Five Simple Phonics Sounds Games

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These sound differentiation games are really fun.  Both my students and my youngest child enjoy playing them, and they don't even realize they are learning because it feels like playtime!

A phoneme is a unit of sound, and is a foundation for phonics instruction.  Phonemic awareness is auditory - it is the ability to hear sounds and manipulate them.  Without this awareness, actual phonics instruction (the ability to use the code) is almost like fighting a losing battle.

So here are some simple phonemic awareness activities to support teaching students how to segment phonics sounds and blend them into words.  


Initial Sound Segmenting

This is a game I play with my 5 year old.  I noticed that he was having trouble discriminating between initial sounds for /b/, /p/, and /d/.


Phonics sounds game using Fundations cards
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So I grabbed my Fundations cards that I use in my second grade classroom and started playing a game with him.

You can also use the grapheme cards found below in the game of I Spy With My Little Eye.




I chose one sound, in this case /f/, that was obviously different than the other two so he could have some instant success.  We used play money as markers because, yes, I bribed him that every sound he heard and identified correctly I would pay him that much money.

He will work for dollars, as he says.  I'm sure it's going to be a bright future for him.

1.  Lay out the three cards and have a stack of counters.
2.  Say words that have the initial sound for one of the cards.
3.  Try to use funny words to keep their attention and make it enjoyable.  

  • booger
  • flounder
  • potty
  • frito

We played for 15 minutes and he really started thinking about each sound, tapping them out on his fingers and concentrating.  He wanted that money very badly!

This is now his favorite game to play with me.  As for my students, my motto is, "Whatever It Takes."  If they will work for stickers, a trip to the prize box or some iPad time I think it's all good.  


Tic Tac Toe Onset

This is probably the simplest of the phonics games I play with my class.  It's for two students and the teacher and focuses on the initial sounds (onset) and graphemes.  

  1. Draw a tic tac toe board either on paper or an erasable board.  Flip a coin to see who goes first.
  2. Say a word and the first player has to identify the letter (grapheme) that goes with the sound.  If he or she identifies it correctly they get to place the first X or O.  Then the next player goes.  

Differentiate it by moving from initial sound segmentation to using blends and digraphs.


The Magic Hat

All you need is a cap and a ball.  This game can be played as a whole class or as a small group.

  1. On 10-20 slips of paper, write letters (or blends/digraphs).  Put them in the hat.
  2. The students pass the hat around clockwise and the ball counter-clockwise to music.  
  3. When the music stops, the student with the hat draws out a slip of paper and says the sound (not the letter/letters).  The student holding the ball must say the letter that makes the sound. 
  4. Last man or woman standing wins the game.







This game focuses on phonemes and graphemes, but can be differentiated for a host of phonics instruction activities.

Gather up a box of simple objects (our speech therapist has boxes of objects for each initial sound, so see if yours has something like this that you can borrow).   Using actual objects (realia) to touch activates other learning modalities and keeps the interest level high.  You will also need some grapheme cards that you can download here.

  1. Have your students sit in a circle and put your treasures in the middle.  
  2. Give the first child a card.  He has to say, "I spy with my little eye a toy that begins with..."  and says the phoneme on the card (not the letter).
  3. He picks the corresponding object and puts it in front of him with the card.

At the end of the game, gather the cards but let the children play with their objects a bit if you can and they want to.  They will ask to play this game quite often!

Three Second Jump Up

Use the grapheme cards from the above activity.

Hand out the cards and say a word.  The student with the initial sound that matches the grapheme has to jump up within 3 seconds.

This is a great rainy day game that keeps the kids focused and helps to use some excess energy. Get creative and add other kinesthetic learning activities, such as jumping jacks or marching in place for 5 seconds.



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