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3 Easy Ways To Practice Phoneme Manipulation

Phoneme manipulation is important as it allows readers to test alternatives for spellings that represent more than one sound.

A few weeks ago, I talked about 3 essential reading skills that students need to master to be able to decode language. Without these skills, students will struggle with reading and spelling. That means as teachers, we need to provide specific instruction and practice in these skills.

Last week, I focused in on segmenting, and before that blending. Today, we turn our attention to phoneme manipulation.

Phoneme manipulation is being able to insert and delete sounds in words. This skill is important as it allows readers to test alternatives for spellings that represent more than one sound (Sounds~Write, 2013).

I’ll share 3 effective ways to practice phoneme manipulation with students.

3 ways to practice phoneme manipulation

Practicing phoneme manipulation involves practice both in inserting and deleting sounds in words. We’ll look at activities that focus on one, the other or both.

1. Sound deletion

Students use deleting or adding sounds in words to test alternatives for reading and spelling. Note that many students who have problems with hearing sounds in words may struggle to do this at first. Try additional practice with listening for sounds before you you start manipulating phonemes.

In this sound deletion activity, students practice saying words by deleting some of the sounds. Start by deleting the initial sound in words. As students get used to the idea and develop their skills, you can work on other sounds.

For instance, get students to say a word without the first sound. You can start with your simple CVC words. For example, say ‘mug’ without the ‘m’. Say ‘Sam’ without the ‘s’.

You can use words with 4 or 5 sounds (CVCC, CCVCC, CVCCC, CCCVC, etc) with older students. Say ‘slump’ without the ‘s’.

You can also move on to removing sounds either in the middle of the word or at the end of the word. For example, say ‘clump’ without the ‘l’ or say ‘print’ without the ‘t’.

2. Sound substitution

Once students are used to the idea of deleting sounds, you can practice substituting sounds to make new words.

Give students a word and ask them to change it to another word. For example, ask students to change ‘mat’ into ‘sat’ or ‘spend’ into ‘spent’.

You can do this on the board, but I like to use small whiteboards (dry erase boards) for this. If you have one for each student then it’s a simple way to get students to write the new word and hold the board up to show you. You can then quickly scan to see if any students may have difficulty.

If you are just introducing this activity, discuss which sound they are changing before students make the change. Is it the first, second or third sound? Have students underline the sound being changed.

When doing this activity it’s important to only change one sound at a time—but once students have the basic idea, you can make sound substitution chains to change a word to a very different word. For example, you could change the word tram to slip in 5 steps, changing one sound at a time (tram to cram to clam to clap to clip to slip).

Phoneme manipulation is important as it allows readers to test alternatives for spellings that represent more than one sound.

Here’s how to play:

  • Choose how many sounds your words will have based on the age/skill level of your students. For this example, I’ll use 4 sound (CCVC) words.
  • Write the first word on the board. Then circle or underline one of the sounds in the word.
  • Select a student to change the circled or underlined sound to a new one to make a new word, then write that word down.
  • Again circle/underline one sound in the new word that is to be changed.
  • Choose another student to change the sound.
  • Continue circling a sound that needs changing in the word until all of your students get a turn. If a student cannot think of a real word it is okay to use a nonsense word to keep it going. As long as the spelling combination is plausible and something we would see in English.

This is a great way to kick off or wrap up a literacy lesson. And since it only takes a few minutes (depending on the size of your group), it is great practice if you have spare minutes at the end of a lesson or between activities.

3. Silly sound games

Younger children usually love this activity. You can play while students are sitting in a circle on the mat. As the name suggests, students get to make silly sounds.

First pick a category, such as animals, names or colors.

Then pick one thing from the category, such as the color black. Then ask your students to change the first sound in black to make new silly words.

It could go something like: black, glack, slack, clack, plack….

Always start with the first sound, but you can play with other sounds too. Just make sure it is clear what sound is to be replaced. Although silly sounds uses made up words, students are still practicing hearing and creating those sounds.

More tools to practice phoneme manipulation & other literacy skills

I hope these activities prove helpful in teaching your students to manipulate phonemes.

I’ve also put together a kit that focuses on helping children develop the fundamental skills needed to help them become fluent readers and accurate spellers.

The Complete Phonics Kit includes easy to prepare games, ready to go worksheets, colorful posters and writing frameworks.

This phonics kit is for you if you are a:

  • Classroom teacher
  • Learning specialist
  • Substitute / relief teacher
  • Home schooler
  • Intervention specialist
  • Parent

The phonics kit is suitable for students ages 5–12 years and includes easy to follow information and instructions.

The phonics kit includes

  • A range of individual, small group and whole class activities
  • Many worksheets and games to assist in consolidating the learning of the phonics sounds.

Find out more about The Complete Phonics Kit here.

Phoneme manipulation is important as it allows readers to test alternatives for spellings that represent more than one sound.

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