This post originally appeared on the blog A Year of Many Firsts.

Phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom, teacher-to-teacher, and even program-to-program. Because of this, it is easy to become frustrated and concerned that we are not doing everything in our power to best meet our students’ needs.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.Learning to read is like cracking a code! It takes a tremendous amount of practice and time to learn to read and understand new words. And, I am certain you will agree when I say that time is not on any teacher’s side. To help you get the most out of your phonics instruction time, I am sharing some best practices that I have used in my own classroom. These best practices are research-based and teacher-tested (with a kid-approved seal, of course!).

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Before I dive right in and share the details of what phonics instruction typically looks like with my students, I want to mention a tip on planning. When planning, I like to start at the end goal and work my way backwards. I use the backward design/planning process because it ensures that we are staying on target throughout each step of the lesson (even when time is not on our side). This step-by-step planning process can be applied to any subject area, not just phonics. Check it out below:

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Fitting it all in is hard enough, but when some programs expect you to squeeze up to four sound-spelling lessons into your week, you have to be on your game at all times. Starting at the finish line and working backwards will keep you on track! Trust me.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

We want students to understanLearning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.d the correlation between letters and sounds in order to identify, read, and write words. But, how do we teach that? Let’s break down the process into the following two parts to help us: Phonological Awareness and Phonics.

First, let’s look at phonological awareness. It’s important to understand that phonological awareness is not phonics. It involves the auditory and oral manipulation of sounds. It does not involve print. Research suggests that varied, fun, and quick phonological lessons have proven to be the most effective.

When working with students on phonological skills, it’s important that we provide clear and methodical instruction that focuses on, at most, two skills at a time (ex: blending and segmenting).Teachers can say words aloud, use puppets to “talk”, or show students picture cards. Students can identify the sounds they hear by tapping, clapping, or using stretchy bands. Students can also segment and blend with sound boxes and chips.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Some students benefit from using their arm, in addition to the sound boxes, to help them break up the sounds they hear. Have them “chop” the top of their arm with their opposite hand for the beginning sound, “chop” the middle of their arm for the medial sound, and “chop” the bottom of their arm for the final sound. Then, blend the whole word together as they smoothly move their hand from the top of their arm to the bottom.

When students are ready, they can begin to correlate sounds to letters. One way is to have students identify the sounds they hear and then write the corresponding letters for each sound. An effective strategy is to have students use chips/pom-poms to segment the sounds they hear. Then, they can replace the chips/pom-poms with letters.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

 

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Phonics is the association between letters and the letter sounds they represent. It is vital that we provide children with carefully sequenced, systematic direct instruction. Below I’m sharing some ideas on what to do for whole group instruction, small group instruction, rotation station time, and independent practice.

We all have different set schedules, so the amount of time allotted for phonics is going to vary for each person. My suggestion is to do what you can during whole group, and then try to carve out some time during the other chunks of your reading block.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

I try not to have my students spend more than 15 minutes on the carpet for whole group instruction. During this time, I try to keep my students actively involved in their learning through movement activities, interactive readings, and “buddy talk time.” The activities below are great introductory activities to any phonics lesson. I suggest only doing one of the whole group activities per lesson.

WHOLE GROUP IDEA #1: Sound Munchin’ Monster Activity – (8 minutes)

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.Items You Will Need:

  • a monster puppet – (you can make an inexpensive one out of a paper bag, if you don’t have a cloth one)
  • 8 or so items/picture cards (4-5 cards that have the focus sound and 4-5 that do not)
  • chart paper that only has the focus sound written in the center

What To Do:

First, determine what letter-sound pattern you are working on. Find about 4-5 items around your house/classroom or use 4-5 picture cards (available here) with that sound. For example: If the letter-sound pattern is /sh/ spelled “sh,” you could add: a shell, a Sharpie, a shirt, a shoe, and a shark toy. You will also want to add 4-5 items that do not make the focus sound. If we were doing the /sh/ sound, I would add a few /ch/ items to the mix because students often have difficulty distinguishing between the two sounds, /sh/ and/ch/.

(Because you need to gather items, this activity does require a little prep work on your end. However, if it’s a Sunday night and you are already half asleep while watching a Netflix show, don’t fret! You can always use the picture cards I have available for you.)

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Invite students to sit in a circle around you on the carpet. Place all items in the center of the circle. Be sure to have Sound Munchin’ Monster on your hand (and get ready to speak in your best monster voice!). The key to this lesson is to not reveal what the secret sound of the day is! Have your students try to discover it.

Tell students, “Boys and girls, we have a special visitor today. Sound Munchin’ Monster is here, and he is HUNGRY! The tricky thing about Sound Munchin’ Monster is that he’s a PICKY eater. He only likes to eat foods that make a certain sound, but the sound he likes changes all the time! Let’s see if we can figure out which sound he wants to eat today. Who wants to help me feed him? If he likes what you feed him, he’ll gobble it up and say, ‘Nom, nom, nom.’ If he doesn’t like what you feed him, he’ll spit it out and say, ‘Blarggggg.’

Choose students to help feed Sound Munchin’ Monster. I am not exaggerating when I say your students are going to squeal with excitement over feeding the puppet. (FYI – Not every child will have the chance to help you feed him. You may want to jot down the students you pick so that you know who to choose the next time you play).

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Add all of the “foods” he eats (the foods with the focus sound-spelling) to the “Yummy Pile.” Add all of the “foods” he does not like (the food without the focus sound-spelling) to the “Yucky Pile.” Afterwards ask, “What sound did we hear in all of the foods he LIKED? Turn and discuss your thoughts with your elbow neighbors.” When they think they know the secret sound that Sound Munchin’ Monster liked, have them “lock” up their lips with a magic key. Then, review each item with the class by listing each item aloud (Example: “He liked to eat ______, _______, _______, ______, and _______.”). Finally say, “Today, Sound Munchin’ Monster liked foods with the _____ (have whole class join you) sound!”

THE LINK BETWEEN LETTERS AND SOUNDS

Because Sound Munchin’ Monster is an auditory and oral activity, it acts as an excellent introduction/hook to your phonics lesson, and allows students to better understand the correlation between sounds and letters.

After students determine the sound, explain that the /_/ sound is spelled “_” (make that connection). Have a piece of chart paper ready with the sound-spelling pattern written in the center of it (see below). I suggest hiding the poster until after your students discover the sound.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Guided Release Method:

Revisit the foods that Sound Munchin’ Monster ate with the class. Explain that when they hear the /_/ sound, they are going to spell the word like this “____.” Model using the I Do, We Do, You Do method:

I Do (Teacher Alone): Pick one of the items from the pile. Say the item aloud. Write it on the chart paper. Explain that when they hear the /__/ sound in a word, it can be spelled “___.” Have students “spray paint” the air with their fingers or provide them with white boards and dry erase markers. Have them write the word along with you.

We Do (Teacher with Students): Choose a student from your class to pick an item from the pile. Provide necessary support as he/she writes the word on the chart paper. Have students “spray paint” the air with their fingers or provide them with white boards and dry erase markers. Have them write the word along with you and the student.

You Do (Students Alone): Have a different student pick another item from the pile. Allow him/her to model how to write the word without any support. Have students “spray paint” the air with their fingers or provide them with white boards and dry erase markers. Have them write the word along with the student.

WHOLE GROUP IDEA #2: Connecting Phonics to Poetry

To me, phonics and poetry are best friends because you can easily rhyme many phonics words with the same ending sound to create poems.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

What To Do:

  • Display the poem on document camera or hand write it on chart paper.
  • Read the story one time to the class. Have students tap their heads each time they think they hear the focus sound.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

  • I Do (Teacher Alone): Reread the poem. Explain that the /_/ sound is spelled “_.” Locate the first word with that sound-spelling and mark it/flag it with a Post-It Note. Say the word aloud.
  • We Do (Teacher with Students): Point to another word in the story that is not one of the sound-spelling words. Have students turn and talk about whether or not the word fits with the rule or not.
  • You Do (Student Alone): Call on a few students (in pairs) to mark the remaining words.

WHOLE GROUP IDEA #3: The Mystery Sound Box

Another simple and fun whole group introductory activity that you can do with your students is called “The Mystery Sound Box.” I particularly like this activity because it allows students to make a concrete connection and provides them with a pictorial representation of the sound-spelling.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

To do this activity, you will need to cut a hole in the side of a cardboard box. Make the hole large enough for students to put their hands in. Then, tape a piece of cloth/paper over the hole (but keep it so the hole is still accessible). Pick a secret item that has the sound-spelling you’ll be working on in the word (example: bag of seeds for long e, spelled “ee”) and place it in the box.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Next, pass out the sheets you see above (crayons and pencils too). Allow students to reach inside and feel the item. Then, provide them with two or three clues about the item. Give them time to draw and label what they think is inside the box before revealing the mystery item. Then, explain that the mystery item has the /_/ sound in the word. Make the connection between the sound and letters by modeling how to write the sound-spelling. Finally, allow students to draw and label the actual item, and have them write the sound-spelling at the bottom of the sheet.

FOLLOW UP ACTIVITY- Flashlight Frenzy/Write the Room

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Flashlight Frenzy has been a classroom favorite for years! This is an excellent follow-up activity after you have modeled how to identify and write words with the sound-spelling pattern.

How It Works: Scatter picture/word cards around the classroom (available here). I like to scatter some pictures/words with the sound-spelling and some without. Then, have students record only the words with the focus sound-spelling. That way, students have to really use their thinking caps! For a little extra practice, have students outline the sound-spelling with a highlighter or crayon.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

To add a little novelty to the lesson, turn off the lights, and give each student a flashlight. Scatter cards (picture cards or word cards) around the classroom. Have students use their flashlights to locate the words/pictures that have the focus sound-spelling. Afterward, I require them to go back to their seats and write a sentence using a word that they found. Many schools have a class set of flashlights available (sometimes in science kits). I purchased the ones you see above at the Dollar Tree. They will love using their flashlight to search for words! 

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Another fun take on Write the Room are these “My Little Phonics Books.” For these, you still scatter cards/pictures around the room, but instead of using the sheet(s) above, you use the books. Just have students flip to the page you’ll have them use prior to heading out on the hunt. Easy peasy and fun! You can print these as a full-size page or you can adjust the size and print multiple sheets on one page (like little pocket books).

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

 

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

CREATE A WORD WORK SPACE

Creating a simple, seamless system for Word Work will save the sanity of everyone (teacher included). My best bit of advice is to find a smaller space within the classroom where you can set up a station for students to gather what they need for Word Work. This ensures that students are not wasting any precious learning time shuffling around for materials. I have found that the bins below have worked best for my students. Each bin is clearly labeled with different phonics tub activities. When students go to Word Work, all they have to do is grab a bin, find a quiet space in the classroom, and begin working.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

ESTABLISH STRONG ROUTINES AND EXPECTATIONS

Consistency is key when teaching phonics (or any subject area, for that matter)! Predictability and structure allows students to focus solely on the new sound-spelling without having to put energy into learning how to complete the task at hand. Establishing clear routines and expectations helps hold students accountable for their actions and learning.

A few years ago I began using a reflection log for students to complete after Rotation Station time. It was a simple and effective way for students to “check-in” with themselves (behaviorally and academically). 

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

GIVE STUDENTS CHOICE

Students all learn in different ways. The simplest and most effective way to meet students’ needs is by giving them choices. Research has shown that students are more creative, better problem solvers, and more engaged when they are given choices. That’s why we, as teachers, must provide hands-on instruction that taps into multiple learning modalities.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

 

When students go to Word Work during Rotation Station time, they have the choice to work on any of the activities in the bins you see above. Nine of the bins pretty much stay the same all year (with the exception of a few bins that will be replaced with grammar activities later on in the school year). The only thing that changes is the focus sound-spelling.

I purchased these bins at Michael’s Arts and Crafts for around $5 a piece. They always have great deals there (and their coupons help too). Most of the materials you will need for these bins are provided in my Hands-On Phonics Bundle (you can read all about them below). The materials that are not provided (dry erase markers, white boards, etc.) are items you most likely already have in your classroom.

To add a little novelty to this station, I also include three “Switch It Out” bins. The activities in these bins change about twice a month. Usually I briefly explain how to do the “Switch It Out” activities on Friday afternoon before dismissal. Then, I explain them again on Monday morning before we go to Rotation Stations. I do not monitor which activities students complete each day. I do, however, encourage them to switch up the activities that they work on. We talk about that as a whole group (and sometimes individually) as they complete their Reflection Logs (what I mentioned above).

PHONICS BIN #1: Match It Up

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Match It Up is the perfect game to play independently, but it can be played in pairs or small groups too. It’s really up to you! The beauty of this game is that ALL students can play (regardless of their reading ability). The text on each clue card challenges your strong readers and the picture support helps your struggling readers. I’m showing you what you’ll need for this bin and some ways to play the Match It Up game. There are about 500 cards for all of the phonics sound-spellings. The cards are color coded by sound-spelling to help your students!

What You Will Need:

  • all of the Match it Up cards, including clue cards and paw print cards
  • magnifying glasses
  • white boards (if you wish)
  • dry erase markers (if you wish)

Option 1: Student will scatter around the paw prints (face up) and will have the clue cards in his/her hand. As quick as possible, the student will read the clue on the card (or look at the picture) to try to find the match. What are the magnifying glasses for, you ask? If students think they’ve found a match, they can check to see if they have found the correct pair by looking in the corner of the clue card for the word written in tiny letters. It can only be seen with a magnifying glass. What kid wouldn’t love this game?

Option 2: This option can be played with multiple students. Provide students with the Match It Up cards they will need. Have students scatter the paw cards and clue cards on the floor face down. Similar to Memory, students pick one clue card and one paw card. They read the clue (and look at the picture) and read the word on the paw. If the two cards are a match, they keep them. The student who collects the most cards wins that round.

To take this activity one step further, students can write sentences for all of the matches they find on white boards.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

PHONICS BIN #2: Clip Its

Clip It cards are an easy tool to prep for your phonics bins. To use the Clip It cards, students must first look at the picture provided. Then, they must read the three words listed. The tricky part is all of the words have the same sound-spelling. Therefore, they have to decode each word in order to determine which one matches the picture. It’s easy and effective! I also like how we are able to squeeze in a little fine motor practice! If you’d like to take this activity one step further, you could provide students with white boards and markers and have them write sentences for each word.

What You Will Need:

  • Clip It Cards (there are over 400 cards)
  • Clothespins
  • White board (if you wish)
  • Dry erase marker (if you wish)

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

PHONICS BIN #3: I Can Write!

I Can Write is an excellent activity for phonics bins. Provide students with these writing cards and have them go to town. Students must identify the picture, write the word for the picture, and then use that word in a sentence. The lines are extra-large to give students plenty of space to write.

What You Will Need:

  • “I Can Write” cards (there are 500+ sentence cards)
  • Dry erase markers

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

PHONICS BIN #4: Hands-On Mats

The Hands-On Mats are my personal favorite phonics activity because students can interact with their phonics words in a multitude of ways (all on the same mat!).

What Students Will Need:

  • Phonics mats
  • Phonics picture cards
  • Phonics word cards
  • Dry erase markers
  • Letter tiles or magnet letters (I also have printable letter cards available, like you see below)

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

This mat requires students to choose a word card, connect the letters to form the word, and then use the word in a sentence.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

This mat requires students to choose a picture card or word card, write the word to match the picture, build the word, and then use the word in a sentence.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

This mat is similar to the one above except no writing of the word is required. Students can use letter tiles, magnet tiles, or the letter cards you see below (the most inexpensive option). I cut out the letters and put Velcro on the back. FYI – If you plan on using the letter cards, you will need to print multiples of the letter cards because some words have more than one of the same letter.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

For this mat, students select a word card, build it, and then write a sentence.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

For this mat, students choose a word card, draw a picture, and then write a sentence with that word.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Finally, this mat requires students to “type” and write words.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

PHONICS BIN #5: Trace, Build, Write

Trace, Build, Write is another phonics activity that is simple yet highly effective.

What You Will Need:

  • Trace, Build, Write books (500+ books)
  • Dry erase markers
  • Erasers
  • Letter tiles (I like to use the ones from Bananagrams)

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

PHONICS BIN #6: Phonics Writing Pages

These phonics writing pages are every teacher’s dream! For each writing sheet, you’ll find five or so words (with the image included) and plenty of writing space. Students can choose some of the words from the Word Bank to write their own silly story. You can have them color the words that they decide to use and highlight those words in their story.

What You Will Need:

  • Phonics Writing Pages (100+ pages)
  • Pencils
  • Crayons

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.
Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

At the bottom of the sheet you’ll find this self-check rubric. Students can check off that they have done all four parts before turning in their work.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

PHONICS BIN #7: Search and Find

For this activity, students must read the focus sound-spelling and then find words that have that sound-spelling in the jumble of words. The fonts and text sizes are all different to help familiarize students with different fonts found in stories.

What You Will Need:

  • Search and Find sheets (100 sheets)
  • Dry erase markers
  • Magnifying glasses (if you wish)

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

PHONICS BIN #8: I Can Build It

These phonics build it mats are great to have at your Word Work area. Students can use play dough or pom-poms to fill each word. The focus sound-spelling is highlighted in gray. I suggest having your students use two different colors when filling each word to help them recognize the focus sound-spelling. The tweezers and play dough help students work on their fine motor skills.

What You Will Need:

  • I Can Build It mats (500+ mats)
  • Red and blue pom-poms
  • Red and blue play dough/Magic Dough
  • Jumbo tweezers

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

PHONICS BIN #9: Word Masters

These Word Master sheets have been a classroom favorite for years! I must say, I really love these too. Three options are included. Students can circle the letters they will use to make words or they can use magnet tiles/letter tiles.

What You Will Need:

  • I’m a Word Master mats (over 100 mats)
  • Dry erase markers
  • Erasers
  • Magnet letters/Letter tiles

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Option 1: I Can Make and Build Real Words (write 4 real words)

Students write four real words on the lines provided. This is great for those who easily get overwhelmed with writing. Students can use letter tiles to build the words before writing them, if they would like.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Option 2: I Can Make and Build Real Words (open-ended)

Students try to make as many real words with the letters or letter-pairs provided. They write all of the real words in the open box.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Option 3: I Can Make and Build Words (real vs. nonsense version)

Students make as many words as possible and then sort them by whether they are real words or nonsense words.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

SWITCH IT OUT BIN IDEAS

Like I mentioned above, you can add a little novelty to the Word Work station in your classroom with “Switch It Out” bins. You don’t have to change out the activities in these bins very often, but adding some new activities keeps students excited and on their toes! Here are a few of my favorite “Switch It Out” activities:

Ducks In the Pond

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

 You will need to laminate and tape the picture cards and the matching words to the bottom of the ducks. Students will scatter the ducks all over the “pond,” Similar to Memory, students will try to find as many word and picture matches. The one rule is that if they do not find a match, they must place the ducks back where they found them.

If students are playing individually, they can use a sand timer to see how many words they can match in one minute. Once the minute is up, they must put them all back and try again. Each time, they will find more and more matches. Once they find all of them, you can have them write sentences for each one.

What You Will Need:

  • plastic ducks 
  • small picture cards (I printed with multiples on each page – I selected “Multiples” and then changed the settings to 4×4)
  • word cards (same printing as above)
  • piece of blue cloth/felt cut into the shape of a pond
  • sand timer (if playing individually)

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

MAKING WORDS WITH PIPE CLEANERS

If students are up for the challenge, this is a really fun phonics bin! Students can use the word cards provided to build words with pipe cleaners. I found Jumbo Pipe Cleaners in the art section at Target for just a few dollars. First graders will go ga-ga over them. Regular sized ones work great too, if you are unable to find the big ones. After students twist the pipe cleaners to build their word, they can use the word in a sentence.

What You Will Need:

  • Pipe cleaners
  • Dry erase markers
  • Phonics word cards (500+ word cards)

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

MAKING WORDS WITH MAGNET LETTERS

For this activity, students take a picture card and practice building the word on a magnetic whiteboard or cookie tray.

What You Will Need:

  • Magnet letters
  • Picture cards
  • Magnetic white board or cookie tray

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

MAKING WORDS WITH PAINT AND SAND

Another easy to prep activity that is certainly a big crowd pleaser! For the painting activity, fill up a gallon-sized Ziploc bag with a small amount of paint (hair gel works well too), add a little water, and go to town. Students can write words with their pointer finger. To “erase,” all they have to do is run their fingers over the word they “painted” to squish the paint around. The sand activity works similarly. Just make sure not to add too much sand to the bottom of the box/tray so that students can see the word they wrote.

What You Will Need:

  • Word cards
  • Paint
  • Sand
  • Plastic Crayon box or shallow tray
  • Ziplocs
  • Whiteboard or lunch tray

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.
Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Ideally, while your students are at Rotation Stations, you can be working with a small group on comprehension, phonics, sight words, fluency, and vocabulary. You might be asking, “What tools do I need to have at the small group table?” Below I’m sharing some tried-and-true tools that are beneficial to have on hand!

First up, the bin you see below. I got this bin on Amazon awhile back and it has been a total lifesaver. The compartments keep everything organized and you are able to see everything right there in front of you. No more digging around in a drawer!

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

What All Is Inside?

  • Phonics Assessment Strips
  • Reading Strategy Cards
  • Finger Beams
  • Reading Finger Monsters
  • Magnetic Wands
  • Phonics Picture Cards
  • Phonics Word Cards
  • My Little Word Ladders
  • Play dough
  • Pom-poms
  • Reading Phones
  • Soundbox Cards
  • Master It Books

 

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Some other “tools” to have on hand are: I Can Point and Read binder (see below), magnetic letters, white boards, dry erase markers, and pencils. Let me share more in-depth details about all of these tools below:

MASTER IT BOOKS

These Master It books are a must-have for every teacher! Each book focuses on a different sound-spelling. You can print multiple copies of the same book for your students. Students can use the reading finger monsters or finger beams to highlight the words as they read. I also included two free reading tools: the magnifying glass and the star kid. Students can “frame” the words that have the sound-spelling. There are over 100 books included.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

READING STRATEGY CARDS

I love these reading strategy cards because each card is broken down into easy to understand terms for your students. You can print them as small cards or blow them up to be large posters. One benefit to having them printed smaller is that you can lay down the cards and have them at eye level for your students. 
Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.
Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

PHONICS ASSESSMENT STRIPS

Another beneficial tool to have on hand are these phonics assessment strips. You can pull students one at a time for a few minutes (example: during morning work) or you can have students practice with these during small group time. I have had parent volunteers use these with students in the past, as well. All sound-spellings are included.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

I CAN POINT AND READ BINDER

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

The pages you see below can be printed out as large posters or they can be placed in sleeves and put in a binder. It’s up to you! I have used these both ways: as whole group reference posters and as small group instruction tools.

 Ways to Use Binder:

  • work with students one-on-one
  • have a parent helper/volunteer pull students
  • make a few binders and have students practice together

Another idea is to set up a little “visitor” area in your classroom. My old principal would often come in to watch and work with students. I put the phonics binder in the visitor area for her along with the names of a few students. It was a win-win for everyone. She loved helping me and getting to know my students. And, my students absolutely adored having that one-on-one attention from the principal! They were highly motivated. I know that this situation is not always possible, but even a space like this for volunteers is great! There are over 100 posters included.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

INDEPENDENT PRACTICE – READ AND PRACTICE SHEETS

I often like to have those students go back to their seats to practice what we worked on at small groups. These Read and Practice sheets are the perfect tool for just that purpose. Students are required to interact with the focus sound-spelling in multiple ways (circle real words, trace and draw, read and circle, and write sentences).

You don’t have to use these immediately after a small group session. You can use them as independent practice after a whole group lesson, for homework, or as morning work. It’s truly up to you! There are over 100 sheets included.

Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.

If you want your students to partake in rigorous, fun, and engaging activities, the Hands-On Phonics Bundle is just the ticket. The Hands-On Phonics Bundle includes a collection of over 2,000 pages of resources for every single phonics sound-spelling. These activities will help build confident and lifelong readers!

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Learning to read is like cracking a code and phonics instruction can vary drastically from classroom-to-classroom and teacher-to-teacher.Lyndsey Kuster is an experienced first grade teacher residing in the beautiful mountains of Asheville, NC. She is passionate about collaborating with teachers all around the world and creating meaningful and visually appealing activities that meet the needs of all learners. Lyndsey shares teacher-tested, kid approved tips, strategies, and materials over at her blog, A Year of Many Firsts