Contraction Monsters – A Game for Kids with Dyslexia

A year ago, we learned our youngest daughter has dyslexia.  Along with the diagnosis, we were given a plan.  A good plan.  We have seen tremendous growth and learning in our little girl since the very first time “dyslexia” was uttered in our presence.  She used to struggle with the alphabet.  Now she writes letters to the tooth fairy asking for cash.

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The plan, as good as it is, does have its flaws.  The excellent reading program we use is geared toward middle to upper elementary aged students.  It works for younger kids, but not perfectly.  Since we were blessed to discover our daughter’s learning disability very early, we have made a few personalized adjustments.

What types of adjustments?  Those that help our daughter better absorb the information she is meant to receive.

Our little girl is very visual.  She enjoys pictures, drawings, and screens of any kind.  For her, learning is done by looking.

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In addition, she experiences life by throwing her whole self into it.  School work is no exception.  Math facts are learned while doing jumping jacks.  Handwriting techniques are more fun when we practice making letters with our arms and legs.  Just about everything is committed to memory if we can make it into a game.

A few weeks ago, I was tasked with teaching contractions in our reading program.  The idea of contractions is somewhat difficult, but not horribly challenging, to the average child.  For our daughter, I could have been trying to teach her nuclear physics.  She just did. not. get. it.

Following the very straightforward techniques and script of the reading program, I taught the concept.  Several days in a row.  I explained how two words changed into one.  An apostrophe replaced missing letters.  We went through examples.  We practiced.  And yet, after a couple weeks of effort, we made almost zero progress.

If I asked my daughter what contraction might be formed from the words “can” and “not,” she could maybe answer correctly if she had her cheat sheet in front of her.  By maybe, I mean about thirty percent of the time.  The concept seriously escaped her.  If I made things even more challenging, asking her five minutes later which two words formed the word “can’t,” there was almost no chance she would get it right.

Contractions just did not make sense.  And all of the resources I had available in our arsenal of tricks either relied on screens (which tend to distract, rather than help, our litter learner) or teaching techniques better suited for older learners.

So what did I do?  I made a game.  And Contraction Monsters was born.

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Because I do not know whether or not the specific rules and tricks used by our reading program are copyrighted or not, I will refrain from specifically sharing those here.  Instead, I will say that I made a set of Contraction Monster cards for every contraction I could think of in an afternoon.  I used an entire package of 3 by 5 inch note cards.

First, I wrote the two words that would eventually turn into a contraction on a note card.  I intentionally used a bold, dark blue color to draw attention to the letters.  Blue is also supposedly a color associated with easier reading.

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On the second card, I wrote the two words again, keeping the letters from each word that did not disappear during the contraction on the right and left hand sides of the card.  In the middle of the card, I wrote the letters replaced by the apostrophe.  Around them, I drew the monster.  The letters look like they are inside his stomach, so we say he ate them.  Note that the letters inside the monster are a different color than those on the outside.

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On a third card, I wrote the contraction.  The letters are written in the same blue color as the first cards.

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One set of cards has an added component.  The contraction that changes the words “will not” into “won’t” has rearranging, in addition to the deletion of letters.  In our family, we say the contraction monster ate the “ill” in “will” and the “o” in “not.”  Unfortunately, he did not like the way the “o” tasted when he ate it, so he vomited it back up and stuck it in a different place from where it originally belonged.  The story is gross, but the concept stuck, so I am okay with it.

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The first instance we played the game, it took a bit longer than future times.  We started with a card containing the original two words.  I had my daughter read them.  In this instance, she said “should not.”  Then I told her about the contraction monster.  And how he likes to eat letters out of words.  Because they taste awesome.

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I incorporated the specific spelling rules and teaching techniques from our reading program into the stories I told.  But I added a little excitement.  For instance, I said he ate the “o” in “should not” because it had chocolate syrup on it.  I told her that he vomited the “o” in “will not” because without the chocolate syrup it tasted totally nasty and he just could not stomach it.  My daughter thought that was funny.

After I told the story, I showed her the card of the words with the contraction monster eating the letters.  Then, I produced the contraction card.  All three cards were laid side by side.  It was a visual representation of the words being converted from two to one.  It had a fun story.  And she got to use her whole body to learn.  Her hands flipped the cards, her face and body got animated with the stories, and she leaped around the living room every time she correctly figured out a concept.  It was working.

The next time we played, I let her hold the cards with the original two words.  I asked her to retell the stories and remind me which letters the contraction monster would eat.  I laid down the monster card so she could self-check her work.  Then my daughter named the contraction.  If she was incorrect, we reviewed the story to help her out.  If she was right (and most of the time she was), we got excited and celebrated in a big way.

The game used to take twenty minutes.  Now, it is about five.  Today I decided to change things up a bit and we started going backwards.  I gave her the stack of contraction cards and had her read them out loud to me.  Then she had to say what letters had been eaten.  Finally, the original two words were named.

The first five or six cards were a bit tricky, but once she got the hang of it we moved through pretty quickly.  Of the thirty-five or so contraction monster sets, she probably missed some portion of about ten.  I am guessing that by the end of next week, she will know them all inside out.  And we will be able to retire contraction monster.

The reinforcement has been wonderful for helping the contraction concept stick like glue in my daughter’s brain.  I am happy to report that she now reads (and spells) her contractions well.

What clever trick have you come up with to supplement your child’s school curriculum?  Let me know in an email or comment below!