If you want to improve your writing, maybe it’s time to ditch all the writing books and podcasts and play some word games instead.
Yes, seriously! Word games and writing games are great ways to develop your vocabulary, to help you think more deeply about words, to have fun with story and structure, and to get a lot of fun out of writing.But games can be a great way to:
• Develop your vocabulary
• Help you think more deeply about words
• Become more fluent in English (if it’s a foreign language for you)
• Invent and develop characters
… and much more.Of course, there are loads of online games (and quizzes and tools) that you can use to improve your writing skills, and I will be talking about some of the best of those. But there are also lots of tried-and-tested classic games that you can play with pen and paper, or using cards and dice … and we’ll be taking a look at those first.
5 Pen and Paper Word Games
I’ll start with the simplest games: pen and paper ones that you can play pretty much anywhere, so long as you have a pen.
All of these are suitable for children, and some (like crosswords) are enjoyed by many adults too.
#1: Hangman (2+ players)
Hangman is a classic word game for two players. One player thinks of a word and writes down dashes to represent the number of letters. The other guesses letters of the alphabet. Correct letters are inserted into the word; incorrect letters result in another segment of the “hangman” being drawn.
This is a great game for developing spelling and vocabulary. If you’re playing it with small children, you can do it without the perhaps rather unpleasant “hangman” element, and just count how many guesses each player takes!
#2: Crosswords (1 player)
A crossword is a grid of white and black squares, where each white square is one letter of a word. The words intersect. You can find crosswords in many newspapers and magazines (on all sorts of subjects), and you can buy booklets and books full of them. Some crosswords are “cryptic”: great if you like brainteasers. Others have more straightforward clues.
Crosswords are great if you want to learn new words and definitions, or (at the cryptic end of the scale) if you enjoy playing with words and language. Simple ones are suitable for fairly young children, with a little help.
#3: Word searches (1 player)
A word search has a grid (often 10×10 or more) filled with letters, and a number of words written alongside or beneath the grid. The person completing the word search needs to find those words within the grid.
Most word searches are easy enough for children, though younger children will struggle with backward and diagonal words. They’re a good way to get used to letter patterns and to improve spelling – and because word searches rely on matching letters, even children who can’t read well will be able to complete simple ones.
#4: Consequences (2+ players, ideally 4+)
This is a fun game with a group of people, as you get a wild and wacky mix of ideas. Each player writes down one line of a story and folds the paper over before passing it around the table to the next player. The very simple version we play has five lines: (1) A male name, (2) The word “met” then a female name, (3) “He said …” (4) “She said …” (5) “And then …”
Once all five stages are complete, the players open out the papers and read out the results. This can be great for sparking ideas, or as a way to encourage reluctant writers to have a go.
#5: Bulls and Cows (2 players)
This game, which can also be called “Mastermind” or “Jotto” involves one player thinking up a secret word of a set number of letters. The second player guesses a word; the first player tells them how many letters match in the right position (bulls) and how many letters are correct but in the wrong position (cows).
Our five year old loves this game, and it’s been a great way to develop her spelling and handwriting as well as logical thinking about which letters can or can’t be the correct ones after a few guesses.
10 Board and Dice Games
These are all games you can buy from Amazon (or quite probably your local toyshop). They’re fun ways to foster a love of writing within your family, or to share your enjoyment of words with your friends.
#1: Scrabble (2+ players)
A classic of word games, Scrabble is a game played with letter tiles on a board that’s marked with different squares. (Some squares provide extra points.) Letters have different points values depending on how common they are. The end result of scrabble looks like a crossword: a number of words overlapping with one another.
If you want to develop your vocabulary (particularly of obscure two-letter words…) then Scrabble is a great game to play. It’s suitable for children too, particularly in “Junior” versions.
#2: Boggle (2+ players)
This is less well known than Scrabble, but it was one I enjoyed as a child. To play Boggle, you shake a box full of dice with a letter on each side, and the dice land in the 4×4 grid at the bottom of the box. You then make as many words as you can from the resulting face-up letters.
Again, this is a good one for developing vocabulary – and it can be played by children as well as by adults. You need to write down the words you come up with, which can also be good for developing handwriting.
#3: Pass the Bomb (2+ players)
It’s very simple to play: you deal a card for the round pass a “bomb” around the table and when it goes off, the person holding it loses. Before you can pass the bomb on during your turn, you need to come up with a word that contains the letters on the card.
It’s a fun family or party game, and can work well with a wide range of ages. It’s a great way to help children think about letter patterns, too, and to develop vocabulary and spelling.
#4: Story Cubes (1+ players)
There are lots of different versions of these available, and they all work in a similar way. The open-ended game has a set of cubes that you roll to create ideas for a story that you can tell along with the other players. If you prefer, you can use them to come up with stories that you’re going to write on your own.
There are lots of different ways you can use them: as writing prompts for a school class or group, to make up a bedtime story together with your children, for getting past your own writers’ block, or almost anything you can think of.
#5: Apples to Apples (2+ players)
Apples to Apples has red cards (with the name of a person, place, thing, etc) and green cards (with two different descriptions): the player with a green card selects one of the descriptions, and others have to choose a card from their hand of red cards. The judge for that game decides which red card best matches the description.
If you want to develop your vocabulary (or your kids’), this could be a fun game to play. There are lots of expansions available, plus a “junior” version with simpler words. (If you’re playing with adults, you might also want to consider Cards Against Humanity, a decidedly not-kid-friendly game that works in a very similar way.)
#6: Letter Tycoon (2+ players)
In this game, you have a hand of 7 cards which you can use in conjunction with the 3 “community cards” to create a valuable word. It’s a more strategic game than some others, with aspects of finance (like patents and royalties) involved too – if you’re a budding tycoon, you might really enjoy it.
Because not all the game strategy depends on simply being good with words, it doesn’t matter if some players have a larger vocabulary than others. It’s suitable for children, too, so you can play it as a family game.
#7: Dabble (2+ players)
Dabble is a family-friendly game where you compete with other players to be the first to create five words (of 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 letters) using your 20 tiles. It’s very simple to get the hang of … but coming up with the words might be more challenging than you expect!
If you enjoy Boggle or Scrabble, you’ll probably have fun with Dabble. It’s a great way to develop both spelling and vocabulary, and to have fun with words.
#8: Upwords (2+ players)
Upwords is like 3D Scrabble: you can stack tiles on top of other tiles to create new words. The board is smaller than a Scrabble board (and doesn’t have double and triple word score squares) so it’s not as complex as it might initially sound.
Like similar games, it’s a great one for building vocabulary and for developing your spelling. It’s suitable for kids, too, so it could be a great game for the whole family.
#9: Tapple (2+ players)
Tapple has a wheel, with most of the letters of the alphabet on it, and lots of different “topic cards” that cover 144 different categories. There are lots of different ways you can play it – the basic rules are that each player has to think of a word that fits the topic within 10 seconds, but that word can’t start with a starting letter that’s been used previously.
While small children might find it a bit too challenging or frustrating, due to the short time limit, this could be a great game for older children looking to extend their vocabulary. All the categories are suitable for kids.
#10: Last Word (2+ players)
In Last Word, players have to come up with answers to “Subject” and “Letter” combinations, racing to get the last word before the buzzer. It works a bit like a combination of “Tapple” and “Pass the Bomb”.
You can easily play it with a large group (there are tokens for up to 8 players, but you could add more without affecting the gameplay). It’s a great way to develop vocabulary and, to some extent, spelling.