Understanding Phonics: The Connection of Letters and Sounds
Phonics is the relationship between letters and sounds as well as the understanding of how those sounds connect to form words.
For instance, the /c/ sound, the short /a/ sound, and the /t/ sound blend together to form the word cat.
Research Highlights the Importance of Phonics Instruction and Multi-Sensory Techniques
According to research, teaching children phonics is crucial in their reading development. The research also indicates that incorporating wordplay, writing words, and using manipulatives like magnetic letters are effective strategies for teaching phonics.
Furthermore, research shows that a multi-sensory approach to phonics instruction, which involves sight, sound, touch, and movement, brings numerous benefits. This approach caters to different learning styles, allowing students to absorb the information more effectively.
Ten Fun Phonics Activities Based on Research to Teach Letter Sounds
1. Engage in the “I Spy” game to teach letter sounds. In this game, choose an object without revealing it to the child. Encourage them to guess the object by providing hints such as “I spy something that starts with the letter B” or “I spy something that ends with the letter K.” Once they guess correctly, prompt them to identify the sound the letter makes.
Offer assistance if needed.
Similarly, you can use letter sounds instead of letters themselves. For instance, if you spot a book, say “I spy something that starts with (make the sound for b)” or “I spy something that ends with (make the sound for k).”
After finding the object, have your child identify the first or last letter. Take turns while playing the game.
2. Create flashcards with letters for an enjoyable activity. Designate one letter on each card, including both uppercase and lowercase.
Here is a sample activity for you to try: Take three to four-letter words and mix up their letters. For instance, if the word is “pig,” arrange the letters (e.g., “ipg”) on the table in front of your child. Make sure to place the letters about one to two feet away from your child, allowing them enough space to work. Then, provide them with a sheet of paper that has three (or four) blank spaces for letters, like this: _ _ _.
Afterward, either tell them the word or show them a picture of the word, and give them the following instruction: “Switch around the letters above to create the word ‘pig’ on the lines below.”
If you have Magnetic Letters, they can be utilized for the same purpose. Additionally, you can motivate your child to write the letters using a pen or pencil. Introducing word families can help your child understand that numerous words share the same spelling, differing only in their initial letter.
For instance, after “pig,” they can try “big,” “wig,” and “rig.” Incorporating rhyming practice is another beneficial technique when teaching children about letter sounds.
3. Play Letter-Sound Go Fish. Make duplicate flash cards for each letter. Give each player five letter-cards and place the rest of the letter-cards in a pile in the middle of the table face down. Player 1 chooses a letter-sound from their hand and asks player 2 if they have a matching card. If player 2 doesn’t have a match, they are told to “go fish” from the pile. For detailed rules on how to play Go Fish, you can refer to this link
4. Create a personalized phonics Bingo game.
Create a grid either by drawing it on paper or using a computer program. An example of a grid is provided below. (Alternatively, you can obtain a larger version of the grid by printing it here. Additional blank Bingo grids can be found here.)
6. Transform a phonics lesson into a physical activity to engage energetic children.
Tape four letters onto the wall as shown in the image above:
Call out a letter sound and tell your child to run to the letter that makes that sound, touch it and run back. Spice it up. Here are some examples:
-Hop to the letter that makes the sound
-Skip to the letter that makes the sound
-Tip Toe to the letter that makes the sound
7. Play “Run to the Letter Sound!”
Incorporate some excitement into your phonics lesson by taping four letters onto the wall, just like the image below.
Engage your child by calling out a letter sound and directing them to run to the letter that corresponds to that sound. They should touch it and then run back. To make it more interesting, you can try different variations such as hopping to the letter that makes the sound, skipping to the letter that makes the sound, or even tip-toeing to the letter that makes the sound.
Another fun movement activity involves placing tape on the floor, with a different letter on each piece of tape.
Begin by telling your child to position their feet on a specific letter, for example, start on letter A.
Then, ask them to jump to various letters while using the corresponding letter sounds. For instance, you can say, “Jump to the letter that makes the sound (insert letter sound).”
Take a look at the example below of letters taped to the floor, for further clarification.
As your child’s letter sound skills improve, you can engage them in spelling real words using the letters.
For instance, if you want to spell the word “cat,” you can use three pieces of tape with the letters C, A, and T written on them. Instruct your child to begin at the C, then jump to the next letter in the word (A), and finally, to the last letter (T). To make it more challenging, encourage your child to spell the word in reverse by starting with the last letter and progressing in order until they reach the first letter.
While the example above uses three letters, feel free to use as many pieces of tape and letters as desired. Initially, start with a few letters and gradually increase the difficulty level as your child demonstrates progress.
8. Create a worksheet for your child using their preferred characters, foods, animals, etc. You can either hand-draw the worksheet or utilize tables in Microsoft Word.
For a three-letter word, construct a table with one row and five columns.
Place the word’s picture in the first box of the table (you can either draw it or copy and paste it from Google Images). Fill the remaining boxes with the word’s letters, excluding one. Ask your child to fill in the missing letter.
Here is an illustration of the worksheet:
Click here to print out your own version of this sheet.
For children who may have trouble solving this worksheet, try providing them with a letter bank to see if that helps.
See an example of a worksheet with a letter bank below.
Click here to print out your own version of a phonics worksheet with a letter bank.
9. Have your child paste letters on paper as you call out the sounds. To engage your child in a spelling activity, ask them to stick or place letters onto a blank piece of paper, while you pronounce the corresponding sounds. You can utilize the letter flashcards mentioned previously.
To assist your child in knowing where to place the letters, create lines or boxes on the paper as shown below.
You can provide the precise number of letters required for the word or introduce extra letters for a challenge. Begin by announcing the initial sound of the word, prompting your child to select the appropriate letter and place it in the correct spot.
Supervise the activity, providing assistance as needed.
When your child is done, you can hang up their work to show them that you are proud of their effort.
You can also use this idea to teach a child how to spell their name, such as the sample in the image below.
You can specify the exact number of letters needed for the word or add extra letters, to make the activity more challenging.
Start by stating the initial sound of the word and have your child choose the correct letter and place it in the right position. Repeat this process for each subsequent sound until the word is fully spelled.
Make sure to supervise the activity and offer help when necessary.
Once your child completes the word, you can display their work to demonstrate your pride in their effort.
A similar approach can also be used to teach a child how to spell their own name, as illustrated in the example shown in the accompanying image.
10. Sing the Alphabet Sound Song.
The tune is similar to the traditional alphabet song.
See a great example by Kidstv123 in the video below. You can make up your own version as well.
When to Seek Help: Addressing Learning Needs in Children
If your child is facing significant difficulties in learning letter sounds or acquiring other academic skills, even after consistent practice and guidance, it is advisable to reach out to your child’s school and/or doctor. They will be able to direct you to the appropriate professionals who can assess the potential obstacles impeding your child’s progress and explore additional strategies that may be beneficial.
Effective and Gentle Approaches for Phonics Practice with Children
Please remember that the activities mentioned in this article are merely suggestions. It is important not to force or pressure a child into participating in any of these activities. Doing so can result in the child feeling frustrated and potentially avoiding phonics (letter-sound) practice altogether.
It is crucial to remain calm when working with a child or student, even if you believe they should understand something that they are struggling with. Expressing frustration towards them can cause feelings of anxiety, anger, inferiority, or inadequacy, ultimately hindering their learning progress.
It is recommended to keep practice sessions short, around 2 to 10 minutes for younger or easily frustrated children and 10 to 15 minutes for older children or those who can work for longer periods without becoming frustrated. However, if the child is enthusiastic and motivated to continue, it is encouraged to extend the session.
If you are looking for strategies to encourage children to complete tasks or assignments they are reluctant to do, please refer to the following articles.
- 3 Ways to Use Timers to Encourage Homework and Chore Completion
- How to Use Schedules to Improve Children’s Behavior
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Rachel Wise is the author and founder of Education and Behavior. Rachel created Education and Behavior in 2014 for adults to have an easy way to access research-based information to support children in the areas of learning, behavior, and social-emotional development. As a survivor of abuse, neglect, and bullying, Rachel slipped through the cracks of her school and community. Education and Behavior hopes to play a role in preventing that from happening to other children. Rachel is also the author of Building Confidence and Improving Behavior in Children: A Guide for Parents and Teachers.
“Children do best when there is consistency within and across settings (i.e., home, school, community). Education and Behavior allows us to maintain that consistency.”