Phonemic Awareness Games

Phonemic awareness games are playful activities that can pack a powerful punch when kids are learning to read.

Kid Talking

If you have never heard of phonemic awareness, you are in good company. Most of us are familiar with phonics—the skills kids need to sound out words on a page. However, there are important spoken language skills kids need to develop before they apply that knowledge to written words. This knowledge is called phonemic awareness.

A child with strong phonemic awareness is able to hear the sounds that make up words, know a sound's position in a word, and rearrange sounds to create new words. Note that none of this is written down; it is an understanding of the sounds in spoken language.

A child who is having trouble learning to read may be weak in phonemic awareness. See how your child does with these phonemic awareness games before spending too much time on later reading skills; if the foundation is shaky, everything that comes after will be unsteady as well.

Rhythm and Rhyming

Kids become interested in rhyming and rhythmic language quite early, and will often make up games like these on their own. A little nudge is all they need to play a game that gives phonemic awareness practice.

Phonemic Awareness Games
  • What's the Word? Many children's books have engaging rhymes that are easy to predict and remember. Make readalouds into a game by reading the first part and leaving out the second rhyming word for your child to fill in. One fish. Two fish. Red fish... Kids love the challenge of guessing the right word.
  • Odd Word Out. Give your child three words--two that rhyme and one that doesn't. Ask, Which word doesn't belong? Tap, pan, cap. You can print out this list of words from the Oddball Word Game to get you started.
  • Going On a Trip. You are going on a trip and you can only take things that start with the first sound in your name. Ex: Kelli is going on a trip and she's bringing kitties, a car, and cookies. Tonya is going on a trip and she is bringing a truck, toys, and a teepee.

Breaking Sounds Apart

These phonemic awareness games help kids hear the sounds in words and identify where in the word they are found.

  • Slow Mo Talk. Kids love to do things in slow motion. Give them a word and have them say it slooowwwly while moving in slow motion. Start with shorter words like 'cat' and work up to words like 'shower' or 'birthday'.
  • I Spy. Think of a word and give clues for your child to guess it. I spy a word that starts with /ch/ and rhymes with 'hair'. I spy a word with three sounds. It starts with /k/ sound and ends with /t/ sound.
  • Sound Scavenger Hunt. Decide on a starting sound, such as /s/. Go on a scavenger hunt around the house to find everything that starts with a /s/ sound. (For a challenge, you can also search for things that have the sound in the middle or end of a word.)
  • Sound Hop Say a word. Have your child jump once for each sound. For example, with ship, a child would say, /sh/ (hop), /i/ (hop), /p/ (hop). Three sounds, three hops.
  • Change It. Think of a short word, like hat. Change one sound to make a new word (such as hit). Take turns changing one sound in the beginning, middle, or the end to change the word (sit, sat, mat, man and so on) until neither of you can think of more words. Then choose a new word and start again.
Phonemic Awareness Games

One of the best things about phonemic awareness games is that they come so naturally to kids, and it really does feel like just playing a game. But don't be deceived; your kids are learning important skills that will help their reading.

Once kids have mastered these phonemic awareness games, take things to another level by adding written letters to the activities. Write three words from 'Odd Word Out' and ask which doesn't belong. Play 'I Spy' by looking at a book and describing a word on the page. Do 'Sound Hop' by spelling out words instead of identifying sounds. Use alphabet magnets in 'Change It' and make new words by changing one letter.


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“Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself. ”
~John Dewey