- Stretch It Out (Rubber Bands) – Give each student a rubber band, or if you are worried about students using rubber bands, ask them to imagine they are holding a rubber band. Start with your hands touching and then sound out a word; each time you say a new sound move your hands further from each other. Remember that two letters can make one sound, for example: “Cash” would be C → move hands out / A → move hands out / SH → move hands out and repeat the word.
- Stretch It Out (Hand Signals/Fairy Dust) – Start with your hands together facing your fingertips away from your body; ask your students to copy your hand movements. Sound out a word, and each time you say a new sound, move your hands further from each other. At the end of the word, students clap and repeat the word. We call this “pushing the word back together.” I ask my students to sound words out for me using these hand signals; this is a great one to use in roll call. I call their name and a word; instead of telling me they are present, they have to sound out the word using the hand signals. To make this more exciting, sometimes I hold a small amount of glitter in my hand, and when I clap I let the glitter go, and it makes a small cloud of glitter. We call this fairy dust, and we use it for particularly difficult words.
- Letter/Sound Addition, Deletion, and Substitution Ideas – An important skill is to be able to take a letter out of a word, add a letter to a word, or substitute a letter in a word. In literacy groups, I do a variety of activities that involve students manipulating sounds. It typically involves me reading a word and asking students to make that word. Then, I ask students to change one letter so that the word says a new word. For example, “Make the word ‘flop.’ Change one letter so that ‘flop’ says ‘flap.'” This could be written on whiteboards with markers, written as a list in work books, drawn into sand boxes, drawn into paint bags, or made with play dough.
- Sounding Out Finger Signals – Sound out a word, and each time you say a new sound, add another finger. If it is two letters to make one sound, then raise two fingers together. For example, “cash” would be C → lift 1 finger / A → lift one more finger / SH → lift two more fingers together.
- Sounding Out Bingo – Show students a variety of words, and ask them to write down some of the words on a blank bingo board. When it is time to play, rather than saying the word, sound it out. This works best for words with similar sounds.
- Sound Manipulation Bingo – Show students a variety of words, and ask them to write down some of the words on a blank bingo board. When it is time to play, rather than saying the word, give students a clue. For example, have the word “flap” on the list of words students can write; then, give the clue, “Flop minus the o, plus an a.” To figure out the word, they need to sound it out and manipulate the sounds.
- Sound Substitution (Counters) – It is important for students to be able to hear where in the word a sound is. This activity visually shows students where letters are in words in order for them to substitute the sounds. Give students a variety of colored counters. Ask them to use counters to show the word “cat” – they should put three different colored counters down. Then, ask them to point to the counter that represents the “c” in “cat.” Next, instruct them to change the counters to show how they change “cat” to “hat.” They should change the first colored counter to a new color. When first doing this activity, I ask them to write the sounds underneath the counters and have them point to which sound I will be asking them to change. Once they have grasped the concept, I don’t ask them to point to the counter or write the sounds before asking them to change a counter; this means they have to listen to where in the word the sound is.
- Word Sorting – Provide students a list of word cards, and ask them to sort them. Do not instruct them how other than that they have to sort them by sound, not by meaning. Leaving the task open leaves the students to think about the sounds they see and sort them in their own way.
- Circle Games or Exit Tickets – Have students sit in a circle. Provide the first student with a word, and ask the student to change a sound in the word to create a new word. The next student then has to build on their word, moving around the circle. This could also be completed as an exit ticket: As each student provides their word they can leave the classroom.
- Roll Call – As I mentioned above, roll call is a great time to do word work. Instead of answering that they are here, students could: rhyme with a word you provide, break words up into syllables, answer what a word is if you delete a sound (“dwell” minus the “d” is “well” or “flight” minus the “l” is “fight”), or add a sound (“hat” plus a bossy “e” is “hate”) – the possibilities are endless!
These are not all my ideas; these are tips and tricks I have picked up along the way. The more we as teachers share with each other, the better for all the children we teach. There are also hundreds of excellent resources on the internet for phonics and phonemic awareness. The important thing to remember is to think critically about what strategies you see other teachers use and what resources you see online. For phonics/phonemic awareness to be effectively taught, it needs to be explicitly taught. It needs to be spoken, written, and read. Students need opportunities to engage with and manipulate sounds in a variety of fun and exciting ways!
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