you see a phrase you’d like to create.Mini golf sign

The idea is just to take signs that you otherwise might not pay any attention to, and create new meaning from them

The next time you’re out with your kid, even if it’s just walking to school, take a look around you at all the reading possibilities. Every little bit helps.

*If you have a kid like mine, you’ll know immediately why a sign that says “mandrain” is hilarious. Even the buffet lady thought that one was funny – and then she immediately removed the sign.

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langman: great Internet game that encourages wordpower


Here at GKR we’re always looking for cool literacy games.

Cool + literacy? Not the easiest combo.

Nevertheless, we’ve found you one. This game is retro, so you know it’s cool. (For future reference: if it looks like something we would have played in the 70s, it’s cool. Just so ya know.)

langman is hangman plus… well, something starting with an l. Basically it’s hangman with a platform gaming element.

(Update: Here’s a link to langman on the game-review website, Kongregate.)

Instead of just typing in the letters you want to guess like regular online hangman, you steer a little guy over to the letter using your keypad. If you guess wrong, the letter drops into space and tries to take you with it. As you proceed in the game, it becomes more difficult to reach the letters you want. There’s a lot of hopping and running and leaping. (Maybe the l is for leaping?)

The little man ends up in all sorts of difficulties, like having a big block fall on the letter he wants to select and having to figure out how to move the thing. If you guess wrong too many times you could be left with vast craters which become unjumpable (which is what the R-reset button is for.)

langman was created by Ehren von Lehe , who was nice enough to send us these great screen shots. He wants you to know that you can also customize the words the game uses, adding in some of your own. I think you hit “E” to get into the level editor to do that – but frankly that would require someone more technologically oriented than me… like, say, your kid? (I tried to add Harry Potter and Dr. Seuss but then I got confused and then scared and then I bailed before I saved it properly. I’m sure your kid will do a lot better than me.) * See Update, below.

langman - customize the vocabulary

If you want, you (or your kid) can customize the vocabulary langman uses.

In order to play the game you have to download Unity, which is similar to Flash. At first I balked, but I think Unity is becoming quite popular (von Lehe points out that some big online games like Lego and Star Wars use it). Plus, my Norton program told me it was safe and I always listen to Mr. Norton.

As a literacy tool, it’s not bad. The real draw is that it’s fun and cool enough to keep kids engaged so if they want to play on the computer but you’d like them to do something that challenges their brain, langman may just be that happy medium you’re both looking for.

Thanks to Bart Bonte for pointing us towards langman.

*Update from Ehren von Lehe
To customize the vocabulary:
1. From the main menu, press E.
2. Delete all the text in the “Levels” text box. (This will cause it to just use the default levels.)
3. Enter your custom words and phrases in the Vocabulary text box.
4. Press the “New Game” button.

Viola! You’re now playing the game with your custom vocabulary.
If you want to change something, just press E to get back to the editor.

Thanks, Ehren!

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