How can I help my child learn to read? What skills do they need to know? I often get questions like this from parents who want to help their child to read, but are unsure how to go about doing it. As an mom, teacher and English major, I know how important teaching children to read is, but I also understand that it can be challenging. Below I am sharing five of my favorite, and most effective phonemic awareness and letter recognition activities for children.
If you have a child in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, a beginner reader or struggling reader, these phonemic awareness/phonics activities are easy to do and effective.
Before a child can read, they need to know the sounds our alphabet makes. Learning the sounds of individual letters are the building blocks of reading. The more confident a child is with their sounds and letters, the more prepared they will be to start reading.
Phonemic awareness is basically an ability to hear and manipulate sounds. The phonemic awareness activities below also incorporate letter recognition. They are intended to help children learn, recognize and match sounds to letters.
Where to Start with Phonemic Awareness
If you’re not sure if your child has the skills these activities focus on, there is no harm in trying them out to see. If they can do the activities with ease, then you can move onto activities that focus on things like rhyming, combining letters to make words and even word family activities.
Once children recognize letters and the sounds they each make, they can start putting these sounds together to make and read words. Simply knowing the alphabet and the names for each letter is not what will help children to read. Children need to know the sound each letter makes.
The activities below are simple to prepare and can be used by parents at home. They also work well in the classroom for teachers to use for small or large group instruction. Best of all they are hands-on and engaging which makes learning fun!
I have created many activities to teach phonemic awareness and have successfully used the activities with groups of children of varying ages at school. The activities that I share below are the activities that are my student’s favorites and the ones they were most engaged in while doing.
Even 10 minutes a day doing a different phonemic awareness activity can make a huge difference. Repetition of activities is beneficial and builds confidence over time. Don’t hesitate to do the activities more than once with children.
I have included a link at the bottom of the post to access the pictures and worksheets that you see featured. You can easily, and quickly print and use the sheets today.
If you are looking for some support or videos for proper letter sounds, there are lots to choose from on YouTube if you search “Phonics Songs”. I have included a link to my favorite below.
Phonemic Awareness Sound Hunt #1
This first idea is an easy activity to start with to see if a child knows their letter sounds and if they can match them to the letter in the alphabet.
- Printed Alphabet Sheet
I use mini erasers with children because I have them on hand and kids love them, but you can use anything from cereal to coins.
Start by saying the sound of a letter in the alphabet. For example, for the letter b, say the sound that b makes in the word boy, versus the letter b if you were saying the alphabet.
Challenge children to find, and cover the matching letter on their page. Go through all of the letters in the alphabet to check for understanding. It’s that simple!
Some children may go through the alphabet (since it is in order) to find the letter they are looking for. That’s okay. It still shows they understand their sounds and letters.
Phonemic Awareness Sound Hunt #2
This sound hunt activity is a bit more challenging because the letters are not in order. Children need to search and find the letter.
- Printed “Sound Hunt Sheet”
- BINGO dabbers (or Markers or something to mark off the letters.)
This activity is done in the same way as the previous one; however, it is a bit more challenging because the letters are scrambled.
Say a letter sound and children search their page to find the letter that makes the sound. I used BINGO dabbers because the kids loved using them and it made the phonemic activity more engaging.
Phonemic Awareness Image Sort #3
There are a lot of phonological awareness activities that you can do with these cards!
- Alphabet Pictures (Link at bottom)
- Alphabet Letters
Start by cutting the cards out so that you have 26 cards. Each card represents a letter from the alphabet. This activity focuses on the initial sound of each picture.
When doing this activity it works best to ask children to say what the picture is of and then have them say it slowly to help them hear the sound of the initial letter.
There are a few ways you can use these cards. You can simply have a child choose a card and say the sound that picture starts with, such as /a/ for apple. You can also then ask them to say the letter that makes the sound.
Not all phonemic awareness activities involve printed letters – the focus is on the sounds. Play with the cards in different ways and try new activities as children master different skills.
Another option is to have children lay out the cards and then place a wooden letter piece onto the matching card. (If you don’t have wooden letter pieces, you can simply print all of the letters of the alphabet onto paper and cut them out.)
You can also lay out all of the letters of the alphabet and then challenge children to match the initial sound of each picture card to the letter.
Being able to say and isolate the initial sound is great! That’s all you’re looking for for this activity.
Sound It Out Phonemic Activity #4
This activity uses the same images from the previous activity, however, they are used in a different way. Using the same images can help to build confidence as children recognize the pictures from other activities which allows them to focus on finding the letter that matches.
- Sound It Out Initial Letters Printable Sheet (link below)
- Magnetic Letters (optional)
This phonics activity works really well on a fridge at home or magnetic board in the classroom. You can however, also use it as a simple worksheet for children to fill in the blanks.
I used it with several small groups and we worked through the letters together. Give children magnetic letters for each letter in the alphabet.
Next, encourage children to say, out loud what the picture is, focusing on the initial sound. Children are then challenged to find the magnetic letter that matches the initial sound.
The children had so much fun with this activity! They loved checking the magnets in their hands to see if they had the next letter we were looking for. It is a really simple idea, but there is a lot of learning involved.
Hands-On Phonics Activity #5
If you are looking for a hands-on and engaging phonics activity that kids will feel like they are playing a game, this is a great one!
- Cookie Sheets
- Magnetic Letters
Give each child a cookie sheet and a pack of magnetic letters (with each letter of the alphabet). Start by having children stick each letter to the sheet. This makes it easier for children to find the letters as they need them.
This phonemic activity can be used over and over as children learn new skills and their phonemic awareness progresses.
Start by making a letter sound. Next challenge children to find the magnetic letter that matches the sound and stick it in the middle of their cookie sheet.
Next, you can challenge children to find two sounds at once, such as /a/ and /t/. Once they have these sounds, ask them to sound out both of the letters together. Do they hear a word?
Once they start hearing the word that the two letters make together, you can start adding another letter to make bigger words, such as cat. Encourage children to touch each letter as they say the sound it makes.
I hope that these phonemic awareness and phonics activities have given you some ideas to try out with the children you are working with. Make sure to check the link below for more information on how to get the printables featured in this post!
Consistently doing a variety of engaging activities to teach phonics and phonemic awareness will help reinforce and teach the skills needed for reading.
Extra Phonemic Awareness Activities
If you are looking for more hands-on phonemic activities, below are a few more ideas similar to the ones above.
A great game that can be done with a large group, or individual child is an alphabet hunt. Collect items from around the house, or classroom, that start with each letter of the alphabet. For example, an apple, ball, clock, dice… Children then take an item and say the letter sound that it starts with.
You can also challenge children to put the items in alphabetical order. Having physical objects will engage children and make the learning more meaningful.
You can also do an alphabet scavenger hunt around the house or classroom by challenging children to find items that begin with a certain sound.
Another learning activity for phonemic awareness that I used the other day with a group of children was a puzzle game. This phonemic activity was another game that the children loved! If you have an alphabet puzzle, give an even number of alphabet pieces to each child playing.
Next, say a letter sound and whichever child has the matching puzzle piece, they add it to the puzzle. Eventually the whole puzzle will be put together after all sounds have been said.
Phonemic Awareness Tips
If a child is having trouble with a letter sound, you can model it by making the sound with your tongue and mouth and have the child copy you and repeat it back. Some children need to see and then feel what their mouth/tongue should look like in order to make the sound correctly.
Finally, in my opinion, one of the best ways to help children learn to read is to read to them -a lot. This will help to create a love of reading and introduce children to text, words and reading before they can read themselves.
If you are using these phonemic activities to help your child read, please keep in mind that children learn at different paces. If you are making an effort to search for and do activities like these your children will benefit not only from the learning, but the time spent doing them with you. Be kind to both of you and enjoy the process and let the learning be fun.
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Parents and teachers can easily use these worksheets and activities at home or in the classroom. Make learning fun with the 5 hands-on phonemic awareness activities. Focus your teaching and support children’s learning as they learn their letter sounds.
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Printable Phonological Awareness and Phonemic Activities
If you are looking for more games to help teach children the skills needed to read, below is a fun, hands-on game that focuses on word families. This is a great activity to use with children to reinforce their letter/sound skills by sounding out simple, rhyming words and matching pictures. Click image to take you to my shop and more information.
If you are looking for a video for extra support on the phonics sounds, the video below is my absolute favorite!
More Hands-On Teaching Ideas
If you are looking for more teaching ideas, below is a collection of my most popular, and favorite learning activities for kids. From DIY escape room ideas and STEM challenges to free math worksheets and science experiments, there is lots to keep kids busy and learning.