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Must Have Phonics Games for 1st Graders

Phonics is the essence of reading, so I’ve rounded up some must have phonics games for 1st graders just for you!  Studies show that a strong foundation of phonics is one of the main indicators of future reading success.  And while that is all good and lovely, we need to make sure we are reaching them in a way that’s engaging, thoughtful, and most of all – fun!  And how do we do that?  Through phonics games, of course!

Benefits of Using Phonics Games with 1st Graders

There is a massive benefit to teaching phonics through games. First, they’re engaging.  There’s nothing wrong with sitting down at your small group table and going through flash cards (yes, even these are acceptable at a certain time!)  But if we want our kids to learn, engagement is key, and games are a fabulous medium through which students can learn phonics.  

These phonics games also improve decoding abilities.  When students learn to decode and to do it well, all other aspects of reading fall into place, such as comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency.  A strong decoder of letter sounds becomes a strong reader!  

Additionally, games are a perfect way for kids to gain confidence.  Games give us a chance to try and try again, and with each chance comes an opportunity to showcase a students’ skill.  If there’s a student who’s struggling with the specific activity, they have many opportunities to try again and in a fun and relaxing environment.  Games provide a fun energy, so when a child makes a mistake, it doesn’t seem traumatic. Playing a game sets the tone for having fun, and when kids are having fun, they are learning! Even when they make mistakes – in fact, especially when they make mistakes.

Phonics Games and Fluency Activities

As always, you’ve come to the right place if you’re looking for fun phonics games for your small (or whole) group instruction!  We’ll take a look at the first grade phonics games that focus on letter sounds, what they’re made of, and why it will take your small groups to the next level.  All of these phonics games can focus on key skills they will need to become better readers. Any of these games can be used to focus on a phonics skill or even beginning sounds and phonemic awareness for our early readers.

Seasonal Phonics Review Games and Fluency Activities Bundle:

These resources are amazing for so many reasons.  They focus on a crazy amount of phonics patterns: CVC words, digraphs, beginning blends, ending blends, added endings, CVCe words, r-controlled vowels, vowel teams/long vowel sounds, and diphthongs!  So this means that even though they are mostly geared towards kindergarten and first grade, no matter where your students are on the scope and sequence, you can be certain to find exactly what your students need.  

Each phonics pattern follows the same format:  

  1. Students will read words in isolation containing the phonics pattern.
  2. Then students will read words with specific phonics patterns in a sentence.  
  3. From there, they’ll read a short story containing the phonics pattern words.
  4. Then students will move on to a fun board game!  During this game, children will roll the dice, move that many spaces on the board, and read the word containing the phonics pattern out loud with a partner.

This resource can be used in so many different ways with your first graders. You can slip the activity into a dry erase pocket for repeated use to use as literacy centers. It could be used as partner work as they read aloud the words, sentences, stories, and then play the phonics game together at the end. And because this bundle can be used all year long, you’ll easily be able to switch it out depending upon the season. if you’re in more of a holiday mood, my Holiday Phonics Review Games and Fluency Activities are just right for you!

Whole group instruction is another great time to use this resource.  Simply put the resource up on the board and snake around the classroom as students read each word, sentence, and story.  For the game, each student can have a die that they roll to see what word they land on and read it out loud.  This is a particularly good idea for a review of a previously-learned phonics pattern so students feel comfortable reading out loud to their peers.   

These fluency activities will do a great job at improving your students’ decoding and fluency skills during small groups, whole group, in a center, or as a partner activity.  Not only do these seasonal phonics and fluency activities build their confidence – they will also build a reader out of them, too!

what's my word phonics game

must have phonics games for 1st Graders: What’s My Word?

Kids love coming up to the large white board or smart board and showing off their knowledge during this activity!  Plus, this game will really challenge their letter sounds knowledge!  For this game, all you’ll need is a white board and dry erase marker for each kid, and volunteers to come up to the board. Ensure that you do this activity with consonant-vowel consonant words to start, and then move on from there. 

First, choose a student who’s eager to come up and show their stuff!  Have them come up with a word that’s focusing on a specific phonics pattern being studied in your classroom.  For example, if you’re studying digraphs, the student could choose the words duck, ship, chat, etc.  Then, have the student say the word out loud. “My word is chin.”  

The class then repeats the word back and writes it on their whiteboard, underlining the phonics pattern (in this case, they would underline the ch.)  After they show their boards, the student at the front writes it on the large white board for everyone to see so they can see if they got it correct.

What I love about this game is that it gives students the chance to become the teacher and gain confidence.  Second, it does wonders for the students who are at their desks.  This is because they are able to showcase their word, but they aren’t feeling pressure to read it to the class.  The rest of the class is concentrating on his or her own board, and when students get it wrong or perhaps underline the wrong skill, they’re doing it in a safe environment and can easily correct their mistake by seeing what other students write. 

Must Have Phonics Games for 1st Graders

Phonics Game: Build a Word

Your first graders will get into partners for this game.  During this game, students will need to have index cards and magnetic letters.  Ensure that the magnetic letters you have contain phonics skills that are together as one magnet.  For example, ai are together, ch are together, and so on.   Focusing on short vowels first is a good idea, but after you make your way down the scope and sequence, you’ll realize that this works for all phonics skills!

Partner 1 writes five words on each index card, focusing on one phonics skill.  For example, if you’re learning about vowel teams, their words may be day, rain, paint, play, and stain.  Partner 2 is ready with the magnetic letters.  Partner 1 reads his or her word out loud.  Partner 2 repeats the word and then attempts to build the word with the letters, saying the letter sounds out loud.  Once finished, Partner 1 either reveals the word to his or her partner if they got it correct.  If wrong, Partner 1 helps Partner 2 correct the mistake.  This game benefits students because they have the chance to help each other gain confidence with a certain phonics skill.

Additionally, it also gives them practice to learn a phonics skill that’s currently being worked on. This is also a great game for reviewing previously-studied phonics patterns. In fact, this idea is actually super important.  It’s called cumulative review and the idea is that we should never teach one phonics skill and just move on.  We must keep circling back to old skills to ensure that students don’t lose their momentum.  This phonics game is great for that!

reading activities for 1st grade

Phonics Games for 1st Graders: Word Chaining Activities

There’s something really special and effective about word chaining and making new words with different sounds.  It’s great manipulation with letter sounds and great decoding practice. It’s a great way for first graders to create new words.  

Students get into groups of two or three.  One person starts with a piece of paper and writes down a word, like cat, for example.  Then the other person takes that word and makes another, such as mat.  Then the third person takes the word mat and makes the word map.  First graders go around the circle adding, deleting, and substituting letters to each word.

 The reason this phonics game is so effective is because when children manipulate words, they’re showing their versatility with the written language.  This helps them become good encoders, too!  It not only is a way to practice word families, but also challenges them to look at words in a different way and try out ways to make new words out of something they’re familiar with. 


Phonics Games for 1st Graders: Scavenger Hunt

A good, old-fashioned scavenger hunt is also a great way to practice phonics skills, short vowel sounds, or even letter sounds.  Plus, who doesn’t love some quiet games!? Grab some sticky notes and write words containing the phonics skill you’re focusing on (these could actually be matching uppercase to lowercase letters all the way to complicated phonics skills like r-controlled vowels!) Place them around the room and have the kids go on a scavenger hunt, looking around the room for the words. As they find them, encourage them to say the word out loud!  You can even have them take the index cards to “home base” at their desk to see how many they collect!  

This scavenger hunt game can also be used in lots of different ways.  You can choose to do it with sight words.  Save yourself some time and laminate these so you can use them as flash cards later!  For your young learners, you can have them find an image and then go on a scavenger hunt for the first letter it begins with.

Digital Phonics for 1st Graders

Is there any better way to start our school day than with phonics?!  Starting the day with phonics and letter sounds is a perfect way to prep their brains for learning when they come to the carpet.  My Digital Decoding Activity for Morning Meeting is just what you need to get this done!  In the morning, everyone is fresh and ready to learn. This Digital Decoding Activity uses Google Slides and works on decoding specific phonics patterns.  These activities build confidence and fluency and are fun to use because they come with themes for each month.  These can be perfectly embedded right into your morning routine!

Already love your morning routine?  No problem! These can also be used during small groups or as a whiteboard literacy center and partner activity once students are familiar with the activity.  This resource gives you 84 Google Slides with monthly themes, 84 printable student pages for follow up decoding practice, and 10 Bonus Gifs Google Slides.  

Once you download the PDF, specific instructions will lead you to clicking provided links and directly open in your own Google Slides.  You can add in your own words from whichever phonics pattern it is you’re working on that day!  Because its editable, you can do any skill from short vowels to CVC words to diphthongs!  This activity allows you to follow the same routine every day, which is vital to phonics instruction – we must be explicit!  You simply display the new slide and say “Teacher, Teacher, What do you see?” and then students reply “I see readers looking at me!”  Students will then decode each word you listed on the board.  This is a great activity to review letter sounds as well for early kindergarten!  If you’re finding that your first graders are struggling with some sight words, this is an effective way to practice those as well.

More Phonics Activities for 1st Graders

If you’re looking for more phonics activities and resources for your beloved 1st graders, check out:

  •  My Phonics and Phonemic Awareness blog post!  It will take you through what phonemic awareness is and some hands-on activities on how to enhance your phonics lessons in your classroom.  

  • For more hands-on learning and word building, my Phonics Seasonal Word Mats are great encoding and decoding practice!  They cover everything from CVC words to those tricky consonant blends to diphthongs, and are a great way to practice letter blends as a literacy center or independent work.

  • My Reading Intervention Mats are perfect for quick grab-and-go letter blends activities for independent work, literacy centers, and small group work!  Included are an array of phonics skills: consonant-vowel-consonant words, digraphs, beginning blends, ending blends, added endings, CVCe words, r-controlled vowels, vowel teams/long vowel sounds, and diphthongs!  It builds great phonemic awareness, which is something all students must have a solid foundation of in order to be successful readers.

When it comes to phonics, we want to be sure we give it our all.  Phonics activities and games must be explicit and engaging!  And what’s more engaging than fun games? My hope is that all these phonics fun activities can enhance your phonics instruction in your 1st grade classroom.  And remember: you’re doing great!

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Aylin Claahsen

Providing resources and support to engage all readers.

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Hi, I'm Aylin!

I’m so happy you’re here! I’m a certified reading specialist who loves talking all things literacy. I have a huge passion for providing resources and support to engage all readers!


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