Learning how to read should be FUN for kids, which is why I’ve rounded up some of my favorite phonics games and activities for kindergarten. The early years are so foundational when it comes to reading as students learn letter sounds, graphemes, and more. In fact, studies show that a strong foundation in phonemic awareness and strong phonics skills are directly correlated with reading success later on. How do we achieve this? That’s a great question! The best way is with fun, engaging, and explicit phonics activities! And the good news is I have a ton for you today!
Phonics for Kindergarten
Before we dive into these awesome phonics activities for kindergarten (and first grade), let’s talk about best practice when it comes to phonics instruction. There is a science to the science of reading (shocker!) and our lesson plans should reflect that. There are three questions that you should ask yourself as you’re planning your phonics lessons for young kids (and older ones too, for that matter). Ask yourself these questions for any type of phonics lesson, whether it be letters of the alphabet, beginning sounds, or something else.
Is my instruction explicit? When it comes to phonics instruction, the first step we must take is making sure we are being explicit in both whole and small group. But what does this mean exactly? It means that as teachers, we need to take the “guessing work” out of it for our students. Our teaching should be concise and to-the-point. Although students may take to reading faster or slower than others, all students learn to read in the same way. This means our instruction needs to be explicit and consistent. Lessons should be teacher-led and students should be engaged and focused when they respond. This goes for anything from letter sounds to CVC words to simple words to diphthongs and beyond!
Do I have a set routine for my phonics instruction? Routine is key when students are sitting down at your table to learn phonics. When children come to our small group table, they should know what to expect. They should know the routine, how to complete the activities, and how to do the exercises. When we have a set routine, this makes it easier for instruction to be explicit and effective. With routines in place, students will then spend less time learning a new activity and instead focus on learning the phonics skill. Students thrive in a classroom with a solid routine, and our reading small group table should be no different!
Am I following a scope and sequence that makes sense? Teachers should also follow a scope and sequence that shows a progression of reading skills. After you feel students have a solid foundation in phonological awareness (onset-rime, rhyming, syllable segmenting, etc.), you can begin with letter sounds and names, blending and segmenting simple words like VC and CVC words, and eventually move on to digraphs, double final consonants, consonant blends (beginning and ending), added endings, CVCe words, r-controlled vowels, vowel teams, diphthongs, etc. And speaking of blending and segmenting, this is the place you want to get to as quickly as possible. Although phonological awareness is important, we don’t want to spend more time here than we have to. If we blend and segment as soon as students are able, it’s these skills that will make them more successful, strong readers in the long run.
When we’re answering these questions, we’re ensuring that our small and whole group time is meaningful. As teachers, we are pulled in so many different directions on any given day. We have transitions that go awry, copy machines that get jammed, behavior charts to manage, and more. And even though that’s just the nature of teaching, it’s also the reason why we need to ensure our instruction time is meaningful and kids are getting what they need. And we do this by valuing our small and whole group time.
Phonics Activities for Kindergarten
As we chat about the difference between small and whole group instruction, I’m excited to share with you some awesome resources that you can use during these times. First up – whole group instruction! During whole group phonics instruction, we want to be sure we’re covering general goals for students in that specific grade level. This instruction can be explicit (just like our small group), but will naturally be more of a general covering of grade level phonics since it includes the entire class. When you’re teaching in whole group, it’s important to keep in mind that students who need more of a challenge will see this time as review, and struggling students will see this time as being exposed to grade level content (even if it’s a bit difficult for them to grasp.) It’s for this reason that you should hold whole group time a little bit looser than small group time. Things like sight words are a great activity to work on while in whole group. We need to make these activities fun enough to capture their attention, safe enough for them to not feel embarrassed if they got it wrong, and effective enough so they can reach everyone.
Some great activities for whole group instruction would include alphabet letter tiles while working on letter sounds or building words, writing words with shaving cream, dry erase board work, writing down answers in a notebook, etc. For example, if you’re studying vowel teams as your phonics skill and you know some students may struggle and some may be reviewing, you can simply say a word out loud and ask them to either build it with letters while pulling out individual sounds, write it with shaving cream, or write it on their board. You may simply walk around the room taking mental notes on how each student is doing, or you may have them hold up their boards to show their answers. Either way, this whole group time should be fun and engaging.
Small Group Phonics Activities
It’s at our small group table that we can deliver more explicit, tailored instruction to our students who need it most. This could be students who are struggling with a specific phonics skill or students who are in need of a challenge or are perhaps at a first grade reading level. Either way, small group is the perfect time to give students instruction that’s specific to their needs. Just like in whole group, small group time is also a great place to work on sight words. Using magnetic alphabet letters during this time is especially effective, because students are pulling letter sounds down with each sound they hear to build a word. If you feel students are not ready for this step, simply doing activities that work on phoneme-grapheme mapping (like using Elkonin boxes) is a good way to promote phonological awareness before actually matching the grapheme to the sound. Another great activity at the small group table is word chaining, where students begin with one word and make new words from it. For example, students can start with the word cat and change it to mat and then map and so on. Whatever activity you choose, your small group instruction is the time where students can get exactly what they need.
During this small group time, you may be wondering what the rest of the class is doing. And I’m glad you asked! Good phonics instruction can also take place during independent time and literacy centers for the rest of the class while you’re working with your small group. Good phonics activities (like literacy centers) are challenging, able to be completed individually, and are familiar to the students. These can also be tailored to students. While some might be working on hearing the first letter in a word or short vowel sounds, you can simultaneously have other students working on more complicated skills like long vowels or sight words you’re currently studying. It’s important that this time is either for review or studying a current phonics skill. For literacy centers, it’s best not to introduce anything new if they’re doing it independently.
But no matter if you’re gearing up for whole group, prepping for your small group, or assembling a literacy center, there’s nothing like having a go-to activity that you can always count on.
Seasonal Phonics Review Activities
My Seasonal Phonics Review Activities are great for both whole and small group instruction, not to mention literacy centers too! These word mats for decoding and encoding are perfect for any season of the year. And because they practice decoding and encoding, you can be sure they’re working on essential skills for early literacy! These word mats include CVC words, digraphs, beginning and ending blends, CVCe words, r-controlled vowels, and vowel teams/long vowels and their sounds. So no matter where your students are at on their reading journey, you can be sure to find a skill that they need! You’ll get word cards, picture cards, sentence pages, and word mats. Plan to use this in your whole group and don’t have enough letter tiles for students? No problem! Also included are letter tiles so that this can work in your whole group, too. Students will encode by choosing a word card, saying it aloud and each sound in the word, and pulling out individual sounds to build it.
Whether it’s for whole group or small group or as a literacy center, these word mats will be sure to help your kindergarten students practice their letter-sound knowledge and build words.
Phonics Games for Kindergarten
Small groups and literary centers are the two perfect times where students can have fun and play lots of engaging phonics games. This is because this time tends to be more focused and individualized. Phonics games in whole group may get a bit tricky since you’re working with more students. But small groups and literacy centers tend to be a bit more of a controlled and setting. These are also great times to differentiate, unlike whole group instruction. And let’s remember – differentiation doesn’t mean only tailoring lessons to those that struggle. These are times for those high fliers to really and be challenged.
A simple I Have, Who Has? game for whole and small groups. For kindergarteners who are working on letter sounds, you can simply have notecards with short vowels on them and some with CVC words on them. Each student gets a card and says, “I have the word cat.. Who has /a/?” The student with the short /a/ vowel sound will raise their hand. These can also be done with just letter sounds and no words. For example, one student could say, “I have the letter H. Who has J?” This could be done with letter names or sounds. I Have, Who Has? is also a great game for sight words! Other games such as a spin and write, letter names (or sounds) memory, matching uppercase to lowercase words, or finding the first letter sound are effective and fun in settings like these. If you’re looking for a fun word families game, have half of the class get a note card with a letter on it, and the other half of the class have word families on their note cards. Students can walk around the room completing the word families together. And who doesn’t love a little movement?
Seasonal Phonics Games and Fluency Activities
My Seasonal Phonics Games and Fluency Bundle makes a perfect, fun game for whole groups, small groups, and literacy centers. One of the reasons it’s so versatile in the classroom is because it comes with a variety of different activities, so whether you find yourself in whole group, small group, or a literacy center, you’re able to choose which activity you want for each lesson. In this awesome resource, students will make their way through reading words in isolation, then in sentences, then in a small story, and wrap it all up with a fun phonics game while they roll the dice and read words!
And because you know I always provide you with all the phonics skills you’ll need, these activities cover CVC words, and eventually move on to digraphs, double final consonants, blends, added endings, silent e words, r-controlled vowels, vowel teams, and diphthongs! You can choose to read the words together as a class during whole group, cover the sentences and short stories in small group, and have students play the game during literacy centers. Or rather, use all four activities in any group setting and use it however you choose!
With the seasonal bundle, you’ll be covered from the beginning of the year until the end of the year! This resource comes with fall, winter, spring, and summer-themed activities so you can have fun all year long as you make your way down the scope and sequence. And speaking of scope and sequence, this activity is a great way to differentiate inside your classroom. During literacy centers, simply give students who need more of a challenge a more difficult phonics skill, and your struggling stud
ents a phonics skill that’s more appropriate for them. It’s the perfect resource where you can just grab and go – no need to prep, just print! I love taking the guessing work out of teaching for you, as well as the endless scrolling on social media to find that “just right” activity. With my Phonics Games and Fluency Activities, you have your whole and small groups planned! Not to mention an easy-to-use literacy center!
More Phonics Games and Activities for Kindergarten
Now, all of this may sound great to you, but there could be one question you’re thinking: Where do I even start with phonics patterns? Check out my blog post, where you can read about and attain a FREE phonics assessment for Kindergarten-5th grade. You’ll read about how you can use this assessment to guide small group placement and plan literacy centers or independent activities at the start of the school year.
You can also snag my FREE Phonics Quick Check Assessment that helps you figure out which phonics patterns your students know! This, too, can also help you while making your small groups at the beginning of the year and also throughout the year as your students learn and grow in their reading journey. And if you’re ready to get started right away and are ready for more phonics ideas, my blog post on 5 Phonics Word Work Ideas is another great resource because these activities are little prep and use materials that you already have in your classroom! Although this focuses on phonics, many of these activities can be used for sight words, too.
Phonics instruction can seem intimidating at first, because when you look at a scope and sequence, there’s a lot to cover. But the truth is, phonics instruction is actually simple because the lessons should be straight-forward, explicit, and consistent. When you’re following a good routine and scope and sequence, it takes all of the guessing out for you AND for your students. With these standards and activities in place, we can ensure that our students are strong readers and skilled readers.