Three Games to Make Learning Phonemic Awareness Fun and Engaging
Before children can develop reading and spelling skills, they must first understand that the words in our spoken language are made up of individual sounds, and they must learn and discover how these sounds connect to form the words we hear. This is phonemic awareness – the ability to hear and identify the smallest sound units in speech. We are not born with this skill, and it must be taught.
For all young learners, helping them develop phonemic awareness skills will go a long way to help them become proficient readers. With each new group of young students I teach, I always spend a lot of time working on phonemic awareness development. Because I often work with younger pre-school and kindergarten aged students, I had to make sure that the learning process would be fun and engaging, and that the activities we did would hold their interest.
Children with low levels of phonemic awareness maybe at risk for reading failure. A student’s success with phonemic awareness is highly predictive of later reading success, but doing repeated blending and segmenting drills can be boring. Can you imagine working through a long list of CVC words to practice blending and segmenting? Not fun.
Let’s face it, kids learn better when they are having fun. In fact, the same applies to adults as well.
Here are a few tried and tested phonemic awareness activities that will make learning fun and engaging. Each activity should take no more than 10 to 15 minutes to complete, and during these activities, it is important to use the phoneme sounds (denoted in slashes / /) and not the letter names.
1. Sounds and Actions
This is always one of the first phonemic awareness games I play with my students. It gets them focused on individual sounds and gets them thinking about the phonemes inside the words we hear. No extra materials are needed. Start by choosing 2 letter sounds, and assigns a different action to each sound. Let’s use /a/ and /b/ sounds as an example. You can assign an action to each sound, or ask students for suggestions. You can have a lot of fun getting all kinds of suggested actions. In our example, we’ll keep it simple and pair jumping with the /a/ sound and clapping with the /b/ sound.
I start simple to get my students familiarized with the game. I say the /a/ sound, and wait for my students to jump, and then I say the /b/ sound and wait for my students to clap their hands. I would do this several times, to make sure all children understand the game. Now I make things interesting. Instead of saying just the /a/ or /b/ sounds, I will say a short CVC word that contains either sound.
For example, I might say: “CAT!”
The funny thing about this, is that the first time you do this, you are likely to get a lot of blank stares. You will see children doing different actions, and then stopping, trying to figure out which action they are supposed to perform. The children did not hear the /a/ or /b/ sounds. They heard /cat/! Now I have to help them hear the /a/ sound in CAT. To do this, I really stretch out the word when I say it.
A few students might be able to hear the /a/ sound this time, but I usually need to do this several times before all the students catch on. Sometimes I will put even more emphasis on the /a/ sound in “CAAAAAAAAAT” by saying the /a/ sound much louder.
2. Hopping Hoops
This game requires 3 to 5 hula hoops, and I like to use this game to encourage my students to really think about the sounds they hear in each word, and how these sounds connect together to form a word. At the start, I would recommend using just three letter CVC words. I setup 3 hoops in a line, and I tell my students that each hoop is a “sound box”, and you can only put one single sound in it.
I give each student one CVC word, and they need to figure out what are the three sounds in the word. The student must then be able to hop into each of the three hoops (sound boxes), and say the associated sounds. Finally, the student hops out of the last hoop, and says the full word.
Let’s use the word CAT again as an example. The student must hop into the first hoop, and say the /c/ sound; hop into the second hoop, and say the /a/ sound; hop into the third hoop, and say the /t/ sound; and finally, hop out and say the full word “CAT”.
3. The Shopping Game
This third game is really an all time favorite for my students, and it is the game that I get the most requests for. Who does not like to go shopping, right? Some simple materials are required to play this game:
- Some play money – plastic coins will do perfectly
- Small toys and objects such as:
You’ll notice that all the names of the items above can be easily segmented. So it is best to select objects with shorter names, and ideally in CVC format, which will make it easier for students to segment and blend.
To purchase an item, the child must correctly identify all the sounds in the item’s name. For example, if the student wants to buy a cup, he or she must be able to identify the three sounds of /c/, /u/, and /p/ in CUP.
The great thing about this game is that the children are very motivated to “buy” the items in my store, and because of this, they work extra hard at trying to figure out the individual sounds in the item names. I provide assistance when needed, and in the end, all children are happy shoppers.
We should all approach the task of teaching reading first through phonemic awareness development. Our children must first learn to hear and identify the smallest sounds in our speech. When children understand the key concept that the words we speak contain smaller sound units, which can be represented by the printed text we see, teaching them to read will not seem like such a daunting task.