Phonics Play Ideas

2019-11-20     Heather Mactivity    

phonics games and activities

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.

For example

c -a-t



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! 

year 2 common exception word handwriting practise sheets

year 2 common exception word handwriting practice sheets

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.
  • Write common exception words on bubble wrap and then, as you call out each word, encourage children to “pop” the right bubble!
bubble wrap sight words

bubble wrap sight words

  • Use an old egg carton and milk carton lids to make a fun phonics game! Perfect or phase 2 phonics, ask children to choose the right bottle cap, and match it the same letter written in the egg box. Great for letter recognition.
letter sound games

letter sound games

  • Use cars or unicorns and “park” them in their spaces or stables. Write a letter sound or tricky word in each space, and challenge the children to “park” in the right place! One of our unicorn stabling games is right here.
tricky words practise sheets

tricky words practise sheets

Phonics phase 5 car park game

Phonics phase 5 car park game


  • Make yuck phonics soup! From Edpire.
Phonics play ideas

Photocredit: Edspire

  • If a 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 Duplo or Megabloks to encourage children to write common exception or tricky words using individual blocks (another activity from our upcoming “Learn to read the easy way” book!).
phonics play idea

phonics play idea


  • Use playdough to spell out words – fun, good for fine motor skills and reinforces everything. From Pears and Chocolate Sauce.
phonics play ideas

Photo credit: 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.
  • Play “tricky words detectives“. Tell your children that they have to say the secret password to e.g. get a treat, go for playtime, pass through a doorway. Get them to splat the word too with their hand! Use our tricky words detectives resources to help.
Tricky words detectives

Tricky words detectives

  • Try this plastic egg activity idea from Edspire.
egg cvc activity

Photo credit: 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!
  • Play tricky words jigsaws! Write tricky words onto sheets and cut them up – write the full word at the top of each section. Then challenge children to put them back together again.
tricky words jigsaw

tricky words jigsaw

  • Practise common exception words and tricky words by writing it backwards and challenging children to use a mirror to use the word (one of the activities from our upcoming “Learn to read the easy way” book!).
common exception word practise

common exception word practise

phonics play ideas

Photo credit: Kids, Cuddles and Muddy Puddles

phonics play ideas

Photo credit: 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.
Obb and Bob sorting game idea

Obb and Bob sorting game idea

CVC Letter Shape Phoneme Frames - Colour Version

CVC Letter Shape Phoneme Frames


  • Make word sliders to help children blend CVC words. We’ve got a brilliant template for this!
CVC Blending resources

CVC blending resources

Phonics Scheme

Are you looking for play-based phonics ideas? We have created a whole class phonics scheme full of active, engaging fun yet simply ideas! Explore here.

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Categories: Parents, phonics, Uncategorized

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