Coming up with Phonics play ideas is actually easier than it sounds! Since children who are learning phonics are usually in the 3-7 age range, it also makes total sense to make any phonics learning activities as fun and playful as possible. But how to do it – how can you make phonics fun and ensure that learning takes place too? We’ve come up with some great ideas that might help! Since the arrival of letters and sounds a few years ago, there have been various approaches to phonics, and we’re excited to announce that we will very shortly be launching our new fun phonics games, fun phonics activities and much more! Keep an eye on our Phonics resources to be the first in the know
What is phonics?
For the uninitiated – what is phonics? Put simply, it is a systematic approach to learning to read, write and spell words. If you’re a parent, you will probably have heard the word “phonics” used when talking about the way that children learn to read. When you were a child, it’s possible that you were taught to read through learning flashcards and learning by sight. These days, children are encouraged to break down the sounds in words in order to “decode” them and work out what they are. Here are some of the key aspects of phonics that are useful to both parents and teachers.
What are Phonemes
Phonemes can be explained as the smallest unit of sound in a word. These can be :-
- Single sounds such as r, m, n
- Digraphs (this means two letters in a sound) such as ch, sh, ai
- Trigraphs (this means three letters in a sound) such as igh
- Split digraphs – these are made up of two letters that are “split” by having another little in the middle of them. For example a_e in “game” or i_e in “tide”
The English language has 44 phonemes. Children are taught to read and write each phoneme, forming them accurately. When children read these phonemes, they are taught to pronounce them in a way you may be unfamiliar with. The sounds are very short and snappy, e.g. there is no “uh” sound at the end of the phoneme “d”. The same goes for “g” and “p”, amongst others.
Children also need to know the names of letters (the alphabet) and also alphabetical order. You can help with this by playing “I spy” using both the phonetic sound of the first letter of a word and the alphabet name of the first letter of the word. You can also ask children to tell you the sound and name of the first letter of words around the house.
The simplest way to explain a grapheme is to say that graphemes make up the way a word looks, whereas a phoneme tells us how a word sounds. For example ee/ea/ey are all the same phoneme (sound) but have different graphemes.
Segmenting and Blending Ideas
Once children have started learning some phonemes, they will quickly move onto segmenting and blending them. Blending is when children use their knowledge of phonemes to read words.
Segmenting is when children use their knowledge of phonemes to spell out and help them to write words, it is the opposite of blending. For example they might identify all the phonemes in c-a-t to help them write it down.
Common Exception Words
As you might have guessed, the English language can be quite complicated, and not every word can be decoded into phonemes – as they just wouldn’t sound right. If you try to decode words like “was” and “said” they would sound very different to how we usually say them! Words like this are called “common exception words” – they are exceptions to the rule. For this reason, we have to teach children to read common exception words by sight, e.g. from memory. We have some really useful Common Exception Word resources already!
Phonic Play Ideas
Here are some great phonics games and activities that children really enjoy, and are easy to set up too.
- Read together! Listen to your child or children in your class read and let them see you reading too. Encourage children to visit the library to try out books for free.
- Praise and encourage! Give children a chance to have a go at reading each word, don’t correct every single mistake. Remember they are still learning.
- Make yuck phonics soup! From Edpire.
- If your child is struggling to read a word, encourage them to use the pictures in the book and words around the difficult word (e.g. the context) to help them figure out the word they are struggling with.
- Use playdough to spell out words – fun, good for fine motor skills and reinforces everything. From Pears and Chocolate Sauce.
- Ask your child to sound talk e.g. break down the initial sound of the word to help them predict what the whole word might be.
- Skip the word and read to the end of the sentence, then come back to it. Again, this gives context.
- Try this plastic egg activity idea from Edspire.
- Kids, Cuddles and Muddy Puddles suggests using a glue stick to write words, then covering what you’ve glued in glitter – love this idea!
- Use buttons to spell out words – another great idea from Kids, Cuddles and Muddy Puddles.
- I love this muffin tin reading game from Pears and Chocolate Sauce.
- Play an Obb and Bob sorting game! Challenge children to decode both real and alien words and post them in the right “alien” or monster. Take it in turns to decide what goes where.
- Use our CVC Letter Shape Phoneme Frames to practice writing words – the shape of the frame helps to give a clue!
Phonics Screening Check
At the end of year 1, children are tested to see if they have a good grasp of phonics. Click here for our Phonics Screening Check resources.