Another Word Game (Activity 20)

I hope you’re enjoying playing Just a Minute (Post Number 12). Today’s game requires a little more preparation but the preparation itself is easier. You need teams of two; if there are only two of you, you can play together, but it’s more competitive if two-person teams compete against one another.

This is a communication game: it tests how well the speaker can describe the word on the card, and how well the listener can pick up the clues that the speaker is giving to him or her.

The more people you have playing, or the longer you want to play, the more words you have to have prepared in advance.

Get some paper and cut it into strips (15cm by 6cm is a minimum size) or if you have access to card, use or make cards of about that size.

Take a marker pen (a pen with a very thick nib) and write clearly on only one side of each strip or card.

Write one word on each. The words can be as easy or as difficult as you choose – but as with subjects for Just a Minute, remember that you may well have to guess the difficult ones yourself!

If you can manage 100 different words as a minimum, that allows you a good stretch of playing time (see below for ideas to get you started). If you can manage 200 or 300, all the better! And if you want to return to playing this game, of course people will forget the words they saw the first time, and/or there will be new players, so your pack of cards or strips can be used many times over.

The rules are simple. The speaker sits with the cards in front of him, with a shield between the cards and the listener – perhaps a cereal box, or a pile of books. A timer is set for one minute (or two minutes, if you prefer). If you have a third person as a time-keeper, that can help.

The speaker has to help the listener to guess correctly the exact word on the card in front of her/him, without using the word, or part of it, directly him/herself.

For example, if the word is HAPPY, the speaker mustn’t use (or spell out) HAPPY, HAPPINESS, HAPPIER, UNHAPPY and so on.

The speaker starts with the word on the top card/strip on his/her pile and is not allowed to move on to the next one until the word has been correctly guessed by the listener.

When a word has been correctly guessed, its card is put on a separate pile. When the time is up, the number of correctly guessed words is noted as that person or team’s score. If there are only two of you, whether you count the score as the speaker’s or the listener’s is up to you! That’s the important thing about communication: it requires both a good speaker and a good listener to be successful!

In the next round, the listener and the speaker change roles.

Don’t just put the used word-cards back to the bottom of the pile. Keep them until the game is over and then shuffle them around for the next time.

Suggestions for words to get you started: cat; dog; house; sky; clouds; planet; universe; stars; food; water; clothes; vegetables; lemon; purple; uncomfortable; wet; newspaper; sadly; song; theatre; poem; bowl; tennis; partnership; business; will; crash; books; music; terminus; forcefully; weak; curtain; rushing; trip; velvet; muddy; deep; theoretical; triangle; substance; incredible; diver; oxygen; trumpet; shellfish; quilt; see-saw; carpet; shoes (50).

Stealthily; fog; needle; jumping; twinkle; loud; forgetful; waterfall; puddle; tiger; horrible; dizzy; opera; baseball; over; virus; thermometer; electricity; waist; slippers; category; final; opening; across; island; remarkably; volunteer; pencil; yellow; flipper; magazine; tentacle; hypothetical; professor; writing; kick; dry; fold; pathway; mist; laptop; sunshine; dirty; propose; upset; quotation; keypad; remote; chair; shadow; porcupine (another 50).

Eye tolled ewe sew – Homophones (Post 19)

Homophones are words which sound the same but are spelled differently – I/eye; told/tolled; you/ewe; so/sew. There are many in the English language.

Eye-rhyme is when this happens the other way around: words look as if they should rhyme, but they’re actually pronounced differently – rough, through, although, cough. The language is well supplied with traps for the unwary!

If you were brought up from your childhood to speak (and read and write) English, you are fortunate: you will have learned to avoid most of these traps almost as a matter of course.

Even native speakers can struggle at times, though. See how you get on with this ditty (a ditty is a short poem that rhymes very obviously and has a very distinct and simple rhythm), reading it for understanding. Read it aloud (it’s allowed …) if you want to make that easier!

Spell Chequer

Eye have a grate spell chequer:

It came with my pea sea.

It plainly marques four my revue

Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

Eye strike a quay and type a word,

And weight for it to say

Weather eye am wrong oar write;

It shows me strait a-weigh.

Whenever a mist ache is maid,

It nose bee four two long;

And eye can put the error rite.

It’s rare lea ever wrong.

Eye ran this poem threw it and

I’m shore your pleased two no

It’s letter perfect awl the weigh:

My chequer tolled me sew.

Puns (Activity 18)

Ben Battle was a soldier bold,

And used to war’s alarms:

A cannon-ball took off his legs,

So he laid down his arms!

This is the first verse of a rather silly poem which has a pun in almost every stanza (stanza is another word for verse, although stanzas don’t have to rhyme, whereas verse usually does).

Puns are plays on words. They usually depend on words having more than one meaning, or words which sound alike.

In the verse above, the pun is on arms. Arms – like legs – are limbs on the human body; but arms can also refer to weapons, such as the rifles that infantry soldiers use. (Infantry soldiers fought on foot originally, rather than on horseback; you’ll need to know this to appreciate another pun, later!)

A punster – a rather derogatory [insulting] term for someone who makes puns – might describe the unfortunate Ben Battle as ‘armless – making a pun on the fact that he has laid down his weapons and so can’t do any damage: he’s [h]armless. This is the second type of pun.

Puns can be “awful” – very contrived and possibly in bad taste! Most people appreciate them, however, even if they don’t want to hear them used too often.

The poem I’ve quoted, which is called Faithless Nelly Gray and was written by Thomas Hood, goes on to tell how army surgeons made Ben some wooden legs. When he goes to see his girlfriend, however, she dislikes them and says that he’s not the man she fell in love with – a handsome soldier in his (red) uniform. Ben suspects, though, that she has actually taken up with another man while he has been away in the wars. Distraught with grief, he takes his own life – but even this sad ending does not stop Thomas Hood filling his verses with puns!

I won’t reproduce the whole poem here, but see if you can explain the puns in each of the following stanzas:

Verse 2:

Now as they bore him off the field,

Said he, “Let others shoot,

For here I leave my second leg,

And the Forty-second Foot!”

Verse 3:

The army-surgeons made him limbs:

Said he, “They’re only pegs:

But there’s as wooden members quite,

As represent my legs!”

Verse 6:

“O Nelly Gray! O Nelly Gray!

Is this your love so warm?

The love that loves a scarlet coat

Should be more uniform!”

Verse 11:

“O false and fickle Nelly Gray!

I know why you refuse:

Though I’ve no feet – some other man

Is standing in my shoes!

Rhythm (R-h-y [clap] t-h-m [clap]; R-h-y [clap] t-h-m [clap]) (Post 17)

Chants depend on rhythm for their effectiveness: think of Queen’s “We will, we will ROCK YOU [stamp] [stamp, stamp clap]”.

Protesters on a march or outside a key building will often start chanting, [Question] “What do we want?” [Answer] “Equal pay” (or whatever it is they want) [Question] “When do we want it?” [Answer] “NOW!”

RHYTHM is one of the most powerful devices we can use, to get our listeners’ attention.

REPETITION is also effective – as both Queen and the protesters described above realised.

Rhythm is a pattern of differently stressed sounds – generally either STRONG stresses or WEAK stresses. Let’s use DAH for a strong stress, and DIT for a weak one. So a toddler having a tantrum might say, “I want a toy”; what (s)he will probably do is stress the TOY word, and the pattern would be DIT DIT DIT DAH – “I want a TOY“.

If another child had a toy and ours wanted one as well, (s)he might say, “I want a toy” in the pattern DAH DIT DIT DIT – “I want a toy”.

If our toddler’s parent tried to reason with him/her, saying, “You don’t need a toy” the toddler might say, “I want a toy” with the stress on want – DIT DAH DIT DIT – “I WANT a toy”.

Not only does rhythm attract our listeners’ attention, it also helps to convey more exactly what we mean – as in the three different versions of “I want a toy” above.

Whenever we speak we use rhythm – the stress pattern of how I would say what I’ve just written is DIT-DAH-DIT DIT DAH DIT DIT DAH-DIT : Whenever we speak we use rhythm.

Each syllable of each word gets either a strong or a weak stress. “Whenever” has three syllables – when, ev and er. We (strong) stress the second syllable, and leave the other two with weak stresses: whenEVer.

Many words in English are only one syllable long (They’re called monosyllables). The stress we put on them depends on what we want to say – see the “toy” example above.

Rappers of course make the most extensive use of rhythm. Much of Shakespeare’s writing can be used as rap, because he too was very aware of the rhythm of how people speak. Here’s the opening of his play The Merchant of Venice, where Antonio is describing his depression to his friends:

In sooth, I know not why I am so sad:
It wearies me; you say it wearies you;
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff ’tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn;
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,
That I have much ado to know myself.

If you enjoy rapping, try saying these lines as rap.

Most of Shakespeare’s verse – but by no means all of it – falls into a pattern of DIT DAH DIT DAH DIT DAH DIT DAH DIT DAH – five pairs of syllables in each line, each pair a weak stress followed by a strong one. Some people have said that that is the pattern closest to the everyday speech of English-speaking people. (It’s known as iambic pentametre – just in case you’re interested.)

Try this: write down some examples of things you might say in everyday situations. (Write quite largely, as you need to be able to mark each syllable.) Now listen to yourself saying these things as you normally would, and put a mark above each syllable to show whether it’s WEAK or STRONG.

Mark weak syllables with a little dip-mark: Ῠ or Ῐ

Mark strong syllable with a little straight line: Ῡ or Ῑ

You’re well on your way to analysing poetry now – but I hope you’ll also have more fun when listening to the way you, and others, speak.

Rhyme (sounds like “rime”) (Post 16)

Our ears pick up rhyme, and so words that rhyme are more likely to attract our attention.

Babies and young children notice and enjoy rhyme from a very early stage of life. Along with rhythm – which we’ll tackle in a future post – rhyme is one of the most powerful ways of getting words noticed.

Rhyme can be irritating if you didn’t intend to use rhyming words – so it is useful to be able to avoid it, just as it is useful to be able to employ it when you choose to do so.

Once our ears and brain have picked up on a rhyming sound – EAR and HEAR, for example – they will be on the alert for more of these (DEAR, CHEER, FEAR, APPEAR …); so avoid over-use of rhyme if you want to keep your listener focused on the meaning of your words, rather than the sound of them.

That said, a “snappy” quotation using rhyme can effectively stay in a listener’s head for a lifetime. “A stitch in time saves nine” used to be a very popular proverb, meaning, “Put something right when you first notice it, or it’ll be a much bigger job later.” (TIME and NINE don’t rhyme exactly, but a close rhyme is often acceptable to our brains.)

“For as there is a certain time to rage / So is there time such madness to assuage” [assuage means calm down] is a piece of advice that was written about 500 years ago (by Sir Thomas Wyatt, who lived in the time of King Henry the Eighth) – and we can still understand and act by it today.

Thomas Wyatt wrote the words to songs (lyrics) amongst other things, and you’ll find that rhyme is still important in lyrics nowadays.

Can you make up rhymes? Can you spot them in time to avoid using them unintentionally in your speaking or writing?

How many words can you find to rhyme with each of the following?

HEAR; POUND; DOG; FOOD; CATCH; MOON; YOU; ME; LOVE; TOUGH.

Make up and write down some different rhymes of your own. You can go on with this for as long as you like; you might want to think of words with more than one syllable, as well – for example, FOLLOW; DAUGHTER; SEPARATE. Often these words will be rhymed only on the last syllable, for example SEPARATE with FORTUNATE; but two-syllable words can be rhymed completely to very good effect – for example FOLLOW/HOLLOW/SWALLOW/WALLOW and used for funny poems such as Limericks. (OK, we’ll look at limericks in more detail in a future post.)

Apparently there is no rhyme in the English language for the word ORANGE – so if you can find one, you might become famous!

Poems (No, wait – come back!) (Suggestion 15)

Some people really would rather run a mile than have to study poetry. It can have a reputation as being boring, difficult and a waste of time. Perhaps it’s a pity that many readers first study poetry when they are at school; in your school years there are so many interesting (and some not-so-interesting) things in your life that you either want to do, or have to do, that it’s maybe not the best time to introduce an experience which – yes – may take hard work at times, but which can have immense rewards.

For some people, poetry is read or spoken to them when they are very young, and that can give them a “head start” when it comes to realising that not all poetry has to be serious, or sad, or hard work. Nursery rhymes are a great way to start really young people on poetry: most babies and youngsters respond to rhythm, rhyme and other people’s voices. If that happened to you, you are fortunate.

Like several things we are made to learn at school, poetry is put in front of us as pupils because even if we don’t like (or see the point of) it now, we might very well need it in our lives beyond school. If we can be taught not to run away from poetry, it will be easier for us to turn to it again in future at particularly sad or happy times in our lives – or just for fun, or entertainment, or to find out more about how people lived and thought and felt in past times.

If the idea of someone NEEDING poetry makes you snort in disbelief, then I think you have been pretty lucky in not yet experiencing times in which you feel very much alone. One of the great comforts of some poems is that they allow us to realise that other people have experienced the same troubles (and joys) as we have done.

What is poetry?

There are many answers to that question, but I invite you to think about poems as pieces of work in which words are used for more than just their surface meaning. Someone writing a poem may well – probably does – put a great deal of work into choosing words that will have effects on the reader, not just convey information to him or her.

Imagine the picture that is created in your mind, for example, by this description (a “dinghy” is a rowing boat):

The dinghy across the bay

Puts out two hands and swims

An elegant backstroke over

A depth full of images1

A poem, then, is an experience where the reader is expected to work harder than usual in responding to the words written down (or spoken). In that sense, yes, poetry can be hard work; but like most things in life, the more effort you put into it, the more you’re likely to get out of it.

And in case that sounds just horribly “preachy”, let’s finish today’s post with encouraging words from a poet whose work can be funny and straightforward, and no less important for that. Firstly, Wendy Cope comments on the view that some poems are for adults and others are for children: “There is no such thing as a poem that is only suitable for children. If it’s bad, it is unsuitable for everybody. If it’s good, there is no age limit.”

Reflecting on her own work in particular, she writes: “I do believe that humour and powerful emotion can exist in the same poem. And that a funny poem can be saying something important. … I think that humour often arises out of misery and despair. Sometimes life seems so terrible that all you can do is laugh at it.” Her best-known poem, probably, is called Bloody Men. I’ll leave you to look that one up on the internet yourself, if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, here are two light-hearted (but thought-provoking!) and short verses by Wendy Cope.

Limerick

A talented young chimpanzee

Was keen to appear on TV.

He wrote to Brooke Bond

But they didn’t respond

So he had to become an MP.

Valentine

My heart has made its mind up

And I’m afraid it’s you.

Whatever you’ve got lined up,

My heart has made its mind up

And if you can’t be signed up

This year, next year will do.

My heart has made its mind up

And I’m afraid it’s you.2

1 Extract from No End, No Beginning by Norman MacCaig

2 Both from Two Cures for Love by Wendy Cope (Faber and Faber, 2008)

Be careful what you say (Thought 14)

This is a reflection rather than a suggested activity – but it might affect your behaviour; the choice is, of course, yours.

To be known as “a woman of her word” or “a man of his word” is one of the greatest compliments you can ever be paid. It means that you “deliver on” what you say you’ll do.

If you “keep your word” – that is, do what you say you’ll do – then people will come to trust you; and being trusted – and trustworthy – is both a compliment and an asset to you.

Trust, however, takes a while to build up: you might have to prove on several occasions that you can, indeed, be trusted, before another person will take that for granted.

Trust is also very easily broken – and it is possible that you may never be able to rebuild it fully. It only takes one broken promise for the person to whom you made the promise to feel that he or she can never truly trust you again.

You may have heard the expression “white lies”. It means things that are untrue, but either unimportant, or a way of explaining something where the truth would do more harm than good. The Tooth Fairy might be an example of the first kind of white lie; saying that you like a present that a relative has given you when you don’t actually like it at all might be an example of the second kind of white lie.

Actually, I don’t believe that white lies are a good idea, or harmless. You may of course disagree. I think it’s better either not to make up untrue explanations – in the first example – or to find something different to say that is true, in the second (perhaps, “That is a really generous and thoughtful present! Thank you VERY much.”).

OK – enough of the “heavy stuff”.

Why does it matter that you keep your word? It matters because being trusted is the way that most of the important relationships in our world are built up. Personal relationships are an obvious example, but business and workplace relationships also work best when built on trust.

So does it really matter, in these bigger, more important settings, if you say, “I’ll get us something for lunch when I’m out this morning” and then don’t bring anything back? Surely that’s trivial – ? Or say you’ll empty the dishwasher, or put the clean washing up to dry, and then “forget” to do it – ? I think it does matter – because if you can’t be trusted with the small things, why should anyone believe you can be trusted with the bigger things? Are you a person who is true to his/her word, or not? Best to be able to answer that “Yes” or “No” rather than have to settle for “It depends …” – which isn’t really much use to anyone.

Think before you speak. If you can’t be sure that you’ll do what you say, then be honest: “I’ll try to get that done, but I might have to put it off until tomorrow or the next day.” Or “I’m sorry, but I’d rather not do that.” People will admire you far more for being honest than if you’d said what you thought they wanted to hear, and then failed to deliver on it.

You don’t have to be hurtful, however, to be honest. Sometimes it’s better to say nothing, or to say something different, rather than tell the truth and hurt another person’s feelings. If you haven’t already heard it, you soon will hear people referring to the classic excuse, “Sorry, I have to wash my hair this evening” – used when someone doesn’t want to go out on a date. It’s so well known now that it probably isn’t used any more in reality – unless the speaker wants to say it as a code for, “I don’t want to go out with you!”

Better not use that one, then – but there is no reason to be brutal and say, for instance, “I really don’t like you and I wish you’d stop asking me out”. How about, “I don’t see this friendship going anywhere, and I appreciate your asking me out, but I’m going to say no. Thanks anyway” – ?

I’m writing this from experience, as you can maybe tell. When I was quite young, my mother – who had brought me up always to tell the truth – was appalled when I told my grandmother that I didn’t actually like the present she’d bought for me for my birthday. Well – she had asked me what I thought of it! My mother told me later that day to go back to my grandmother and apologise, and tell her that I did like it after all. I still haven’t really got my head around that one – which is why I developed the belief that if you can’t tell the truth without hurting someone, you should tell a different truth instead, if that’s possible. Even although I was very young, I could have said to my grandmother, “Thank you! That’s really kind of you. I love you.”

How to Write a Story (Suggestion 13)

Of course there are some of you who don’t need to read this! Many people love writing stories and find that they can do so without any help from others. If you are one of those, I hope that you are enjoying having the time to write more, while we are living in Covid19 “lockdown” conditions.

Other writers just need a stimulus – an idea to start them off – and then they’re happy to get down to the task of creating a story based on it or in some way related to it. If you’re one of those writers, here are some ideas:

“Long ago, it must be. I have a photograph … .”

Jennifer.

The end of the road.

The argument.

My first love.

May Day.

Architecture is frozen music.

Those who do not remember their history are condemned to re-live it.

There is nothing new under the sun.

“This is the dawning of the Age … .”

If however you are someone who finds writing a story quite difficult, here is a suggested way of doing so.

Make some notes in answer to the following questions; make the answers up with the thought in your head that these are going to be the ingredients of a story you can write.

WHO is going to be in your story? Don’t have too many characters, but give at least five details about each one, e.g. name (if you want him/her to have a name); occupation (job); physical characteristics (such as hair colour, height, gender); age-group; the mood (s)he is in at the start of the story.

WHERE is the story going to take place? Give as much detail as you want.

WHEN is this happening? Most stories are written in the past tense – that is, as if they have already happened. This is probably the easiest way to tell a story, even if it is actually set in the future or another imaginary time. For example, a science fiction story set in the future might begin, “She got off the space shuttle around 6 pm as usual, but it was only when the animal crossed the road in front of Louisa that her day became unusual.”

WHAT is going to happen in your story? Give an outline of the plot/story-line/events. This can be the most difficult part for writers who find story-telling tricky. Some writers don’t map out their plots in advance, but just start writing and see what happens!

WHY have these events taken place? Often this is the climax – the most exciting – part of the story and for the reader the part that (s)he’s been waiting for. For that reason – the build-up of suspense, which keeps people reading – the climax of the story is very often at the end. Murder mysteries are the best example of this.

So – now you have an outline STRUCTURE of your story. It can be true, of course – based on something that’s actually happened, perhaps to you or in your family – or completely made up, or a mixture of both.

Good luck! If you really want to write a story – or if you really have to, for school, for example – keep trying. Don’t give up. Like everything, writing a story becomes easier with practice.

“Just a Minute” (Post 12)

This game, which has been popular for more than 50 years, will test your ability to talk fluently and imaginatively. The more you play it, the better you’ll get.

Although you can practise it on your own, Just a Minute is best when played with at least three people – two competitors and a judge/timekeeper.

The aim of each round is for the competitor to talk about the subject (s)he is given, for 60 seconds, without hesitation, deviation or repetition. (More on each of these, below.) The other competitor(s) should challenge the speaker when they think they detect hesitation, or deviation, or repetition.

When a challenge is made, the timer is stopped. If the judge allows the challenge (thinks it is correct), the timer is started again and the person who made the challenge gets to speak on the same subject for the rest of the minute. Of course (s)he is open to the same procedure if the others think they have heard repetition, deviation or hesitation.

Points. Anyone who makes a correct challenge is awarded one point. If a speaker is wrongly challenged (in the opinion of the judge), (s)he gets to keep talking on the subject and is awarded a point. Whoever is speaking when the 60 seconds is up (and the timekeeper should blow a whistle, or say “Stop”, at that point) also gets a point.

Whenever you decide to stop playing, the person with the most points is the winner! You might want to ask the judge/timekeeper to keep a note of each player’s points, too. Speakers need to focus all their attention on speaking about their subject without repetition, hesitation or deviation.

Repetition: basically, this means using the exact same word more than once in your 60 seconds. Little, often-used words such as “and”, “a”, “the”, “I” and so on are usually allowed; but if someone wanted to use up time by listing lots of things with “and” in between each one, that would probably be ruled as unacceptable repetition. Using a word once in the singular – e.g. “house” – and then once in the plural – “houses” – is not repetition, and often catches challengers out. (Remember you get an extra point if you are the speaker and are challenged incorrectly!)

Hesitation: this one is quite straightforward. You aren’t allowed to pause for any significant length of time during your 60 seconds, nor are you allowed to use “fillers” such as “um”, “err”, “hmm” or to garble your words (that is, getting tongue-tied and coming out with nonsense word such as “sarple” for “sample” or “prossibly”, a cross between “possibly” and “probably”). This rule doesn’t mean that you have to run all your sentences together and speak until you run out of breath; it just means that you have to speak at a reasonably normal pace and not allow anyone to detect pauses or hesitations.

Deviation: this means straying from the subject you’ve been given. You must stick to the subject on the card (see below for subjects on cards), but what you say about it is entirely up to you. You can be as widely imaginative as you like; you can make things up if they are believable (If they’re not believable you might be challenged for “deviation from the truth”!).

Subjects: although these can be absolutely anything, it is best to start with straightforward subjects, especially when you are practising. To get into the way of the game, choose a subject that you know quite a lot about; that’ll give you confidence as you work up towards talking on a subject given to you by someone else. (You could record yourself, for practice, and then spot your own hesitations, deviations and repetitions when you listen back to the recording.)

Write each subject on a separated piece of card or paper, then give them to the judge/timekeeper who will read out one subject for each speaker at the beginning of his or her round. The judge can make up the subjects him/herself, or you can all write down subjects and hand them to him/her. Subjects can be simple, such as “What I did yesterday” or “My favourite meal” or “Music”; more complicated, such as “How to win an argument” or “What not to do on holiday” or “Money”; or rather abstract, such as popular sayings: “A stitch in time saves nine” or “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” or “Well I never”.

********************************TIPS***********************************

If you have enough people to have a judge, try to choose someone whose judgment you all respect!

If you write down difficult subjects, be prepared to be asked to speak on them yourself!

Challenging someone just before the 60 seconds is up (if you can sense when that is) can be particularly effective, as you’ll get a point if your challenge is correct, and only have to speak for a few seconds on the subject before getting another point for speaking as the whistle blows for “time’s up!”

Don’t speak too quickly – that is, gabble – although if you’re nervous that’s likely to happen. The faster you speak, the more you’ll have to think of to say! Just speak in a reasonable, even rather thoughtful, way; it will take longer and also give you more time to think of what to say next.

If this really takes off in your home, perhaps you could start a family league, with a prize for the overall winner at the end of each week!

The JOY of Reading (Post No.11)

As I’ve written before, there are different types of reading: we read differently depending on WHY we’re doing it. Today, however, I want us to focus on reading for sheer PLEASURE!

For some of you, that may be a “given” – that is, you already know what a joy reading can be.

For others of you, you may be thinking, “Yeah, right. That’s not going to happen.”

I’d ask you to try your best to get to a stage where reading is not an effort for you. It can be a great pleasure as you lose yourself in fiction, fantasy or real-life stories – especially at this time when we are all having to stay indoors and away from other people a lot more than we are used to doing.

So – two aspects to today’s post: ONE – WHAT you might read; TWO – HOW you might come to read easily.

ONE – WHAT might I read now? If you know what sort of book you like, this is a good time to get hold of more of the same type and to enjoy them.

If you want to experiment with books that are different from the ones you’ve already read, this is a good time to do that as well! We almost all have plenty of time on our hands at the moment.

If you’re lucky enough to be able to afford to buy books online, there are many places where you can do this – Amazon, of course; also Waterstones and Blackwells bookshops, and possibly an independent bookseller closer to your home. Look at the “blurb” – what’s written about the book – before you add it to your list, and also read the reviews; if you’re spending money, you want to be fairly sure that you’re spending it on something you’re going to like. Don’t feel pressured into buying something that’s won prizes or had a lot of publicity; buy what appeals to you, and perhaps books that are recommended by people you know, who like the same sort of thing that you do. Feel free to type in lots of different categories in the Search bar; this is also a good time for online browsing, and you might come across interesting-sounding books that would otherwise have escaped your notice.

If you can’t or would rather not buy books online, there are many which can be downloaded for free. Just searching for “free books online” I came across a number of sites which you might want to browse. https://bookriot.com for example lists 15 sources of free online books, with the 15 categories differing widely. I thought that https://manybooks.com also looked promising, again because you can browse by category and also because it didn’t seem overwhelmingly American in tone.

I’m not recommending anything – site or book – in particular at this point, because I know from experience how awkward and boring it can be if you’re recommended something and end up not liking it. Feel free to make your own choices!

What I would say, though, is that unless you really LIKE reading on a screen, you’ll probably get more enjoyment from a hard-copy – i.e. paper – book, and find it easier to follow and to read swiftly. So for that reason, another GREAT source of new reading material is ANYTHING THAT YOU AND YOUR FAMILY ALREADY HAVE IN THE HOUSE. This may not be the time to be choosy: read as much as you can, and see what you like and don’t like.

TWO – HOW can I get to the stage where I read almost without realising I’m doing it?

If you’ve been doing what I recommended in Post No. 5 – Read, read, read! – you’ll be well on the way to absorbing written words rather than having to make an effort to read them. Well done: keep up the good work!

If you haven’t started that, give it a try – and don’t be put off by difficulties. Anything worth doing takes effort and practice. Stick at it. Ask for help with words you don’t recognise. Use a dictionary if you need help which you can’t – or don’t want to – get from another person. This site tells you how to pronounce words, too: http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com. Just be sure to choose the English (BrE) version of the word rather than the American (NAmE) one (unless you want to sound American, of course – which is fine!).

Choose a story you think you’d like to read. A short piece is better to start with – maybe something from a magazine.

Do you find it easier to read aloud to yourself rather than “in your head”? That’s fine to start off with. Read to yourself until you’re happy with the speed that you’re achieving. If there are too many puzzling words, though, try to find something easier to read. At this stage you want to grow in confidence and fluency, not to struggle unnecessarily.

Once you’ve got up to a speed you’re happy with, try your next (part of the) story just moving your lips to shape the words but not making any sound. Again, keep going until you’re happy with the speed and understanding of your reading. Be aware that this may take days or weeks: don’t over-do it each day, just make sure that you practise each day and try to improve each time.

Finally (for now), practise reading without moving your lips. Make your eyes move from word to word at a steady pace, and pause a little at commas, and a little longer at full stops. These are the places from which to go back, if you find you haven’t understood something.

Now you’re well on your way to reading for pleasure. Well done! Keep practising!