Phonics is one of the fundamental building blocks of the English language. It is an incredibly important tool for all the major components of language building – reading, writing, speaking, and listening. As such, getting it right is crucial for helping our young learners become the best English speakers they possibly can be! Does this sound like you: “I hate teaching phonics!”, “teaching phonics is so boring”, and “I just don’t know how to make phonics interesting”? If you have said any one of these in the past when you have been asked to teach phonics, then I recommend you read on.
The one thing I have heard constantly about phonics is how boring it is to teach, and that should not be the attitude you have going into this! Any class is only as interesting as you make it. If you think the class is going to be boring, chances are – it will be boring. As such, the most important thing you can do is change your attitude: do not think to yourself “how am I going to be able to teach 3 letters for 40 minutes?” and instead think “what selection of activities can I pick to make this as fun and engaging as possible?” As such, here are (in my opinion) some great activities you can play with your phonics classes.
Snap! for Teaching Phonics
One of my absolute favorite activities to play for phonics is a variation of the card game Snap! All you will need to prepare are playing cards with each of the phonics pictures (or words depending on the level) on them. That’s it!
If you have never played Snap! before, then let me explain. The idea is simple: get the most cards. If you have all the cards, you win! Each round, every player will discard the top card of their pile, placing it in the middle. Players do this until two cards match, at which point the first person to say “Snap!” gets to keep all the cards.
How does this relate to teaching phonics, you ask? Well, when playing the phonics edition of the game, students will need to listen to the sound each word makes and decide whether they contain the same sound and/or letter. For example, when teaching the alphabet, if one student places a “sun” and the next places a “sock”, then that’s a Snap since both words start with a letter Ss! With short vowel sounds, “cat’ and “ham” would also be a Snap!
I’ve played this game with my students many times, and they all love it! Everyone gets a little adrenaline rush each time they get a chance to say Snap!, and it’s always so fun to watch. I have had students in the past beat me at this game because they got so good at it, so practice does make perfect!
Egg and Spoon Phonics Race
The next one is a variation of an egg and spoon race. You will need spoons, flashcards, and some little toy eggs that can be opened and closed. Inside each egg, you can place a tiny piece of paper that corresponds to the phonics content you are studying that day (can be either a letter or a sound).
The premise is simple: students must carry their egg (using only the spoon) from one side of the room to the other, open their egg to reveal either a letter or a sound, and then write down a word that has that sound on the board. The first student to do all this successfully (without dropping their egg) is the winner!
This activity is great and can also be scaled accordingly. For example, if your students are too young to write, you can instead instruct them to find a flashcard that has the same letter or sound. Likewise, if you have advanced students, you can remove any flashcards in the classroom and just have them write the words from memory. It’s a fun activity that’s also very active. Who said phonics always has to be boring!
Common Phonics Mistakes & How to Correct Them
Lastly, I want to mention some common mistakes kids make with phonics and how to help them correct these mistakes.
- Vowels – kids very often get vowel sounds mixed up (/a/ and /e/, /e/ and /i/, and /o/ and /u/). What I like to do for this is have kids look at my mouth when I make these sounds. Students should repeat these sounds after me focusing on the way the sounds are made.
- If you have kids who struggle to hold a pen or pencil (because of their age) that does not mean you cannot still teach them writing! Writing is an integral part of learning phonics, even for kids who are 4 years old and under. Air writing, sand writing, or even using playdough are all good ways to help young learners to memorize the shapes of the letters even if they may not be able to write them.
- Take plenty of brain breaks! Some phonics units have up to 12(!) words to teach, and that can be a lot for young learners. As such, take plenty of brain breaks during your classes – stand up/sit down, dance like a monkey, and so on.
And that’s it! I hope this helped you get an idea of how to improve your phonics classes in the future. What about you guys? What is your favorite activity to help teach phonics? Let us know down below!
By Connor Ferguson