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Eating your words















English is a crazy language.


I like it, but it’s not easy to learn or get right. And getting it right is important. Last year, talking to the blokes in a men’s prison, every one of them admitted they couldn’t read. ‘What choice did I have?’ asked one. ‘You can’t even get a job stacking shelves if you can’t read.’ He’d been told he had a memory problem and couldn’t retain words.

Until we danced them.


Imagine one elderly(ish) woman dancing and singing ‘though’ with a few blokes with home-made tattoos. But it worked. Ten repeats and he had it. Then we went on to other words.


The first step is learning what letters and groups of letters sound like. Once a child works out that c-a-t is pronounced cat, they will find it easy to read the first part of a longer word like cats or catch, especially if they have learnt what ‘ch’ sounds like. They may even be able to read mat and fat too. But most of these are the most common words, like the, said and though – and many don’t follow phonic rules, matching letters to sounds. There are about 200-300 of these hard to decode but commonly used words. This isn’t how all words need to be learned – there are too many to remember and it’s easier to work them out using  phonics.  Phonics is essential, but kids need help with the other words too.

Want to help your kids learn them? Try eating them, too.

Seriously, this is how you eat your words. Young kids learn by tasting the world – that’s why they stuff just about anything in their mouth.


Word toast

Cut morning toast into a word. Let the kids put the butter or jam on them before they eat them.


Pasta words

Choose straight pasta, spaghetti is best as it’s manoeuvrable. Put the sauce on the plate first, then arrange the spag.

Mashed potato words

 These are delicious, mashed potato made into a word on a baking tray then browned and crisped in the oven. They may never want chips again.


Sweet potato words

Rounds of sweet potato cut into a letter shape, then arranged into a word. Bake or microwave or grill.

Cheesy words

Slice cheese thinly and cut out into letters. Serve plain or on a toasted tomato sandwich.

Word of the day pizza

Olives? (if your kids are like mine). Eggplant? Artichoke? Any veg that can be sliced can make a letter, or use a plain pizza base with tomato paste or semi-dried tomatoes to make the word.


Banana words

Thin rounds of banana make a delicious big word. (Dip in lemon juice if you don’t want them to brown).


A word fruit plate

Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cape gooseberries, slices of apple and segments of mandarin.


Eat a word, dance and sing a word

… they all by-pass the verbal, visual coordination problems that can mean that many dyslexics like me just can’t remember because we can’t quite hear or see what’s going on.

When my Dad had his stroke and couldn’t talk, I sang to him instead, the songs he’d taught me as a kid when we sang Gilbert and Sullivan together. ‘I think I’d like some more potatoes,’ Dad sang, to the tune of ‘A wandering minstrel, I’ and I sang back. Word recognition damage bypassed.


And when you write, don’t stick to sitting down with pen and paper. Take a squirt bottle and make it write enormous words on an outside wall or paving; draw it in the sand as large as you can make, while you sing it too. Turn the word into a sandcastle, a truly giant one.


Words can seem too hard. But when you attack them sneakily and with laughter, you really can eat your words. And they’ll stay with you forever.

Which words

Go for common words – A, an, and, the, then, them, than, they be, by, buy, but, yes, is, no, not, never, ever, can, can’t, will, won’t, was, up, down, said, say, you, me, us, we, him, her, his, hers, theirs, my, mine, yours, here, there, where, did, do, does, put, place, on, off, little, big, go, goes, went, now, then, mother, father, boy, girl, child, children, baby, house.


Now add colours, numbers, months, weekdays and favourite foods.


Then add words that cant be sounded out phonetically: word, though, through, wash, bath, tomorrow, belong, threw, two, to, too, orange, exceptional, excellent… as you talk each day choose a word that may be hard to read. Kids also really work at working out a word if it is fascinating: dinosaur, stegosaurus, brontosaurus, crocodile, fairy, doll, bicycle, watermelon – they are all phonically difficult words, but ones that kids want to read.


Choose one word a day, or even one word a week. That’s still fifty-two words a year and in four to six years they will have the ones they need.




Reading a kid’s favourite book over and over is one of the best ways to learn difficult words too. By the time you have read it fifty times they’ll know it, even if you are thoroughly sick of it.

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