If the Natter Knitters card game can help to develop "phonemic awareness", and I think it does, then it should also flow on to make a positive contribution to general written language competency.



How The Natter 

Knitters Work

The game is made up of a deck of 42 playing cards.  The cards form a community of characters (or "Nits").  Each card represents both a character and a sound.  The character is actually an embodiment of the sound. This is a useful and fun way to introduce sound units to children.  To view the cards visit the Nit Gallery.

The first sound in the character's name is the same sound that the character makes (or says).  Therefore the character called Bossy makes the sound "b" (not the name of the letter "bee" - but the plosive sound "b" as in "but" without the "ut").  It is easier to make sounds than it is to write them down! 

It is relatively easy to remember what a character looks like and to remember the characters name.  Most children pick this up very quickly and by doing so inadvertently learn, or at least become aware, of the 42 fundamental sounds (or phonemes) in the language.

The game is made up of a few simple rules that encourage the players to construct valid words by arranging these sound cards into sequences. 

For example the word "cat" is made up of three basic sounds.  In the game the construction of the word "cat" equates to the sequencing of three playing cards, the three cards with the characters that make the three sounds.  That means we put "Clever"  (who goes "c", "clever" without the "lever") beside "Angry" (who goes "a", "angry" without the "ngry") beside "Two-Faced"  (who goes "t", "two" without the "wo"! - spot the irregular spelling of the "ew" sound in two).

Even as I write this I know that it will be difficult for many readers to interpret the sounds that I am trying to communicate.  Linguists discovered this problem a long time ago and formulated a special alphabet to represent the basic units of sound in the language.  They called it the International Phonetic Alphabet and you can still see it in action in most dictionaries.  A good thing about the IPA symbols is that they usually represent a single unit of sound with a single symbol.  Because the IPA can help with word pronunciation I have also included these symbols on the playing cards. 

Note that the lack of a one-letter to one-sound relationship in the English alphabet causes many of our spelling problems.  We struggle with 26 letters placed in a variety of arrangements trying to represent 42 sounds!

I have also chosen to include on the cards the spelling patterns that are used most frequently to spell the sounds.

The differences in the way that the same words are pronounced from place to place - often referred to as accents - mean that although the same sounds generally occur within each variety of the spoken English language there is variation in the common spellings across the different dialects. 

This spelling variation is particularly evident in the vowel sounds (generally the group of sounds where the lips do not touch) and has demanded the creation of a number of variations of the game.  Therefore there is currently available an American English version and a New Zealand English version.  At the time of writing an Australian English version is under development and subject to demand other versions will progressively be developed.  As the 42 basic sounds are common to all dialects the significance of the version you use is only apparent when you begin to explore the spelling alternatives for the sounds.

Essentially any version of the game can be played by most English speakers.     

The rules of the game do not place a strong emphasis on a player already being able to spell (although it can help).  The common spellings are included for reference purposes (for example when looking a word up in a dictionary) and more importantly to explicitly express the true logic of the often-obscure alphabet code.  If a player can acquire the ability to recall the common spellings for spoken sounds then they will have acquired the basic knowledge necessary for reading and writing.

Linguists and educators alike use the term "phonemic awareness" to describe the ability to hear and remember the order of the smallest units of sound in the words we use.  Research suggests that this ability is linked to general written language competency and that it maybe fundamental to achieving it.

If The Natter Knitters card game can help to develop "phonemic awareness", and I think is does, then it should also flow on to make a positive contribution to general written language competency.  

I have witnessed the contribution that the game has made to my own family's literacy and I can only hope that it can do the same for others.

James Taylor

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James Taylor.
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Revised: January 3, 2005 .


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