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TRUGS: Teaching Reading Using games Review

TRUGS, or ”Teaching Reading Using Games” is a Synthetic phonics system I stumbled on a few years ago at a Education Expo in Hong Kong. I attend these things with a ”look what you could have won’‘ mindset as they are usually showing off equipment or resources that my school, at the time couldn’t, wouldn’t and probably shouldn’t invest in. Things like holographic projects, VR suites for whole classes, 8k interactive white boards, that supply coffee, that type of thing. It is like a resources utopia for teachers.

What are Trugs Cards?

TRUGS is a holistic reading resource aimed at using play and extrinsic motivation to encourage students to construct, read, and practice English phonetic words. It utilizes the familiarity of children’s card games to introduce progressively more difficult language in a play, rather than formal, setting.

When i was wandering the stalls stopping now and then to give false hope to the sales people. Am I the only one who thinks that Education suppliers, not all of course, remind them of big pharmaceuticals, inflated prices, not that much evidence it works?

It was suggested by a longer in the tooth colleague of mine that some things are just more expensive when you add certain words to them.

  • White shoes 30 dollars – wedding shoes 300 dollars.
  • Cup of coffee 2 dollars – Starbucks 5 dollars
  • book 5 dollars – school book 20 dollars.

Maybe, Maybe not. Anyway, while walking along i stopped at one of the stalls I might be able to afford something from and there on the tables were a few sets of red and green boxes filled with cards. There wasn’t much to describe them but the box helpfully described what is was they aimed to do. They aimed to teach reading using games, and in a does what it says on the tin marketing move they had named it TRUGS.

What are Trugs cards designed for?

Their website goes into ALOT more details than i will here, but the system was designed by Joanna Jeffery who is a teacher with over 35 years of experience and a specialism in Dyslexia. She had discovered that children want to enjoy their learning. This of course will not come to a shock to ANY teacher out there, however she did something a lot of us should do more of.

She did something about it. She, and i imagine some others, designed a set of games that help students learn phonics and reading skills systematically.

4 games to be precise, or at least 4 when i was standing at that stall in Hong Kong. There have been more added now of course. These games, of which full disclosure i only actually play two of them in my classrooms, follow a distinct flow, from simple CVC words in level 1, and CCVC in level 2, all the way up to three syllable words in Level 10.

There are 5 levels in a box, so that’s both the red set ( box 1) and the green set ( box2), even within each of the four games in each level there is a progression in difficulty so that students although playing the same game, are playing slightly more challenging versions of it as they progress their learning.

I thought this sounded good, one of the games is basically Uno, a little more simplified to allow younger learners get involved, and in my classroom there were plenty of well worn Uno sets at the back. These would be without fail whipped out at Recess and lunch by students to play on their own.

Why Use Trugs in a Classroom?

Now i love the idea of self directed learning, and not as an excuse to get my feet up or the red pen out, but as a chance for weaker students to practice and learn without the fear of the teacher as nice as their teacher may be. So i bought two sets, i insisted i buy them directly from them there as otherwise it could take weeks to arrive in school.

It is also not to suggest these games are there just as a recess activity. It took a while but eventually my management started to see how they engage with each other, help each other, and monitor each other even when playing more formally in a classroom environment with a teacher or helper involved as well.

How to use Trugs in a Classroom

In fact i would advise you, if you have or are getting these, to introduce it that way. You may spend a lesson explaining and letting students play these games, but once they know they will seek out and play these games on their own. If your 30 minute introduction lesson turns into 5 years of them self directing themselves to play these games it is time well spent don’t you think?

Are Trugs Worth Buying?

They are not cheap, really not for a card game. I have grumbled about this to other teachers in the past as they are such a lovely idea made prohibitively expensive for what are essentially good ideas and paper. However, those grumbles have stopped recently, It is difficult to make your own cards!!

I had an idea to make Top Trumps cards ( if i can dance around the copyright for that), to make them more accessible for ESL and Junior students . The text descriptions are just too difficult for my students at least.

So i came up will some ideas, and started googling printers,. I saw the prices to make one set of cards (from Top Trumps themselves) was about 14 USD. if you are doing it for you own class you can probably afford this, but if you are wanting to resell them (I was) it starts to add up.

Other printers were cheaper but it still added up to about 8 USD if i got 500 boxes. If i couldn’t sell them i worried what i was going to do with 500 boxes of cards in a small Hong Kong Flat. Ah well, a thought for the future maybe. (see here for the 400 boxes i still have in my small Hong Kong flat!)

Trugs are expensive…..but worth it!

So with this new knowledge, i still think TRUGs are expensive but i can better understand why now, Uno sells millions a year so can keep production costs down, TRUGS doesnt so cant.

It is however way better at teaching Phonics, blending and word construction than Uno!

The problem i had with the expense is that although they do have a couple of options for Home and School sets, there wasn’t a way of buying an individual games or levels.

As i said my students love playing Uno, and when i replaced for a week the Uno cards for the Trugs cards they continued ( with a little instruction from me) playing the game but with the trugs sets. I only had one set though, and at that time you couldn’t buy individual decks. Now thankfully you can!!

How much do Trugs Cost?

They cost about 12 USD a set which is comparable to a new set of Top Trumps, and is considerably cheaper than the 120 USD that the full box sets cost.

These sets have the games from each level and are a more targeted way for individual teachers to share the games. I am so pleased they have done this as it allows teachers to target levels of reader in their classroom with the students still focused on the task and mostly unaware they may have a different reading level game in their hands.

It also means teachers are more likely to purchase these sets themselves, if they are able, because its just what we do sometimes. This means more students will benefit from these games and this system.

I still think if the school has the budget that buying one set for school use and then supplementing it with some individual sets is the way forward as in my teaching environment there is little need to have the higher sets. Sometimes school management needs a little nudge in the right direction to realise these things though.

It is nice to see students now by pass Uno and pick up the sets of trugs to play as their first choice, There is nothing wrong with a good game of Uno of course, but to take charge of their own learning and choose to practice is a very difficult thing to achieve. TRUGS proved a useful tool to help with that.

Final Thoughts

I originally wrote this article 3 years ago, and recently i found myself at a new school. The first thing i did?

I took a trip to the little industrial building in Hong Kong, walked up to the fourth floor, rang the bell, spoke to the owner, and then walked out with a red and green set of TRUGS in my hands.

Somethings are just expensive because they are worth it.

Please comment if you have used this or if you have tried something similar. Sharing is caring!! Also just to confirm, I use Trugs, none of these links are affiliate links or anything like that. Its just that i do think they are a pretty good tool if your school has the means!

About the Author

Hi I’m Marc. A teacher of over 15 years, mostly English but dabbled in outdoor pursuits and media. Thought is was about time to sharing both what I have learnt during that time and the resources I have put together. On this site we aim to teach the theory and share our thoughts, but also go that one step further and give you access to the hard resources you need for your class or for you children. Feel free to take a look at our resources, email us on, or jump on the Facebook group to ask questions. Happy learning, teaching or playing!

Post by Marc of Making English Fun

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I have been a teacher of English for over 15 years, in that time i made hundreds and thousands of resources and learnt so much i think its worth sharing. Hopefully to help teachers and parents around the world.

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