10+ Resources and Freebies for Teaching Phonics in Kindergarten, First, and Second Grade!

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written a number of posts about teaching phonics or word study in Kindergarten, first, and second grade.

For today’s post, I created a “collection” of these links for you so that you can easily find what you need! I also made note of posts that have freebies! P

Best Practices and “How To” Posts

Best Practices in Phonics and Word Study Instruction for K-2

How (and Why) I Teach Phonics / Word Study / Spelling In Small Groups

One Simple Way to Easily Differentiate Word Work Activities & Minimize Your Prep Time

The 6 Syllable Types: What They Are, Why They Matter, And When To Teach Them!

How To Teach Students To Divide Words Into Syllables

How to Help K-2 Students Transfer Their Word Work Learning to Their Reading and Writing

A Yearlong Guide to Teaching Phonics in Kindergarten (free scope and sequence for Kindergarten!)

Phonics Activity Ideas

5 Phonics Activities to Keep Word Study Interesting (for K-2) (word train freebie included!)

5 Fun Short Vowel Activities That Only Take 5 Minutes (3 printable short vowel activities included!)

Why I Have My Students Make Personal “Word Part Dictionaries” (free word part dictionary template included!)

Troubleshooting Problem Areas

What to Do When the Letter Sounds Just Won’t Stick

Dealing with Gaps in Students’ Phonics Knowledge: How to Prevent and “Fill In” the Holes (video to watch + a link to a phonics scope and sequence!)

Help! My Students Aren’t Reading Their Words During Word Work Activities!

Want to save this post to come back to later? Pin the image below to your Pinterest account!

This blog post has a TON of resources and freebies for teaching phonics in Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade! There are links to phonics games and activities + a phonics scope and sequence!
Photo Credits: Astrid Hill, Shutterstock

Happy teaching!

5 Fun Short Vowel Activities That Only Take 5 Minutes

Do your students confuse their short vowel sounds? Maybe they substitute e for a? Or i for e? Or just need more practice in general?!

The short vowel sounds can be so tricky, especially for students who have certain accents. In the South, where I live, sometimes the e and i sound exactly the same!!

Accent or no accent, I find that my students need lots of practice differentiating between the short vowel sounds. They need practice when they’re first learning the sounds, of course, but ALSO later on. Once they learn long vowel sounds, things can get confusing, and we need to come back and review the short vowel sounds too!

In this post, I’ll share 5 short vowel activities that are fun, low prep, and only take a few minutes to implement. Plus I’ve got a bunch of freebies for you! 🙂

These short vowel activities are fun, low-prep and only take a few minutes. I use these with my Kindergarten, first grade, and even second grade students. Read the post for all the details and to download the free short vowel activities!

Activity #1: Short Vowel Craft Stick “Puppets”

In this activity, you say a word with a short vowel sound aloud. Students have to listen, repeat the word, identify the correct short vowel, and hold up the corresponding puppet.

This short vowel activity is simple and fun! Just say a word with a short vowel sound aloud. Students have to listen, repeat the word, identify the correct short vowel, and hold up the corresponding puppet. In addition to holding up the puppet, students should identify the vowel. ("A says /a/.") Read the entire blog post for more short vowel activities for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade - and to download all the free materials!

In addition to holding up the puppet, students should identify the vowel. You can have them say the sound. Or, even better, have them say the letter name and sound: “A says /a/.”

Here’s an example:

You say the word “fish.”

Students say: “Fish.” Students hold up the “i” puppet. Students say: “I says /i/.”

It takes a little time to make the puppets, but once they’re done, you can use them over and over and over again!

You can download the templates HERE!

Activity #2: Sand Writing

Having kids trace a vowel in sand while saying the sound is an easy, engaging multisensory activity!

Just put sand on a paper plate, in an aluminum pie tin, or on a small tray. I like to use colored sand, like this (that’s an Amazon affiliate link), but regular sand works just fine too.

There are a few different things you can do with sand:

Option 1: Say a short vowel sound (i.e. /u/). Students repeat the sound. Students then write the correct letter in sand. While they are writing the letter, they say the letter name and sound (“U” says /u/).

Option 2: Use the same procedures for activity #1, where you say a short vowel word and students identify and write the vowel sound they hear. You’ll still want students to say the letter name and sound while they trace.

If you’re out of sand or want to change things up…try the free Sand Draw app!

Although it’s not quite the same as real sand, kids still get the sensory experience of tracing with their finger while saying the sound aloud.

Activity #3: Picture Sorts

This activity is simple but helpful for students who are having trouble differentiating between the vowel sounds.

Give students a set of picture cards for 2-3 sounds total (i.e., some pictures for a, i, and u). Have them name each picture out loud. Then, have them sort the pictures. When they’re finished, they can “read down” the column of pictures, again naming each picture. Once a student finishes reading down the column, he/she identifies the vowel sound that those pictures all contain.

If you need pictures for sorting, you can grab some HERE!

Activity #4: Vowel Fluency Strips

Even when students know the short vowel sounds, they may not always read them correctly in words!

To help them apply that knowledge, they need lots of practice. In-context practice is important (reading real texts), but isolated practice can be helpful too.

These (free) fluency strips are a great way for students to practice paying close attention to the vowel sound in a word!

These free fluency strips are a great way for students to practice paying close attention to the vowel sound in a word! Read the entire post for more short vowel activities AND to grab all the freebies!

If it helps, students can highlight all the vowels before they read across the strip.

Or, you can laminate the strips and have them use dry erase markers. You can put the strips on a ring, too!

A few of the words in the freebie may be unknown to students, so make sure to talk about what they mean, as well.

Grab the vowel fluency strips HERE!

Activity #5: Short or Long?

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, students tend to experience vowel confusion once they start learning long vowel sounds.

It’s important to go back and review short vowel sounds (and contrast them to the long sounds). Word sorts and picture sorts are great for this. Another fun, simple activity is a game we play called “Short or Long?”

You say a word (or even just a vowel sound), and students have to call out the vowel sound and whether it is long or short (i.e., “Long A!”).

If you have Slinkys or rubber bands, students can stretch or contract them as they call out the vowel sound (i.e. stretching the rubber band long for a long vowel sound).

If you’re working in a larger group setting, you may want to have students write on a whiteboard rather than call out their answer.


I hope these ideas were helpful to you!! Did you grab all 3 freebies? Here they are again, just in case you missed one!

Short vowel craft stick puppets

Short vowel word pictures

Short vowel fluency strips

You can also save this post for later (so you can come back to the activity descriptions) by pinning the image below to your Pinterest account:

This blog post has FREE activities for practicing short vowel sounds with your Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade students! Grab these short vowel fluency strips and the short vowel puppets in the post!

To read more about best practices in phonics and word work instruction, check out this post. Or, if you teach Kindergarten and want a scope and sequence for teaching phonics, check out this post!

Happy teaching!

The 6 (or 7) Syllable Types: What They Are, Why They Matter, And When To Teach Them!

The English language is a little crazy.

I mean, just read these words: through, tough, though, thought. Same spelling pattern, four different sounds! 😱

But. As weird as our language can be, it’s also predictable and consistent in many ways. In fact, did you know that there are only 6 different types of syllables in English words?

Yup, only 6! (Or 7….but I’ll get to that later.) My point is that there REALLY AREN’T THAT MANY!

Why do the syllable types matter to us, as primary teachers? Because it’s essential that our students understand how English sound and spelling patterns work, and syllables are a big part of that.

Plus, knowing the 6 syllable types….

  • Helps kids divide words into syllables to decode them or write them (We’ll talk more about how to teach syllable division in my next post)
  • Helps kids predict the sound a vowel makes
  • Makes it much easier to break up multisyllabic words

In this post (which is part of my blog series about teaching phonics), I’ll explain what the six syllable types are and when you might teach them to your students.

This post is relevant for first grade and up!

What are the 6 syllable types? How and when should I teach them to my students? This post answers these questions and more!

Okay, hang on. Before we get into the syllable types, let me define the word “syllable” for you:

A syllable is a unit of pronunciation that has one vowel sound.

Words can be made up of one syllable (i.e. chair) or several syllables (i.e. rhi/noc/er/os).

Syllable Type #1: Closed Syllable

What it is: A closed syllable is a syllable that ends with a consonant. The vowel has a short sound.

Word examples:

  • hat (ends with a consonant, t, and has a short a sound)
  • pigpen (this word has two closed syllables, “pig” and “pen,” both with short vowels -> pig/pen)

When to teach it: I usually teach this toward the beginning of first grade. Students should have lots of experience with CVC words. You can introduce 2-syllable words with 2 closed syllables (like “sunset” or “bathtub”) and explain what a closed syllable is. (By the way, in the “bathtub example, the division is bath/tub. Even though the first syllable technically ends with t AND h, they’re a digraph and therefore make one consonant sound, /th/.)

Syllable Type #2: Open Syllable

What it is: An open syllable has one vowel and is NOT “closed in” by a consonant. The vowel is “free to shout its name” (it’s a long vowel).

Word examples:

  • me (no consonant at the end; the vowel is long and “says its name”)
  • robot (the first syllable is “ro” and is open; the second syllable is closed -> ro/bot)

When to teach it: It works well if you teach the concept of an open syllable along with or shortly after teaching closed syllables. Again, the beginning of first grade is ideal for this – but you can also cover this concept at the end of Kindergarten if you’re introducing long vowel sounds. Words like “we” and “me” are great examples to use with Kinders, since they probably already know them by sight.

Syllable Type #3: Silent / Magic / Sneaky E / VCE

What it is: Whatever you wanna call it, the VCE (vowel-consonant-e) syllable type has a silent e at the end and a long vowel sound!

Word examples:

  • bike (the silent e makes the i “say its name” – aka gives it a long vowel sound)
  • mistake (the first syllable is “mis” and is closed; the second syllable is VCE -> mis/take)

When to teach it: This is a good concept to address during first grade, after students know their short and long vowel sounds. They should be familiar with the concepts of open and closed syllables. When you teach this syllable type, you can have students practice changing closed syllables to VCE syllables (i.e. taking “rid” and turning into “ride”).

Syllable Type #4: Vowel Team Syllable

What it is: A vowel team syllable contains two vowels that come together to make one sound. Some people divide up this syllable type into vowel digraphs and vowel diphthongs for a total of 7 syllable types.

Word examples:

  • steam (the vowel team is the e and the a coming together to make the long e sound)
  • soapbox (the first syllable is “soap” and has the vowel team “oa;” the second syllable is closed)

When to teach it: I usually teach this in first grade – after students are very comfortable with open and closed syllables, as well as silent e. I always have to review this in second grade, too.

Syllable Type #5: R-Controlled Syllable

What it is: In an r-controlled syllable, the letter “r” follows a vowel. The vowel doesn’t make a short OR long sound – rather, it’s “controlled” or “influenced” by the r and makes a different sound altogether.

Word examples:

  • star (the a is controlled by the r)
  • lobster (the first syllable is “lob,” a closed syllable, and the second syllable is “ster,” an r-controlled syllable -> lob/ster)

When to teach it: I teach this in first grade. I feel like it’s a toss-up between r-controlled syllables and vowel team syllables – either concept can be taught after kids learn open syllables, closed syllables, and silent e. I definitely review this concept in 2nd grade. And there are some more complex r-influenced spelling patterns that can be covered in later grades.

Syllable Type #6: Consonant-L-E Syllable

What it is: In a CLE syllable, a consonant + the letters “l” and “e” come at the end of the syllable.

Word examples:

  • table (the first syllable is “ta,” an open syllable, and the second syllable is “ble,” a CLE syllable)
  • example (ex/am/ple – the first two syllables are both closed, and the last syllable, “ple,” is a CLE syllable)

When to teach it: This is usually the last syllable type that I teach, and we typically address it in second grade.


If you didn’t know about the 6 syllable types until you read this post, you’re not alone!! I didn’t learn about this in my undergraduate education program, nor in my reading specialist master’s program! I learned this stuff after becoming a teacher – but boy, it sure has made teaching phonics easier!

In my next post, I’ll go in-depth on how to divide words into syllables.

Happy teaching!

A Yearlong Guide to Teaching Phonics in Kindergarten

Teaching phonics in Kindergarten is unique because our students grow and change so much during the school year!

As a result, the way I deliver my phonics instruction changes throughout the year too.

So I wanted to share with you a “big picture” guide that takes you through the entire Kindergarten year, showing you how my instruction shifts to meet students’ changing needs.

This post has a lot of info in it, so I also want to give you something you can take, print, and keep! Before you start reading the post, go ahead and grab the freebie by clicking the image below. It’ll be a great companion to the post and give you something to refer back to later!

One important thing to keep in mind is that, while students tend to learn phonics skills in a predictable order (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & Johnston, 2015), they don’t all learn these skills at the same pace.

So although this is generally how I teach phonics throughout the year, I tweak this plan every single year, based upon my students’ needs.

Wondering how to teach phonics in Kindergarten? This post takes you through the entire YEAR and has a freebie you can download!

Schedule for Teaching Phonics Throughout the School Year

Below is a general timetable of how things work in my Kindergarten classroom:

Weeks 1-9: Initial Alphabet Instruction + CVC Word Introduction: whole group; can begin small group toward the end of this phase

Weeks 10-15: Alphabet Review + Digraphs: brief whole group review / instruction + differentiated instruction in small groups (topics will vary by group)

Weeks 16-31: Word Families / CVC Words: brief whole group review / instruction + differentiated instruction in small groups (can begin word sorts toward the middle/end of this phase, for those who are ready)

Weeks 32-36: Long Vowel Sounds (if required to teach) + Review CVC Words, Digraphs, Word Families: brief whole group review / instruction + differentiated instruction in small groups

Again, this timetable will vary—and the content of what you teach may vary too! Every Kindergarten class is different; always do what’s developmentally appropriate for your kids.

Next, I’ll go over each phase in more detail. I’ll explain what it looks like and what we’re working on.

Weeks 1-9: Initial Alphabet Instruction + CVC Word Introduction

For the first 8-9 weeks of school, I teach several letters each week.

We go through the letter name, letter sound, and how to properly form the letter. We also brainstorm words the begin with the target letter.

We have a whole class minilesson each day, and then the kids have some type of follow-up practice.

The follow-up practice might be a picture sort, a letter tracing/writing activity, or something along those lines.

I do a couple of letters each week so that students who are ready can begin using those letters and sounds in their reading and writing as soon as possible. On the other hand, if I were to do one letter per week, it’d take 3/4 of the school year to get through them all.

During this introduction phase, my goal is not 100% mastery of all letters and sounds by all students. I mean…that would be nice. 😉 But the point is to familiarize them with the letters, and then I follow up with differentiation during the next phase.

If you have a Kindergarten class with a big range of needs (i.e., some strong readers and some kids who can’t yet identify the letters in their name), you might be wondering, “Is this whole group instruction a good idea?” And you might know that research has shown that it’s important to differentiate when teaching letters and letter sounds (Stahl, 2014).

However, at the beginning of the year, unless you happen to have a class of all advanced readers, I think it’s important to make time for this whole group baseline instruction.

Here’s why I do this whole group:

  • Whole group activities at the beginning of the year build community and lay out a common foundation for the entire class.
  • My students just aren’t ready to work independently, at least not for an extended period of time! If I put them in centers the second week of school so that I can pull small groups to differentiate my alphabet instruction, it’s probably not going to go very well.
  • All students benefit from this “baseline instruction.” Even Kinders who are already reading might need to learn proper letter formation. Or they could use a review of the basic letter sounds before they move onto more complex sound patterns.

(If you do have a class of strong readers, you can always speed up the pace at which you introduce the letters.)

Of course, even though we do these letter activities in a whole group setting, there’s still some built-in differentiation.

For example, with the picture sorts that we do frequently, students can stretch out and write the word under each picture. Some kids may only get the first letter (if that). Others may be able to write the entire word correctly.

Oh! I also want to mention that I actually start working with my students on CVC words during this first block of time. After 5 or so weeks of school, they’re going to know about 10 letters, including two vowels (a and i, if you use my scope and sequence, which is included in the freebie).

That means that we can start blending! I display three letters and model how I say each sound aloud. Then, I blend the sounds together. After this, we blend as a class, and then I’ll have them try on their own. (I do – we do – you do).

And since they know a few letters by now, we can start manipulating the cards to make different words!

At this point, I’m not asking all of my students to read CVC words on their own. This drill simply familiarizes them with the blending process, and students who are ready for it will take off.

Separately, we’re also doing a lot of phonological awareness work, because kids need to be able to blend 3 sounds you say aloud before they can read CVC words with much success.

And although we do a little blending, the focus is still on learning the letter names and sounds (and other phonological awareness skills).

So that’s the first chunk of the year! In the free download that goes with this post (see below), I included a suggested order for teaching the letters.

At the end of this time period, I make sure to assess students’ letter knowledge so that I know how to differentiate my instruction as we move more into small groups.

Weeks 10-15: Alphabet Review + Digraphs

By now you’ve covered all of the letter names and sounds! At this point in the year, I shift to a little bit less whole group phonics instruction and a little more small group phonics instruction.

I still think it’s very helpful to have some type of whole group review or teaching activity…but I keep it brief.

During this time period, we typically review some of the letters that have been tricky for students. And eventually we add on digraphs (ch, sh, th, wh, ck)—although I wait until most students know most of the letters before throwing in digraphs in a whole group setting. We definitely work on digraphs in small groups—for those students who are ready, if any are ready at all!

Speaking of small groups, I mentioned that my instructional mode for teaching phonics shifts at this point in the year. We start doing more small group work, and I differentiate as much as possible to meet students’ individual needs. The assessment data I gathered at the end of Week 9 helps me decide what letters students still need to work on.

However, I don’t usually have dedicated phonics small groups. I usually integrate phonics instruction into guided reading/small groups.

You can read more about what small group looks like for pre-readers in THIS POST.

Weeks 16-31: Word Families / CVC Words

This next “block” of time is somewhat similar to the previous one, in that we continue to work on phonics mostly in a small group setting. Kids who are ready can begin doing some simple word sorts (in addition to picture sorts).

When we do quick phonics lessons in a whole group setting, I tend to focus on CVC words and word families, as long as most students in the class are ready for that.

At the same time, some students are still working on letters and letter sounds, and that’s okay! (And on the other hand, some students may be far ahead, even working on long vowels.) That’s why I do most of my instruction in that differentiated, small group setting.

Sometimes, depending on my schedule and the students, I start dedicated phonics small groups. These are separate from guided reading. It makes sense to do this if your students’ reading skills are really taking off and you need that guided reading time mostly for reading. Otherwise, you can just incorporate your differentiated phonics instruction into the small groups you’re already seeing.

Weeks 32-36: Long Vowel Sounds (if required to teach) + Review CVC Words, Digraphs, Word Families

These last few weeks of school are kind of a medley of things!

If I’m required to teach long vowel sounds to the whole group, I usually do this then.

We also do a lot of review of CVC words, digraphs, and word families. Again, most instruction happens in a small group setting.

Schedule for Teaching Phonics Throughout the School Year

The thing about teaching phonics in Kindergarten—in any grade level, really—is that it’s going to vary from year to year. Although students’ learning usually follows that predictable trajectory, kids just develop at different rates.

All the same, I hope this post was helpful in giving you a “big picture” look at teaching phonics throughout the year in Kindergarten!

Don’t forget to download the freebie so you have this information for the future!

Happy teaching!


Bear, D. R., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (2015). Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction (6th ed.). Pearson.

Stahl, K. K. (2014). New insights about letter learning. Reading Teacher, 68(4), 261-265.

5 Super Important Things about Teaching Phonics that I Wish I’d Learned in College

When I found out that I had to take a Spanish linguistics course in college, I was pretty annoyed. Linguistics sounded mind-numbingly boring, and…it kinda was. 😛

But what I didn’t know is that—years later—that course would actually help me become a better reading and phonics teacher!

Let’s back up a little. My undergraduate majors in college were Elementary Education and Spanish. The Spanish major required that I take all kinds of history and literature and language courses—hence the linguistics class that I dreaded so much.

Somehow, I passed the class. 🙂 And I graduated and started teaching Pre-K  and then Kindergarten (in English).

I knew embarrassingly little about teaching phonics in English (sorry, kids!), but I stumbled and fumbled my way through. Somehow those Kinders learned how to read!

After a couple of years, I moved to a new school for a bilingual Kindergarten position, where I was teaching reading in Spanish. And all of a sudden….DING! The lightbulb went on. I felt much more confident teaching phonics in Spanish because I knew the ins and outs of the language. I understood how words were divided up into syllables, where the accent marks should go, what diphthongs were, and all that good stuff. It turns out that the linguistic course wasn’t such a waste after all! 😉

Anyway, you might be thinking, “Okay…so what’s the point of all this?” Here’s what I’m trying to show:

When I had a deeper understanding of the structure of the language, I was a better phonics and reading teacher. When I didn’t have a deep understanding of the structure of the language (even though I’ve spoken English all my life), I wasn’t well equipped to provide strong, clear phonics instructions.

Although my undergraduate reading education program was good (and so was my graduate degree in reading/literacy leadership), in hindsight, I wish that I’d learned more about the structure of the English language and how to teach phonics to my students.

I’ve had to figure out a lot on my own. I’ve also taken 30 hours of Orton-Gillingham training. I wanted to do all this to become a better teacher, but wouldn’t it make more sense if this information was shared with EVERY elementary or early childhood teacher during their degree program?

If you’re in the same boat that I was and would like to learn more about the structure of English and teaching phonics, then you’re in the right place! This is the first post in my new phonics series. In today’s post, I’m going to share 5 essential things about teaching phonics that I wish I’d learned in college!

Do you know these 5 things about teaching phonics? If you're a Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade teacher, these concepts are essential for successfully teaching reading!Photo Credits:  Joaquin Corbalan P, Shutterstock

1. One in five students NEED explicit, systematic phonics instruction (that uses multisensory techniques) in order to become proficient in reading.

Systematic, explicit phonics instruction is important for all students. But at least 20% of our students show signs of dyslexia. Many of those students will not become fully proficient readers unless they have clear, systematic, and explicit phonics instruction. This means that we need to teach sound and spelling patterns in an order that’s developmentally appropriate, incorporate frequent review, and show students how to apply that knowledge to reading and writing. Students with dyslexia also benefit from multisensory phonics instruction (instruction that incorporates multiple senses; for example, tracing a word in the air while simultaneously spelling it aloud).

2. Students are better equipped to decode words when they know syllable division rules.

For a long time, I didn’t know the syllable division rules for English. Nor did I understand that knowing the rules can help readers figure out vowel sounds and decode words! I’ll address the syllable division rules in a future post.

3. There are 6 different types of syllables in the English language.

That’s it—only 6! Students benefit from learning the 6 syllable types and knowing how to use them to decode words. In a future post, I’ll explain more about the syllable types.

4. Multisensory phonics instructional techniques (that are sometimes deemed “for special education”) are fun and useful for ALL students.

In #1, I mentioned that 20% of kids show signs of dyslexia and need multisensory phonics instruction. You may not know (at least not at the beginning of the year) which students fall into this 20%. However, ALL students benefit from learning phonics in a systematic, explicit way, through multisensory techniques. So you can use this “stuff” with everyone!

5. We can predict (some) reading difficulties at a rather early age.

This one’s for you, Kindergarten teacher friends! (And probably first grade teachers too.) If you notice that some of your students are really struggling with phonological awareness skills, this is an indicator that they may struggle with reading in the future. Researchers now believe that people with dyslexia have weaker phonological processing abilities than their non-dyslexic peers. Tasks like rhyming or segmenting words can be more difficult for students with dyslexia. But here’s the good news: when you know this, you can start providing extra support and interventions right away (like more phonological awareness instruction and practice).

What’s Next?

This post is just the tip of the iceberg. I have lots more planned for you! I hope that this series will help you feel more confident in teaching reading and phonics. And I’d love to hear from you in the comments if this is an area in teaching that you feel/felt under-prepared for!

See you next Saturday for the next post!

5 Active, Engaging Rhyming Games and Activities

Looking for some fun rhyming games and activities for your students? This post has 5 ideas AND freebies for you!Looking for some rhyming games and activities? Check out this post for 5 ideas and FREE downloads!

Idea #1: Act out rhyming action words

Read one of the below sentences aloud to students (with emphasis on the two rhyming words), have them repeat the entire sentence with you, and then have them act out the action word at the end (i.e. jump, leap, run, etc.),

Bump rhymes with JUMP!

Keep rhymes with LEAP!

Fun rhymes with RUN!

Hip rhymes with SKIP!

Trim rhymes with SWIM!

Fist rhymes with TWIST!

Idea #2: Work with rhyming books

Rhyming books are fun to read and reread! Here are a couple of ideas for activities you can do with rhyming books:

  • Have students clap or jump on the words that rhyme (once they’re already familiar with the text)
  • Have students help you write the rhyming words on index cards—place the cards in a pocket chart so you can discuss and sort them by spelling pattern
  • Play “fill in the blank” (once students are familiar with a text, pause before you read a rhyming word and have students fill it in for you)

If you’re looking for rhyming book suggestions, check out this post! But don’t forget to come back here to finish reading and grab your freebies!!

Idea #3: Play “Find Your Rhyming Partner”

This game can be played in a whole group or small group setting. Simply give each child a picture and have them find their rhyming partner (i.e., one student has a picture of a bear, and another student has a picture of a chair).

After students have found their partners, mix up the pictures or grab new ones, give each child a different picture, and play again!

Idea #4: Play “Rhyming Room”

This game is super active and fun! Before students enter the classroom, post large pictures (included below in your freebie) in different places around the classroom. Each large picture should have a shape symbol on it.

Then, give each student a recording sheet. Students move around the room, trying to find the rhyming picture that matches each picture on their recording sheet. When students find a match, they can:

  • Draw a picture of the corresponding shape symbol, or
  • Draw a picture to represent the image itself, or
  • Use invented spelling to try and write the word

Download the freebie by clicking on the photo!

Grab this FREE rhyming room activity in this blog post! The post also has ideas for rhyming games and activities.

Advanced students can also use invented spelling to label the rhyming pictures.

Idea #5: Play Rhyming Memory

This one is simple but always a favorite!

First, show students all the cards and discuss the rhyming pairs. Then, mix up the cards, turn them face-down, and have students play rhyming memory (they take turns trying to find pairs of pictures that rhyme).

Make sure that students always say the names of the pictures aloud when they turn them over.

You can download Rhyming Memory HERE!

Happy teaching!

How to Differentiate Your Kindergarten Reading Instruction When Your Students Have a Big Range of Abilities

Kindergarten is all about teaching the letters, right? Well…maybe.

What if you have students who come in already reading? Or what if you have a combination—some readers AND some students who don’t know how to write their names yet? 😳

Since some students attend preschool (and/or have at-home literacy experiences) and others don’t, it’s very easy to end up with a big range of abilities in your Kindergarten classroom.

In this post, I’ll share differentiation tips for making your whole group instruction meaningful, meeting the needs of struggling learners and challenging your advanced students.

Wondering how to close the gap in your Kindergarten classroom? This blog post has differentiation tips for your Kindergarten reading instruction.Photo Credits: weedezign, Shutterstock

Tips for Successful Whole Group Lessons

Teaching students individually or in a small group setting is, of course, a really effective way to meet students’ specific needs.

However, just because you have a big range of abilities in your classroom does not mean that you should completely scrap whole group instruction!

Whole group instruction builds community, is more efficient than teaching the same skill over and over in small groups, AND can be effective.

When I have a wide ability range in my class, I “teach to the middle” during many whole group lessons. But that doesn’t mean that I ignore the needs of the lower students OR the higher students.

Here’s what I do to meet a variety of kids’ needs during a single whole-group lesson:  I gear the lesson objective toward the “average” students, but I vary my questioning to meet the needs of different groups of kids.

For example, if you’re teaching a shared reading lesson and working on finding words in the “-at” family, you can ask:

  • What words on the page do you see with the -at family? (on level)
  • Where do you see the letter “t” on the page? (below level)
  • Do you see any other word families on this page? (above level)

You can also use strategic partnering to give students support during turn-and-talks in whole group lessons. In a turn-and-talk, students discuss a question or topic with a partner (before I ask a few students to share out with the class).

If you end up with a pair of two struggling students, those conversations can be unproductive. On the other hand, if you pair a very advanced student with a struggling student, that conversation can be unproductive too.

To avoid these situations, here’s what I do: I rank my students by general ability, split the list in half, and then pair students accordingly.

Let’s say I have a class of 6 students. (Wouldn’t that be nice? :-P) I’ve ranked them here, with the highest student at the top and the lowest student at the bottom:







Now I split the list in half:

Abby – Daphne

Brian – Evan

Chris – Francine

I use this strategy to create a medium-sized gap between students in a partnership. The stronger student may be able to take a leadership role at times, while the lower student benefits from the support of the stronger student.

I don’t always pair students like this (it’s also nice to allow the advanced students to work together and challenge each other at times). But this strategy can be effective in providing a little support to lower students during whole-group instruction.

Supporting Struggling Learners

Small group instruction is invaluable in supporting your struggling students! I try to meet with a small group of my lowest students on a daily basis. The more individual attention they get, the better.

If you want to devote more time to small group instruction but are struggling with getting the other students to work independently, try breaking up your small group time into two chunks. You might see 2 small groups in the morning and 1-2 groups in the afternoon. This ensures that the other kids don’t have to work independently for a super extended period of time.

In addition, I sometimes pull a student or two right away in the morning. We quickly review letter sounds or another skill. It doesn’t take time away from anything else, since the other students are still entering the classroom and settling in for the day.

I also highly recommend seeking out volunteer help. Since your lower Kindergarten students usually need help with more basic skills (like letter recognition), these are things that a volunteer can pretty easily help with. (You can even have them use some of my Pre A guided reading binder activities, since everything is spelled out clearly!)

Volunteers can be parents (from your class or another), or even members of the community. If your school partners with any local businesses or organizations, ask to see if any employees are interested in volunteering.

(Also, your volunteers don’t just have to work with the lower students! They can also listen to your higher students read aloud!)

For specific activity ideas for your lower students, check out these posts:

Letter sounds post link

Pre-A guided reading post link

Challenging Above-Level Readers

If you have students who enter Kindergarten already reading, meeting their needs can be a challenge. Here are some strategies to try:

  • Individual reading conferences – In a conference, have students tell you what they’re reading about, ask them questions, and teach level-appropriate skills. If you need guidance in the type of skills students should be working on at higher levels, check out my first grade guided reading checklists.
  • Guided reading groups that combine students from multiple classes – If you have just one “outlier” who’s reading at a much higher level than other students, ask other Kindergarten teachers if they have some students who are near that level. You might bring them all to your classroom (or another teacher’s classroom) for a guided reading group. Students really benefit from small group interaction and discussion!
  • Strategy groups – If you have a couple of “outliers” who are reading at different levels, consider teaching a strategy group from time to time. In a strategy group, you can pull all these students together to work on one strategy (i.e. decoding long vowel words or making inferences). Students can all practice the same strategy—but use books at different levels to do so.
  • Open-ended projects that provide choice –  If students are doing a lot of independent reading, research, or other work, you’ll want them to show you what they’re learning or reading about. You might give them different options like: create a PowerPoint presentation on a computer or tablet, create a video about a topic, write their own book about a topic (hard copy or ebook, like in the app BookCreator), etc.

Last but not least, a couple of reminders:

  • Advanced students may still need to work on some basic skills. Many advanced students still need help with correct letter formation, for example. So when you introduce letters in a whole group setting, it’s not a waste for them—they still benefit from the handwriting aspect of your instruction.
  • Even strong readers and spellers need some type of phonics instruction; maybe they’re ready to start on long vowel spelling patterns, consonant blends, etc.
  • Advanced readers still need to do most of their reading at their independent reading levels—meaning that they should only be missing 2-3 words for every 100 words they read, AND their comprehension should be strong. Just because a child can decode a text does not mean a) that they have strong literal and inferential comprehension, and b) that the content is appropriate for them. The Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System is a great tool for finding students’ reading levels. The assessments included in a Reading A to Z membership can serve as a substitute if you don’t have access to the Fountas and Pinnell BAS.
  • When differentiating work assignments for advanced students, make sure that you assign meaningful work that involves students’ interests, allows them to make choices, and challenges them. You’ll want to focus on quality over quantity when assigning extra work—avoid just piling on tons of extra assignments.


Teaching Kindergarten is super challenging in itself, and even more so when you have a big range of abilities in your classroom! If you have any relevant strategies to share, I’d love to hear them. Please leave a comment below!

Happy teaching!

What to Do When the Letter Sounds Just Won’t Stick

Do you have any students who are struggling to remember the letter sounds?

In this post, I’ll share some strategies that have helped my own students!Do you have some Kindergarten or first grade students who are struggling with letter sounds? This post has teaching strategies and tips to help!

Photo Credits:  5 second Studio, Shutterstock

Give Phonological Awareness Skills a Little Extra Attention

Phonological awareness is the awareness of the sounds that make up spoken language.

It’s different from phonics, because phonics involves the actual letter symbols (phonological awareness = just spoken sounds). Phonological awareness includes rhyming, syllable segmenting, blending and segmenting individual sounds (like taking /h//a//t/ and blending the sounds to make “hat”).

If students are struggling to remember the letter sounds, it’s possible that they need a little extra practice with phonological awareness skills. You can set aside a few minutes during small group to work on skills like isolating the first sound in a word (i.e. you say “sun” and they have to say the first sound, /s/).

Children usually develop phonological awareness skills in a predictable order. For a phonological awareness scope and sequence and activity ideas, check out this post.

Use a Daily Alphabet Chant

An alphabet chart is a simple, powerful tool for teaching students letter sounds (and letter names).

For at least the first half of the year in Kindergarten, we practice “chanting the chart” every day. EVERY DAY!

Grab this free alphabet chart and get ideas for helping students learn the letter sounds!

The chant goes like this:

A, apple, /a/

B, book, /b/

I point while we chant—or I have a student volunteer point.

This chant is also a great way to begin your small group. When students sit at your table, have copies of the chart ready for them. (If students are having trouble pointing on their own copies, have the entire group look at your copy until they improve.)

This activity can get a little repetitive over time, so here are some simple ways I keep it interesting for the kids:

  • Go backwards, from Z to A
  • Have a student volunteer point for the class (or the entire small group, if you’re all looking at one page)
  • Have students whisper the chant
  • Play games before/after the chant (“Who can find the picture that starts with /t/?” This is great for when you first introduce the chart and need to familiarize students with it.)

If you’d like a free scope and sequence for teaching the letters and other phonics concepts, click HERE!

Incorporate More Opportunities for Developmental Spelling

Students who are struggling to learn letter sounds may need MORE opportunities to spell words phonetically (by their sounds, using developmental spelling).

I know, I know—that seems a little counterintuitive, right? Why would you ask these students to write MORE when they hardly know any letter sounds?!

But here’s the thing: students’ development in writing can help improve their phonics and reading skills (and vice versa). When students have opportunities to stretch out words, listen for their sounds, and attempt to write those sounds, this can help improve their letter sound recall.

Of course, if students only know a few sounds, they will definitely need support! I highly recommend having students use their own copies of an alphabet chart—like the one above!—for assistance as they spell words phonetically.

You’ll need to model this process repeatedly. Here’s what it might sound like:

Draw a turtle on a piece of paper. “This is a turtle.  Say the word with me slowly.  Turrrrtllllle. Good.  The first sound I hear is /t/.  Now, I’m going to look for a picture that starts like /t/ on my alphabet chart.  Hmm…does ‘aaapple’ start like /t/?  No.  Does ‘lllleaf’ start like /t/?  No.  Oh!  I see a ‘taco.’  ‘Taco’ starts like /t/!  I’m going to write the letter next to the taco on my paper because that letter makes the /t/ sound.”  Repeat this process for the sounds r, t, and l in the word “turtle.” Your final spelling will be incorrect, and that’s okay if it matches your students’ development.

Use Multisensory Techniques

This is super important, especially for students who are struggling!!

Multisensory learning activities incorporate more than one sense. For example, you might have students:

  • Trace a letter (in sand, salt, on the table) and say the letter sound aloud
  • Draw the letter in the air while saying the letter sound aloud (have students draw the letter using two fingers, arm outstretched, to promote gross motor muscle memory)
  • Work with sandpaper letters
  • Physically make CVC words with magnetic letters, tiles, or letter cards
  • Learn specific movements to make while practicing letter sounds (Jolly Phonics is an example of a program that pairs movement with letter sounds)

I love using a travel soap box with salt to give students personal tracing boxes!

 I use a travel soap box with salt to create individual tracing boxes. Students can trace a letter in the sale with their finger! Click to read the entire blog post for more ideas for teaching letter sounds!

I bought these “Feel, Trace, and Write Alphabet” cards from Really Good Stuff. I love these! I like having a tactile letter and writing space all on one card; my students can trace the letter with their finger, trace it with a dry erase marker, and then write it independently.

I love these tactile letter and writing cards from Really Good Stuff! Click through to read the entire post for more ideas about teaching letter sounds and multisensory phonics!


Different kids benefit from different strategies. However, when I have a student who’s struggling, I try all of these strategies because they can all work in conjunction to help those letter sounds finally stick.

If you need more activities for teaching students the letter sounds, check out my small group activity binders for Pre-Readers HERE!

Happy teaching!

Why I Have My Students Make Personal “Word Part Dictionaries”

Do you want your students to apply their phonics learning to their writing?

I know I do! And I also know that this doesn’t happen easily for all students.

In today’s quick post, I want to share a free tool with you—a template for a word part dictionary. Relatively recently, I started having my students create these word part dictionaries, and it has helped tremendously with their spelling! Keep reading to find out how I use them, and to grab the template for free!

FREE word part dictionary template - help your students connect phonics learning to writing!

What is a Word Part Dictionary?

A word part dictionary is a place where students keep track of word parts they have learned.

For example, if they study the “ink” pattern in phonics, they then add the “ink” pattern to their word part dictionary. They write the word part (i.e., “ink”) and then choose a word that contains that word part (i.e., “pink”). They draw a picture to illustrate the word.

FREE word part dictionary template - help your students connect phonics learning to writing!

Every time students learn a new word part during phonics, they complete a new box in their word part dictionaries. Throughout the year, each child has a record of his/her phonics learning. During writing time, students can refer to their word part dictionaries for help with spelling.

I’ve also found the dictionaries to be helpful to ME because I’m a little forgetful! During writing time, it’s sometimes hard to remember exactly what patterns each child has learned (i.e., I forget what they should be responsible for spelling correctly—especially toward the end of the school year). If there’s ever any question, a student and I can just look in their word part dictionary to see if they have already studied a particular word pattern.

You can use this tool with word families, vowel spelling patterns, prefixes and suffixes, etc. It’s super versatile!

What age group is this for?

I have been using this tool with first grade and up. You can also use it with Kindergarteners who are learning word families or other “chunks.”

How can I use this tool?

It’s very easy to set up! First, download the template and make copies for students. You might want to make copies on light-colored paper, so that students can easily locate their dictionaries during writing time. Or you can try white cardstock, so that the dictionaries (hopefully) last longer.

You can introduce the dictionaries whole-group or small-group—whatever works best for you. Have each student write his/her name on the front and decorate it. You want to foster a sense of ownership so that students feel responsible for and will use their dictionaries!

Each time you introduce a new phonics pattern to a group of students (or the entire class), students will fill out a new box in their dictionary. They write the word pattern, choose a word that exemplifies the pattern, and illustrate the word.

Want to give this a try? You can download the template by clicking on the image below.

Let me know how it goes! If you’re looking for more phonics or word work activities, you can check some out in my TpT store here.

Happy teaching!

Help! My Students Aren’t Reading Their Words During Word Work Activities!

When your students are doing independent word work activities, are they reading the words?

So many times, I’ve noticed that unless I’m standing right there, reminding my kids to read their words, word work turns into something silent and passive!

For example, students might be making words with magnetic letters, using word flashcards as a guide…but then they don’t read the words out loud!

Or maybe they’re doing sorts, and they’re grouping the words correctly…but they’re not reading the words during or after the sort!

This is not the point of word work; we know that we want our students to practice making, writing, AND reading these words. So what can we do about it? I have 4 suggestions to share with you in this post!

If your students are just going through the motions and not reading their words during word work, here are 4 tips to help!

Photo Credits:  pathdoc; Shutterstock

1. Choose words wisely.

When you’re studying a specific word feature, there’s a variety of words you might have students study. Choosing words carefully can increase the chances that students will actually read them.

When you choose words for students to practice independently, choose words that they can read AND words that they will use.

Words they can read: It’s not a bad thing to challenge students, especially when you’re there to support them. But independent work should be at their level. So if students are struggling to read lots of the words, they might not be as likely to attempt them on their own. If I give my students 10-20 words to work on, I try to include only one word that’s a little bit tricky.

Words they will use: The other week, I was working with a student on words with “sh” or “ch” digraphs and short vowels. Words that I chose for her independent work included “chip,” “shut,” and “shop.” I omitted words like “shag.” Even though she could read “shag,” it wasn’t as meaningful to her as the other words. She wasn’t going to use it much in her reading and writing — so I left it out.

Remember, even if you don’t have students practice with tricky words and less-common words, it doesn’t mean you have to exclude them altogether. Maybe you use those words in small group activities. Maybe you test students using those words so you can see if they can apply the patterns to read and write new words.

2. Discuss the meaning of the words.

If you want students to read and think about the words they are studying, it helps to discuss the words’ meanings when you introduce them. For example, if I’m seeing a small group that is contrasting the ‘ou’ and ‘ow’ spelling patterns, we read each word, discuss its meaning, and then sort it.

If you want students to read and think about the words they are studying, make sure to model that when you introduce the words in the first place.

3. Create partner accountability.

I train my students to hold each other accountable for reading words!

If students are playing a partner game, I teach word reading as a step in the game. I use visual directions as a reminder (my kids know that the speech bubble means they have to read the word out loud).

If it’s an individual activity, I have students make or sort a certain number of words (i.e., 5 or 10) and then read them aloud to their partner. (I don’t have them read each word one at a time, because then they would be constantly interrupting their partner’s own work.)

4. Incorporate technology.

When all else fails, I incorporate technology to hold my kids accountable for reading their words!

If they are making words with magnetic letters, they can video or audio-record themselves reading the words. For this, I especially love Seesaw, an app that allows students to submit their videos to you for review. It only takes a minute, and it’s a super simple accountability method.

You can read more about Seesaw HERE.


Do you have any additional tips to share? Please do so in a comment! And if you’re looking for engaging word work activities for your K-2 students, you can check some out in my TpT store here. Happy teaching!