Whether you want some new ideas to start a new school year or just feel like your phonics plans could use some freshening up, these fun ways to teach phonics are a great addition to your kit.
Teach phonics with fun games and activities
The best phonics games and activities can easily be adapted to the particular sounds or skills you are working with—and can be used with your whole class, in small groups, at a literacy station, or even sent with students as homework. These are some of my favorites when I teach phonics.
1. Sound walk
Take a walk around the room or the school looking for words with certain sounds. For example, if you are working on the /m/ sound, you can point out m-a-t or m-a-p. This works well for initial sounds, but you can try it with the vowels in CVC words too, for example, you could look for /a/ sounds like m-a-t or h-a-t.
2. I spy
Play like the traditional game of I Spy, but to teach phonics with it, segment the word so that students have to blend the sounds to know what you are spying. For example say: “I spy with my little eye a m-u-g.” Ask your students to blend the sounds together to get mug. Repeat with objects around the room. You can bring in objects to place around the room, if necessary, to cover particular sounds, but otherwise, the game needs little setup.
3. Build a word
You’ll need cards with CVC words (or other words) and sets of individual letter cards or tiles (I like to put them on fun shapes for younger kids). Students pick a card, read the word, then make the word using the letter cards/tiles. Then they read the word again. To work on speed, have students work in pairs and small groups. Have them turn over a word card for the whole group and see who can put the word together first.
To teach phonics with this simple card game, make two sets of cards with your phonics words. Shuffle the cards and lay them out face down. The first student picks two cards and reads the words. If they match, the student takes the pair. If they don’t the student turns the cards back over, and the next student takes a turn. Play continues until all the words are matched up.
5. Word chains
Write a word on the board. Have a student come up and change one letter to make a new word. Continue changing one letter until nobody can make a new word. See how long a chain you can make. Example: C-A-T > M-A-T > M-A-P > M-O-P > T-O-P and so on.
6. Cootie catchers
I’m not sure I could teach phonics without phonics cootie catchers. I could, but my students would miss out on a lot of fun. Kids love playing with cootie catchers or fortune tellers, so when you use images and words from your phonics list, they get extra practice, without it feeling like it!
This classic game is so adaptable. Simply make cards with your phonics words on them. Then call out words. To make this a game students can play in a phonics/literacy station or at home, make a set of pieces with words or pictures of your words on them. Students draw the word or picture and then find it on their bingo card.
8. Guess the missing sound
Write a set of words that share a letter sound on the board. For example, __ at, __ug, __ap. Ask students to find the missing letter. Fill it in to show them the words mat, mug, and map. You can do this with digraphs too. For example, if students find the right digraph, they can turn __op, ri__ , __ick into chop, rich, chick.
9. Rhyme time
With the class or small group, talk about rhymes. Notice that the middle and end sounds are the same in rhyming words. This is a great way to practice hearing sounds that are not at the beginning of the word. Give a word for students to rhyme with, for example hat. Go around your group asking students for a word that rhymes. Write each word as students say it. You can use this to reinforce particular sounds and to demonstrate that some sounds have alternate spellings. For example, if your starting word was pie, another student might say fly, and you could talk about different spellings for the long i sound.
10. Mystery bag
Fill a bag with objects that have your target sound in them. I often use this game when working on digraphs when I teach phonics. A bag for the ck digraph might include a rock, a stick, a chick, and a tack. To use the mystery bag, write the digraph on the board and say the sound in a sample word. For example, write /ck/ and say ck as in tick. Ask students to tell you more words that have that sound. Write their suggestions on the board, and if one of the words is in your bag, take it out. If some of your props are not mentioned, pull them out and see if students can come up with the word.
11. Go fish
You can teach phonics with this classic card game. All you need is a deck of cards with your phonics words on them (4 sets of each word). Students get lots of practice reading and saying the words in their hands as they ask for what they need.
12. Beginning, middle, end
I like this game when I teach digraphs to show students that some sounds can come at the beginning, middle, or end of words. To play, make three columns with the headings Beginning, Middle, and End on the board or create a game sheet with these headings. Ask students to listen for the /sh/ sound in each word you say and tell you where in the word it appears. Write the word in the appropriate column or have students add it to their game sheet. For example, ship would go in the beginning column, wishing would go in the middle column and brush would go in the end column. Then challenge students to think of other words for each column. See who can come up with the most.
13. Phonics word search
It’s easy to create word searches with your phonics words. Simpler word searches have words going left to right and top to bottom (often better for newer learners), but they can be more challenging with diagonals and words going in any direction.
14. Word puzzles
Print out a sheet with a picture at the top and your word in large type below. Cut the page into strips, with each including a letter. Jumble the strips and have students put them together in the correct order to form a word. For extra practice, have students read the word they made and write it on a tracking sheet.
This is another game you can play with a deck of phonics word cards. Students deal out all the cards but don’t look at their pile. At the same time, the students flip the top card in their pile. If the words match, students say SNAP! and then read the word. If the words do match, the student who said SNAP first gets both piles. This game is great if you want to work on fluency as you teach phonics.
16. Who am I?
Have students guess a phonics word based on certain clues. Say each clue and give a chance for students to write their guess. Then read the next clue. For example, “A dog may use me.” (Chance to write down a guess.) “A fish may swim in me.” (Chance to write down a guess.) “You eat off of me.” (Chance to write down a guess). If no one guesses, write the word with blanks on the board like this: __ __ sh. Repeat the clues and see if students come up with the word (in this example, dish)
17. Crossword game
Have students work in pairs or small groups. Give them a set of letter tiles (you’ll want extra letters for any sounds you are focusing on). The first student uses letter tiles to make a word. The next student makes a word the builds off of one of the letters in the first word, crossword style. Students get an extra point for using a word from your word list. (This game works best once you are beyond CVC words as you’ll need some longer words to make it work.)
18. Simon says
Need to get your kids up and moving? You can teach phonics and give them a break from sitting with this game. Play Simon Says in the usual way, but segment out the sounds for some of the instruction words. For example, “Simon says p-a-t your h-i-p.” or “S-i-t down.”
19. Writing prompts
Get kids using their phonics words with writing prompts to spark their imagination. Prompts give students something to write about and they can work their phonics words into what they write.
20. Missing words
Create sentences, the sillier the better, that contain words from your phonics list. Write out the sentence with the phonics word removed and ask students to complete all of the sentences with the correct phonics word.
21. Pair up
Give each student part of a word, it could be a single letter, a digraph, or two letters of a CVC word. Have students find a classmate they can pair up with to make a word. For example, a student with the letter b could pair up with a student with ug to make bug. Since there are many combinations possible, you can have students find a new partner to make a new word. If a student doesn’t find a partner, have them share their letter/sound. Ask the rest of the class to see if they could make a match with that person.
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