Video: A Twist on I Spy to Teach Vocabulary

A Twist on Ispy to Build Vocabulary

I Spy is a great game that interests children and encourages them to dig into their vocabulary vault to find words to play the game. My helper, Rebecca and my son, Lucas, play a twist on the traditional game of I Spy to encourage vocabulary exploration in Mandarin. You can play the same game in your second language of choice and watch your child relish in using the words he has learned so far.

The Game:

I spy is a great game to encourage vocabulary building in a second language while children have fun at the same time. With my younger daughter, my helper plays the traditional game of “i spy” with books to teach her words and have her gain confidence in using the vocabulary that she already knows in Mandarin Chinese (i.e. I spy a cat). However, for my son, we add a twist to the game as an additional challenge.

For him, I spy is a descriptive game where he needs to describe the item that he spies in a book in Mandarin Chinese until my helper figures out which object it is that he has in mind. If he does not know a vocabulary word in Mandarin Chinese for something that he wants to describe, he needs to find other words that he does know to get his explanation complete. Then, my helper takes a turn detailing the object that she spies on the page in Mandarin Chinese. They continue to play until it is time to go to bed! 

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: My child does not have a strong vocabulary yet in our second language — how can I play this game?

Encourage your child to use the vocabulary that he does have. For example, if he is trying to describe a particular cupcake on the page, have your child describe it using vocabulary that he might have learned already – the color, the size, and simple descriptions such as the word “good” or “yummy” in that second language. After you figure out which object it is that he is talking about, you can give him the vocabulary that he was searching for — perhaps “sweet” or “something you buy in a bakery”. Soon, your child will have expanded his vocabulary to include full sentences!


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Q: What books can I use to play this game — ones that have a lot of details on every page and are fun for kids to explore?

We just love the Usborne 1001 Things To Spot Books to teach vocabulary and numbers in a second language — or build your child’s English vocabulary! While the books are written in English, they provide a wonderful opportunity to teach numbers (1-10) and vocabulary with your child.

What makes the Usborne 1001 Things To Spot books unique?

  1. Quality: We just love this company. These books are just beautiful — first-rate quality! 
  2. Rare:  You can’t get these books everywhere. They are hard to find — not on amazon or in many traditional bookstores! 

Tell me more about the books:

  • Detailed Scenes: Each page of this book shows an illustrated scene on the center of the page with a lot of activity (think Where’s Waldo but a little less intense!). On the right and left sides of the pages are ten things that little readers need to find hidden within the picture. For example, readers may need to find five of one object, seven of another object and 10 of another.  
  • Humorous: Many of the characters shown on the pages are doing funny things that amuse children (and adults!) 
  • Challenging: it is a fun game to find all of the items hidden in the image. Young readers delight in working together with parents to find all of the objects and older children enjoy the thrill of finding all of the objects listed themselves. 
  • Extensive:  the collection is comprehensive so there will be no problems for parents to find a topic of interest for every reader (fairies, pirate, farm, sea, wizards, etc.) Click on the images below for more detailed information about each book

How do we use the Usborne 1001 Things to Spot Books to teach a second language? 
Check out the entire collection of 1001 Things To Spot 

  1. Numbers: On each page, little learners need to find 10 items hidden within the illustration on the page. For example, in the 1001 Fairy Things to Spot, your child may be asked to spot 9 balloons, 5 cupcakes, 3 dancing fairies, etc. The search for each of these items while counting in your second language is a fun game! Your children will just love finding all of the objects hidden in the scenes shown and won’t realize that they are reinforcing numbers. 
  2. Vocabulary: play a traditional game of ispy where you and your child need to spot all of the objects listed on the right and left sides of the pages. The objects can be described by color (pink cookies) or pattern (striped socks) or with actions (flying fairies) — as a result there are many opportunities to expand your child’s vocabulary in English or in the second language. If you don’t speak your second language choice well, just stick with the basics (cookies, socks, girl). 
  3. Expository Thinking: play the twist on I spy  that I have detailed above, where you spy a certain character or object on the page and you describe it until your child figures out which thing you have spotted. Then your child takes a turn. This activity is great to do in both your native language and the second language as it forces your child to think about all sorts of descriptive words to help you figure out which character or object is in mind. 

Are there other books you would recommend?

There are some wonderful books available with a ton of vocabulary and interesting scenes to keep your child interested on one page for a long time. 

See how we play the game:

Check out the following two vidoes to see how my child plays this game with our wonderful helper, Rebecca. The following videos capture an unrehearsed and unscripted conversation in Mandarin between my child and our helper.

This video shows how we play the game using the book, 1001 Things To Spot Fairyland 


This video illustrates how we play the game using the book, 1001 Things to Spot Pirate




Filed Under: Babysitter Help, Games to Learn a Second Language, Posts with Videos, Product Reviews

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