How are you teaching phonics to kids? Here are some concise tips and fun ideas based on the Science of Reading research to help you teach the alphabet, letter sounds, segmenting words, writing, and word study.
Teaching Phonics Based on the Science of Reading
How do we teach kids to read? It may appear a simple question, but things aren’t always as simple as they seem! Look at the years and years of research on this topic. Theories, practices, and beliefs have developed around how to teach phonics. Today there is a more definitive answer based on 20+ years of research. It is “The Science of Reading.” It is becoming well known in the educational world, so you probably have some experience with it.
According to this article, “the science of reading is the converging evidence of what matters and what works in literacy instruction, organized around models that describe how and why.” One of the main pillars of this “science of reading” is phonics instruction.
To teach phonics is the key to developing reading skills. Phonics teaches the relationship between letters and sounds, which is crucial to learning to read.
Let’s look at research-based ways to enhance your phonics instruction and ensure your practices match the research!
Teaching the Alphabet and Sounds
Each letter has a sound that it makes. Teaching not only the name but the sound of each letter is fundamental to using phonics effectively.
- Swat the Letters – Have all the letters of the alphabet on the floor, and as you make a sound, allow kids to find the corresponding letter and swat it!
- Alphabet Drawing – Try directed drawings of things that begin with each letter of the alphabet. Kids will build their letter-sound knowledge and fine motor skills at the same time.
- Create a Sound Wall – Word walls have been a popular tool in the reading classroom. Now sound walls are becoming the preferred tool. These display words based on sounds. Group the words by their phoneme (stops, fricatives/affricative, nasals, liquids, glides) with a picture of how the mouth looks when making that sound and examples. It is a new approach that can help kids understand how to form sounds. Introduce the sounds, model them, put up the sounds on the wall, and practice throughout the year.
Practicing Initial Letters
Initial letters are the first letters in a word. Usually, this skill is where we begin to help kids apply the sounds they have learned previously to the actual decoding of words.
- Playdough Letters – Give kids a card with the ending of a word (like -at) and have them make the first letter out of playdough after you say a word aloud.
- Matching Games – Have students match pictures of simple objects with the letters they begin with by pronouncing them aloud.
- Listen Closely – Choose a letter for the kids to listen for. For example, the letter “B.” Then read a series of words. When the kids hear a word that begins with a “B” sound, they can pat their head, raise their hand, or something similar.
- Play Sound Relay Race – Divide the class into two teams and have them form two lines. Hand a card with a sound to the first person in each line. That person has to turn to the next person in line and say the sound. It goes down the line until the last person in line shouts out a word that begins with that sound and then runs to the front of the line. The first team to finish wins!
- Spot the Letter Sound Mats – Have kids search for pictures that start with a specific letter and sound. Once they spot them, they circle the picture. These activities make a great literacy center!
Teaching Segmenting Words
Once kids know the sounds letters make and can recognize initial sounds, it is time to dig deeper into sounding out words. Segmenting words means breaking them apart to look at their parts and how they are connected.
Children should be able to name the letters of the alphabet (in order and at random), sequence letters, and write all lowercase and uppercase letters.
- Hop the Sounds – Take kids outside, tell them a word, and have them hop for each sound they hear.
- Pool Noodle Words – Take a pool noodle and cut it into rings. Write different letters or blends and let kids make words with them.
- Magnetic Letter Switch – Give kids magnetic letters and a magnetic surface. Spell out a simple word with the letters. Example: Cake. Ask them what happens if they switch the “k” for an “n.” Now you have Cane. Ask, “How did that change the word?” Continue with several examples and let them make suggestions themselves.
- Phoneme Segmentation Phonics Mats – Teachers need quick, no-prep activities that provide practice in segmenting words and recognizing the initial, middle, and ending sounds in words. Phonics Mats are great printable activities to use during small groups, morning work, or for independent practice.
Connecting Sounds and Writing
Teaching phonics, though primarily about sounds, must also be connected to writing. Children should be able to produce sounds for consonants and vowels, name them, and write the corresponding letter when given a sound for a letter, and know the difference between long and short vowels.
- Words on a Whiteboard – Give a pair of students a whiteboard and a bag full of pictures of simple objects they would know (ex: cat, dog, man, box). After one pulls out an image or figure, they will segment the sounds in the word by reading it aloud. For each sound, they draw a line. Then, they represent the spelling of each sound on each line with a marker. The teacher can check their final word.
- Dictation – Read a word to students and have them write it on their paper or on a whiteboard. These should be words that you haven’t studied previously. Ask kids to focus on the sounds and to try to write out the sounds they hear.
Teaching Phonics through Word Study
Once sounding out words has become more accessible and kids can do some proficient decoding, they can look for patterns and study words to see how they are connected. The English language is tricky, but studying its patterns can be helpful. This skill will mostly come in when kids are into a little more advanced reading.
Children should learn phoneme segmentation, blends, digraphs, compound words, syllables and rhyming, and spelling patterns.
- Poetry – Poems are powerful tools to teach kids rhyming and the interplay between words. A “Poem of the Week” can be a helpful tool that provides many opportunities to interact with text, connect words, etc. These are often straightforward, rhyming poems.
- Sorting Word Families – Give kids cards, each with a word, and have them read and sort them into families based on the endings, or have them match the word to a picture. Learning word families through repetitive activities is fun for kids to learn.
- Learn Prefix and Suffixes – Words’ beginnings and endings help us decode them. There are some common beginnings and endings of words that kids can begin to learn. Give them big words on paper strips and see if they can cut them into smaller words to decode them.
Phonics is undoubtedly a key component of teaching kids to read, yet it’s one that can feel complex. Hopefully, this is a jumping-off point for you to delve deeper into the study of phonics.
Teaching Phonics with Phonics Mats
Looking for quick, no-prep phonics activities? Check out our Phonics Mats resources, guaranteed to help support your phonics instruction in the classroom!
Use Phonics Mats for independent reading, small group instruction, morning work, literacy centers, assessments, sub-plans, and more!
In each pack of Phonics Mats, you receive a set of printable and digital activities that target one area of phonics to help build important reading skills.
Check out our whole line of Phonics Mats (many more coming soon):
- Consonant Sounds
- Vowel Sounds
- Phoneme Segmentation
- Compound Words
FREE Phonics Reading Activities
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