Un-guessing Games


While guessing is a common, natural reaction when students are trying to learn new reading material, it can become a big problem for some. Many struggling readers persistently use guessing, often impulsively, in place of trying to figure out words. These students need to develop reliable word attack skills using an effective method, but they also need to stop guessing because it undermines the skill development. Here are a few suggestions for helping them to overcome the guessing habit.

The Group Game: This game is described in most of our manuals and on this website. (From the upper right hand side of the top menu of our home page, go to the “Teaching Resources” page.) The Group Game has several advantages. It ensures that all students in a group are paying attention and reading silently along when only a single student is reading aloud. It helps you control group behavior. And one of its greatest benefits is that it reduces impulsive guessing. To build confidence and motivation, it is important to try to work (rig) the Group Game so that every student makes more money (or other rewards) than he or she loses during a full session. However, the fact that an incorrect impulsive guess at any single moment can result in a penalty is also important to help students break the guessing habit.

The Group Game modified for individuals: If you are a tutor, homeschooler or a teacher working one-on-one, you can still apply the basics of the group game. You ignore the rules for students correcting or interrupting each other and then simply focus on the rewards and penalties for accurate or inaccurate reading. The individual student will make play money (or a different reward, if you prefer) when he or she reads a sentence (or other passage) accurately and lose money when he or she reads incorrectly. Feed words do not count in the scoring. Students can ask for help on a word, and if they do you should lead them through the Seven Special Reading Steps asking questions. If they answer all the questions and put the word together accurately, they still earn their reward, as much as if they had read the word correctly right away. If they guess wrong without stopping to ask for help, they lose money.

The PAL Beginning Level Word Suits Playing Cards – You can use these to play versions of the classic card games Crazy Eights and Old Maid, among others. You can also easily make up more games. All of the games will require students to focus their attention, particularly on vowel patterns, and to refrain from guessing. Using individual words also puts the emphasis on accuracy and reduces the chance of guessing by using surrounding text. (To obtain these playing cards, go to www.quesstconsulting.com and click on PAL materials.)

Make your own, “Starred Card” Word Game – Take a group of blank cards (3” X 5”, or playing card size) and neatly print words from current or recent lessons. (Most Stevenson manuals have many word lists either in each lesson or in an appendix in back.) Do not include Feed Words. Then put a star in the corner of roughly ¼ of the cards. You will work one-on-one in this game. If the reader reads a word incorrectly, the card goes to the other person. Take turns reading cards. Every time the person reading reads a word correctly, he or she gets to keep that card. Of course, you, as the teacher, will read each word correctly, and the student might make mistakes. That’s where the starred card comes in. If a student reads the word on a starred card correctly, he or she not only gets that card, but also all of your cards. You, the teacher, do not have that possibility. If the student misreads the starred card, you get to keep that one card, but not any of his or her other cards. As with the Group Game, a student can ask for help, but if he or she guesses quickly and incorrectly, s/he loses. The person with the most cards wins. You can select specific words to focus on, words that students need to practice most. If they read all the cards easily you should move on to more challenging material.

You can vary this game by having two students play it with each other. In that case the starred card has the same implications for each player. However, if you take this route, be sure that the students will be able to treat each other respectfully and can be good sports. Sometimes competition between two students can be harmful. One great solution is to make this into a peer tutoring situation, where one student who is further along in the program plays the game with a student who is just beginning to encounter the words on the cards. Then the more “advanced” student plays the roll of teacher. This situation frees you up to work one-on-one with other students.

If you are working with Beginning Green Level vocabulary, you can save yourself a great deal of work by simply getting the PAL playing cards, and placing little removable (not gummed) star stickers on the playing cards, and removing the stickers later when playing other games.