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 to download your own chart for free, please 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.  Tttturrrrtttllllle. 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!

Teaching Phonics to Students with Dyslexia: My Interview with Becky from SMART ALEC Resources

Have you ever suspected that one of your students has dyslexia or some type of reading disability?

Today’s post is all about supporting these students during phonics and word work activities!

Recently, I’ve been learning a lot more about interventions for students with dyslexia. But I’m definitely not an expert or a special education teacher, so I thought it would be helpful to bring in another perspective for today’s post.

My friend Becky Newell works specifically with readers with dyslexia. And she generously offered to do an interview with me for this post!

During our video chat, I asked Becky to cover some effective strategies we can use with students with dyslexia / reading issues. The strategies she shared with me are effective for ALL of our students, so they’ll be helpful to you whether you are a general education teacher or specialist.

Listen for:

  • Red flags to look for when observing students who may have dyslexia / learning issues
  • How we can reach 100% of our students with our reading instruction, rather than just 80%
  • What it means to “clip” your sounds when teaching letter sounds or modeling segmentation

Resources & Freebies From Our Interview

Becky’s website: https://www.smartalecresources.com/
Red flags blog post and identifying at-risk readers freebie: https://www.smartalecresources.com/blog/2018/1/11/5-clues-your-student-may-need-a-different-approach-to-reading
Our regular freebie page – click on freebie Friday for a new freebie each week, but scroll down for the permanent collection of free resources! https://www.smartalecresources.com/free-resources/
If you’re interested in going more in-depth on working with struggling readers during centers, Becky shared another quick video with us: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMIVDUZozrw&feature=youtu.be

I so appreciate Becky’s generosity in sharing her knowledge with us. I hope you enjoyed watching the interview—and make sure to grab some freebies from the Smart Alec blog! Happy teaching!

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

Prepping word work activities can be SO time-consuming!

Sometimes there are tons of things to print, cut out, and laminate. You spend 45 minutes preparing an activity…and then the kids are done with it in 10 minutes!! 😱 How can you keep things fresh and interesting when it takes so much time to prep each activity?

Then there’s differentiation to think about—how can you meet all your students’ varying needs? Even if you have students in word work groups, there can be variations within each group. How can you meet all their needs?

And then there are all the other concerns: How can I hold students accountable? How can I make sure they’re not practicing incorrectly?

These questions have been bouncing around in my head for the past 10+ years. And I’ve come up with different strategies to help me deal with these challenges, but I still wasn’t finding a true “solution.”

But THEN I learned about Boom cards —and immediately realized the incredible potential they hold for solving many of these word work challenges.

(If you’re not familiar with Boom Learning, it’s an online platform that can be used to create interactive games and activities. The decks provide instant feedback to students, allow them to work at their own pace, and are super motivating.)

The Boom platform allows me to create digital word work activities that are:

  • Differentiated – each deck focuses on one phonics or spelling feature that a child needs to work on!
  • Self-correcting – they provide feedback to students about their answers!
  • Tools for holding students accountable – I can see student progress and their scores with my Boom account!
  • No-prep!!

All of this is EXCITING STUFF, right!??!

I currently have 3 growing short-vowel bundles of Boom Cards™ ready to share with you:

Short vowel practice in CVC words


Short vowel practice in words with blends and digraphs (beginning and ending blends and digraphs)


An extra-discounted combo of both of the above bundles!

When you purchase any one of these resources, you’ll receive a PDF with links for the different Boom decks included.

To use the decks, you’ll see directions to click on each title. Clicking on a title will open it in Boom – and prompt you to a) add it to your Boom account (if you already have one) or b) open a new account.

A Boom account is FREE, and you can use all of the materials in my bundles with a free account.

If you want to give your students individual logins, however (this will allow you to see how they do on their Boom decks), I recommend getting a paid account. It costs about as much as a Starbucks trip and is SO worth it!

Anyway, here’s a little peek at just a few of the included interactive activities in these bundles. Each one of these images represents a card, and a typical deck includes anywhere from 20-40 cards.

When students have to identify a picture in order to spell or find a word, audio accompanies the picture. There are also audio directions!

If you’re curious about how Boom works, you can read more details by clicking HERE.

I will absolutely be creating more of these digital word work activities in the future! My plan is to create tons of word work sets for kindergarten through 3rd grade. Make sure to follow my TpT store so you’re notified when future decks are ready!

Happy teaching!  


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

“They can spell the words during word study, but then it doesn’t transfer!”

Have you found yourself saying this before? If you’re like me, you’ve seen students appear to have mastered a spelling pattern or word family during phonics/word study…but then they spell it incorrectly in their writing. Or they don’t use that knowledge in their reading.

Lack of transfer between word work, reading, and writing can definitely be frustrating—and a little confusing.

After all, the purpose of phonics or word study is to help our students become successful readers and writers. But if that learning doesn’t transfer…then what’s the point?!

The issue of transfer is definitely not a challenge that I’ve completely overcome. But it’s something that I’m working on, so I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned and what I’m trying with my own students.

In this post, I’ll explain why transferring word learning is particularly difficult when it comes to writing. (This made me feel a little better about my own struggles!) I’ll also share some strategies to help your students use their word study knowledge to become stronger readers and writers!Is TRANSFER a problem for your students? Read this post to find out how to help your students apply their phonics learning to reading and writing!

Photo Credit; stockfour, Shutterstock

Why do kids tend to misspell words in their writing, when they can spell those same words correctly during word study?

In my intervention work, I sometimes go straight from a word study activity into a writing activity…and the student ends up spelling words incorrectly that she had appeared to have mastered 5 minutes ago! 😭

So why does that happen? I’ve been curious about this for the longest time, but (I think) I’ve finally found an answer. And it makes a whole lot of sense:

“[T]he process of crafting written texts is widely understood as being multidimensional (Hayes & Berninger, 2014). Hence the coordination of a range of writing elements (e.g., vocabulary selection, sentence structure, generation of ideas, handwriting, or touch-typing) requires greater cognitive load when composing extended texts (Williams & Lundstrom, 2007). It is possible that, due to the cognitive demands associated with composing larger texts, spelling errors are more likely to occur” (Daffern, 2017, p. 428-429).

In a nutshell…this quote asserts that because so many mental processes are required for writing, students have less attention freed up to focus on spelling words correctly. Some of our little ones struggle to just plan and remember a sentence, so it makes sense that they might not be focused on spelling words correctly!

This quote also made me think that transfer has a lot to do with levels of automaticity.

The better a child knows a word pattern, the more likely he is to write it correctly, even when he must focus on other considerations when he’s writing.

To make this concrete, I’ll use an example from my own life: learning to play tennis. I played a lot of tennis when I was younger, particularly in high school.

During practices, we did drills. We would work on forehand technique, for example. With my coach’s help, I could get to a point where I was hitting consistently strong forehands.

But during a competitive match? That’s a whole other story! It was SO much harder to apply those skills that I thought I’d learned. I was focused on other things—the wind, what my opponent was doing, not tripping over my own two feet as I ran around the court. 😝

You get the picture; it’s much easier to demonstrate mastery in an isolated situation than it is to transfer those skills to a multidimensional, unstructured situation.

There are varying  levels of mastery, even when a student does extremely well with out-of-context practice. It can be difficult to figure out what “level” that student is at.

BUT the more you practice, the more fluent you become with a skill (whether it’s spelling the -at word family or hitting forehands on the tennis court), and the easier it becomes to use that skill in a different situation.

So it seems to come down to fluency and automaticity.

Maybe that means we need to stick with one word feature or pattern a little longer than we might normally do so—to help get our kids to the point where they are fluent with that feature (and therefore able to apply that knowledge in other contexts).

I also think it means that we need to be patient and provide our students with enough time to develop that automaticity, since it doesn’t happen overnight.

How can I teach for transfer?

All of that said, there are still things we can do to help our students transfer their word work learning. Here are some ideas:

  • Teach students to compare and contrast words. Instead of having students spell a list of words with long o and a silent e, have them work with some of these words AND some words with a short o.
  • Create less structured opportunities for students to explore words. The Making Words activity by Patricia Cunningham is one that allows students to explore letters, patterns, and try to make new words. Of course, the teacher provides guidance and ensures that a productive discussion takes place. But this type of activity encourages students to make connections more so than does, for example, a worksheet that only covers words with the -ay spelling pattern.
  • Revisit spelling patterns that you previously taught. If you have taught blends a few months ago and are working on long vowel spelling patterns, have students work with words that have long vowels AND blends. You may find that you need to go back and review previous patterns, too, if students haven’t achieved complete automaticity with them.
  • Make sure you discuss words and their features during every part of the school day. Whether you’re working on a math journal entry or reading a story during shared reading, it only takes a second to point out your noticings or ask students what they notice. This will help them understand that readers and writers are always thinking about words and spelling.
  • Teach students the “try it both ways” method for spelling words. If they come to a word and are not sure how to spell it, have them write it on a sticky note. They write the word 2+ different ways, using their spelling pattern knowledge, and then decide which way looks right. For example, if a child is not sure how to spell “feel,” she might write “feal” and “feel” on the sticky note before adding the correct spelling to her piece of writing. This is especially effective with sounds that have multiple spelling pattern options, like vowel teams!

  • When you have students edit their writing, have them read through it once looking only for spelling mistakes. I’ve found that having students read their writing (or a partner’s) multiple times is extremely valuable. We read once for capitalization, once for organization (neatness / paragraphing / handwriting), once for punctuation, and once for spelling. It’s usually too much to ask little ones to focus on all of those things at once!

  • Have students find examples of words (with the features they’re studying) in real texts. I like to have students complete this activity with their book bag books!


Getting our students to transfer their word learning takes time, patience, and our own recognition that there are different (and sometimes hard to discern) levels of mastery for any skill.

If you have any other “transfer-focused” activities to add to this list, I would love to hear them!

Also…I have a big word work announcement to share with you next week, so be sure to check back then!!


Daffern, T. (2017). What Happens When a Teacher Uses Metalanguage to Teach Spelling? The Reading Teacher, 70(4), 423–434.

5 Phonics Activities to Keep Word Study Interesting (for K-2)

Looking for some fresh phonics activities for your word study lessons?

I use a lot of word sorts in my word study lessons, and they’re effective. But sometimes my kiddos and I get a little tired of sort after sort after sort. Can you relate? 🙂

In today’s post, I’ll share 5 phonics activities to try with your kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd grade students! I hope you find at least a couple of new ideas!This post has ideas and freebies for Kindergarten, first, or second grade phonics or word study instruction!

Photo Credits; Regreto, Shutterstock

1. Mystery Word

Have students place 5 – 10 words, on individual cards, on the table in front of them. (Have students use the words they are currently studying AND words they have studied in the past, for review.) Each student should have the same set of words.

The teacher chooses one word and gives clues about that word. Students may guess the word at any time, but I do not allow the children to guess after one clue (they have to wait to hear two or more clues).

When you give clues, make sure that they do not immediately reveal the “identity” of the word. For example, if you state that the word ends in -at, you’ll want students to have several different words that end in -at.

Examples of clues:

“The mystery word starts with the digraph ‘ch.'”

“The mystery word rhymes with ‘pig.'”

“The mystery word has 2 syllables.”

“The mystery word has a prefix.”

Kindergarten teachers can modify this by giving students alphabet letters rather than words. You then give clues like, “This is the letter that starts the word ‘hat'” or “This letter has two straight lines” or “This is the last letter in the word ‘pin.'” You can eventually transition to having students work with complete words.

This activity can be done in a whole group or small group setting. Once students have played this game many times with your support, you can have them play it on their own—a student leader makes up the clues for a partner or small group!

2. Word Train

In this activity, students manipulate words and change out letters to make new words.

First, direct students to make a word (they should use their own magnetic letters or letter tiles). After students have made it correctly, have them write it on the first car in their train.

Next, either show or ask students how they can change that word to form a new word. Once students have formed the new word with their magnetic letters or tiles, have them write it on the train.

Continue until the train is “full.” Praise students for their work in changing the first word to a completely different word.Download this free activity for manipulating words! Great for guided reading or word work!

If you’d like this train template, you can get it for free here:

You can make the activity even more challenging (and assign it as independent work) by writing the first and last word on the train. Students have to figure out how to get from the first word to the last word!

3. Making Words

This activity was developed by Patricia Cunningham (1992). I’m going to share a basic outline of her activity, but there are other variations and extension activities that you can read about in one of her books, like this one.

To prepare for the activity, the teacher chooses a “secret word” (something related to a topic you’ve been studying, if possible). The teacher displays the letters in the word in a mixed-up order. Students should also have their own paper letter tiles with matching letters to manipulate.

The teacher directs students to make a 2-letter word, with her help (or a 3-letter word, if no 2-letter words are possible).

Continue guiding students in making words by giving directions like “Change the first letter to an S” or “Mix up the letters to make a different word.” As you go, increase the number of letters in the words students make.

Have students try to figure out the “big” secret word. If they are not able to, give them clues to help.

Students can then do follow-up activities like practicing sorting the words they made, comparing and contrasting words, looking for words that rhyme, etc.

Again, this can be done in a whole group or small group setting. Students can eventually do “Making Words” activities and variations on their own (as independent work, they can repeat the same “Making Words” activity you did with them, but without your support).

4. Dictation

This one is not quite as game-like as numbers 1-3. But it can still be fun AND is an extremely valuable phonics activity. It also allows you to see how students are doing with applying phonics / word learning to their writing.

The way you structure the dictation activity will depend on students’ ages and abilities. In general, you might try something like this:

  1. Choose a sentence that includes ONLY words that students have been learning how to spell (CVCe words with the long i, for instance) and sight words.
  2. Say the sentence aloud to students: “I like my bike.”
  3. Then, say, “Write ‘I.'” Have students write the word.
  4. “Write ‘like.'” (If necessary, comment on the long i sound, and help students segment it if necessary.) Have students write the word.
  5. Repeat for the remaining words in the sentence. Note: In kindergarten and first grade (and sometimes 2nd), I almost always dictate the sentence word-by-word. I want students’ focus to be on using their phonics knowledge rather than trying to remember a sentence. If necessary, I will remind them to space, use capital letters, and punctuation. Although I can discuss these skills during the lesson, I try to stay focused on the phonics patterns (since that is the point of this type of dictation).
  6. Have students reread their sentences. Discuss word features.

In kindergarten, I start with single-word dictations, and then we eventually move into very simple sentences. You can incorporate sound boxes or have students “tap out” words to support them with segmenting during the dictation.

Ways to make dictation fun:

  • Make up sentences about your students and/or classroom. (You may have to tell them how to spell a word if it doesn’t fit the patterns students have been studying, but the enjoyment they get from relevant sentences will make it worth it.)
  • Make up silly sentences.
  • Allow students to choose a word they’ve been studying. Then, you come up with a sentence that uses that word (but is still phonics-controlled).

5. Real or Nonsense?

This activity is very flexible, open-ended, and can be adapted for any level.

To prepare, choose letters, chunks, or syllables students have been studying and place them on index cards or small pieces of paper.

You can either A) fold up the cards and place them into a bag or jar, or B) give each student a set of the cards to place on the table in front of them.

With option A, students reach into the bag/jar and take out two pieces of paper. They manipulate the word parts to try to make a word. They record the word(s) they can make, writing them into the “Real” or “Nonsense” categories.

With option B, you can direct students in finding specific letters, chunks, or syllables (“Find the chunk ‘ing’ and the letter S”). With your guidance, students form real and nonsense words.

This blog post has phonics and word study ideas for Kindergarten, first, and second grade!This makes a great small-group activity because you can discuss the meanings of words too. Students can sort the words in other ways, beyond “real” and “nonsense.”


I hope you got at least one new idea for your phonics instruction!

If you’re looking for more activities that your students can do independently, check out my word work resources for K, 1st, and 2nd grade.


Blevins, W. (2017). A Fresh Look at Phonics, Grades K-2. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Cunningham, P.M., & Cunningham, J.W. (1992). Making words: Enhancing the invented spelling-decoding connection. The Reading Teacher, 46, 106-107.

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

Do you teach phonics in a small group setting? Or are you thinking of starting small groups, but you’re not sure how to get going?

In this post, I’ll share why I teach word study (sometimes referred to as phonics or spelling) in a small group setting. I’ll also share tips and possible schedules for setting it all up—because sometimes the logistics can be tricky!!

Small group instruction is SUPER effective for word study or phonics instruction! Learn how to do it in this blog post for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade teachers.

Photo Credit; kikovic, Shutterstock

Note: You’ll see me refer to “word study” throughout this post; I’m referring to phonics and spelling instruction too. The reason I call it “word study” is because I want the kids to learn phonics and spelling patterns AND the meaning of words. Word study can include vocabulary instruction too.

Another note: If you teach kindergarten, definitely read through the entire post, but know that I specifically address your needs in the last part!

Why would I teach word study in a small group setting?

Research and my own experience confirm that students are most successful learning about words when the instruction is differentiated to meet their specific needs!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never taught a class of students who were ALL at the same level. Teaching word study in a small group setting allows us to differentiate and meet students’ specific needs. We want to target students’ zones of proximal development (Vygotsky), so we teach them concepts they haven’t yet mastered but can learn with our support.

Additionally, working with a small group just helps us provide more individualized attention than does working with the entire class at once.

If I teach word study in small groups, won’t I be providing word study instruction less often to each student than if I taught it whole group?

Yes and no. First of all, it will be more targeted instruction, so it will likely serve students much better (quality over quantity). Second, although I teach word study in a small group setting, I also discuss phonics concepts in whole group (i.e. during shared reading or writing). Additionally, we do a little bit of word work in guided reading.

Basically, small group instruction is one focused opportunity to teach these skills, but by no means does it have to be the only time in the day when students get this type of instruction.

How can I form groups for word study?

The first thing you’ll want to do is assess your students. You want to find out what word features they have mastered, and which features they still need to work on (i.e., they may have mastered short vowels, but can’t spell many words with long vowels correctly).

My favorite way to assess students is with a Words Their Way spelling inventory (Here’s an Amazon affiliate link for the Words Their Way book: http://amzn.to/2GB6U9B).

A spelling inventory is basically a carefully-designed spelling test. The words progress from easier to more difficult, so you can see which features students are comfortable with, as well as which features students still need to work on. For example, students might have an opportunity to spell simple CVC words, as well as CCVC words, so that you can see if they’ve mastered both CVC words and words with short vowels + beginning blends or digraphs.

If you don’t use the Words Their Way spelling inventory, there are other options! You can search online for the Kindergarten Spelling Inventory, McGuffey Spelling Inventory, or Viise’s Word Feature Inventory.

Once you’ve given the spelling inventory, you’ll need to analyze students’ results. The Words Their Way inventory guides you in determining which stage of development each student “falls” into. Then, you can group together students who are in the same or similar stages.

When you’re making groups, keep in mind that having 10 different word study groups in your classroom probably won’t lead to effective instruction! You’ll be too rushed to spend much time with any of your groups.

If you end up with 3-5 groups in your classroom, I think that’s definitely manageable.

If you have to place students from different stages into the same group, it’s not the end of the world. Students will still benefit from instruction that is closer to their level than one-size-fits-all, whole-group instruction would be.

Plus, you can still differentiate within a single group. Maybe you teach one lesson to that group, but then some kids in the group work with one set of words, and the other kids work with a slightly different set.

If you have a student who is WAY ahead or behind, consider talking to your other grade level team members. Maybe they have students at similar levels, and you can collaborate to group these kiddos together.

How can I set up a small-group word study schedule that works?

It seems like there’s never enough hours in the day, right?! If you’re worried that teaching phonics in a small-group setting will mess up your daily schedule, here are a few different suggestions and ideas. Hopefully you’ll find at least one strategy that works for your schedule! (Note that I don’t try to see every small group every day—that would definitely take up too much time!)

Option 1: Set aside 15 minutes for word study each day. See 1 group per day.

This option is my personal favorite strategy! Each day, you dedicate 15 minutes for word study (or more, if you have it). You work with one of your groups, and the other groups complete independent word study activities.

If you set things up this way, you probably won’t use the typical “introduce words on Monday” and “test on Friday” schedule. Instead, you’ll want to stagger students’ word work schedules. (I originally got this idea from the Words Their Way book – see my citations list at the end of the post – and tweaked it to meet my needs!)

Students will all rotate through these sessions:

  • Session 1 (Teacher Introduction): In a small group setting, you meet with students. You teach them about a spelling pattern(s), introduce words for the week, and discuss the MEANING of the words. Assuming students will be sorting the words (which I recommend), you do the word sort for the week as a group.
  • Session 2 (Re-Sorting & Writing): Students work independently to re-sort their words. They record their words by putting the sort on paper (not just copying the words, but writing them into their categories).
  • Session 3 (Some Other Type of Sort): Students can do a different type of sort. For example, they might do a blind sort, where a partner reads them their words. Without seeing the words, they write the words down (into columns, based upon the word categories they learned in Session 1). Another option is to have students do a speed sort. They read and sort their words, timing themselves to see how quickly they can finish—and trying to beat their best time. The Words Their Way book has many different suggestions for sorts you can do. (You can also flip the order of sessions 2 and 3, if you find that your kids do better with partner support the first time they work without teacher support.)
  • Session 4 (Games / In-Context Practice): Students play a game with their words and/or search for their words in books in their book bags.
  • Session 5 (Spelling Test): Students are tested on their words; I recommend having them sort the words as they write them AND having them spell additional words to see if they can apply the pattern to new words. Session 5 can be another teacher session, but it doesn’t have to be. Maybe you have a parent volunteer or aide who handles this. Or maybe you create a voice recording of the words (with long pauses in between words), and students listen to the recording to take their spelling test.

Again, if you use a staggered schedule, not all students are on the same session each day.

Let’s say that you have 4 different word study groups in your class, and you have an aide or you use technology so that you don’t have to be available to give the test. (I really recommend that you find a way to do this, because it makes things much less complicated!) Your schedule might look something like this:

Words Their Way schedule or other word study schedule

In this arrangement, you are seeing each group on their “blue days” to introduce the sort. This setup is nice because on Fridays, you are available to support groups with their independent work. You could even bring a group back for another teacher-led session, which is especially helpful for lower students.

However, let’s say you have 3 word study groups in your class. Your schedule would then look something like this. You would be occupied during the “blue” sessions, and then have Thursdays and Fridays free to pull additional groups:
Words Their Way or Word Study Schedule for 3 Groups

Last but not least, let’s look at a schedule with 5 total groups. In this case, you are only available to see each group once per week (to introduce the words/sort):

Words Their Way sample schedule or other word work schedule

Remember, all of these schedules rely on you not needing to be available to give the spelling test. (If you do need to personally give the spelling test, I would recommend trying Option 2, which I’ll describe in a second.)

With any of these schedules, if you miss a day due to a holiday or snow day, simply pick up where you left off. The day of the week is not as important as the session number is.

To download these sample schedules, please put your information in below, and I’ll send them straight to your inbox!

Option 2: Set aside longer chunks of time on Monday and Friday, then have students complete word work activities during centers / Daily 5.

In this scenario, you don’t have to set aside time for word study every day; you carve out time on Mondays and Fridays, and then students practice their words as part of an independent work routine you already have in place (literacy centers, Daily 5, etc.).

On Mondays, you might set aside 45 minutes. You see each of your 3 groups for a 15-minute session. You introduce the pattern and words for the week during that lesson. (Meanwhile, the other children work on independent literacy activities. You could have a longer centers / Daily 5 period on Mondays, or see fewer guided reading groups to compensate.)

Tuesdays through Thursdays, students practice the words that you gave them on Monday. Each group has their own set of words, so their practice is differentiated. They can do different types of word sorts or play games with the words. If you have my first grade or second grade word work centers, then you have plenty of games that students can play with any words.

Then, on Fridays, you set aside another chunk of time to give students a spelling test on their words. You can do the test in small groups, or—I think I read this idea in Words Their Way—you can have kids sit in their word work groups (with privacy folders) and move around the classroom, giving each group a different word to write at the same time. I haven’t tried this, but it sounds efficient!

This option might be a good choice for you if you can’t squeeze in word study each day, but you have a little flexibility to make more time for it two days a week.

I’ve tried this strategy before, and the only drawback I saw was that Mondays can feel suuuuper long with having to get to all your groups. If you have more than 3-4 groups, this might not be workable for you!

Option 3: Teach your word study lessons during guided reading.

Although I prefer to separate guided reading and word study, it’s definitely possible to combine the two. This might be a good option for you if you have a BIG time crunch or very little flexibility in your schedule. Because students are already coming to you for guided reading, you wouldn’t have to adjust your schedule too much.

Normally, some guided reading lessons include a little bit of word work at the end of the lesson. If you were to combine word study instruction and guided reading instruction, you would want to make that ending time a bit longer.

Perhaps your guided reading lessons are 20 minutes rather than 15 minutes. Or maybe out of every 5 times you meet with a group, 1 or 2 of those sessions focuses mainly on word work.

However you do it, you’ll want to be intentional with setting up a schedule. Word work activities can easily “take over,” leaving little time for actual reading. Or, the opposite can happen: you’re teaching regular guided reading lessons and find that you only have a minute or two for phonics instruction.

Another word of caution: sometimes students’ development in phonics does not correspond to their guided reading level. Most of the time, students in a single guided reading group are more or less at the same word study level. But there are always exceptions.

Last year, for example, I was working with a little one who was reading at a Level B/C but needed word work activities I’d normally do with a Level F group! There were some other issues at play, but you get the picture—once in a while, you will have a mismatch between a guided reading level and a word study level.

(Note: The Words Their Way book has a chart that matches guided reading levels to word study levels.)

What if I teach Kindergarten?

Kindergarten is definitely a little bit different. 🙂

First, you’re probably not going to start the year teaching a ton of small groups. You may be able to squeeze them in here or there, but kids are still learning how to “do” school. It’s hard to get the entire class to work on something while you meet with a small group!

Second, many Kinders are not reading yet. You may address many word work-related skills in your guided reading or other small groups.

So….there are a number of considerations when you’re planning this out for Kinders! But research indicates that small-group instruction is definitely still worth your time:

  • “[S]mall group differentiated instruction that is based on the letter names, letter sounds, and phonological awareness of children is likely to be more time-efficient and effective [than whole group instruction] in increasing letter knowledge.” (Stahl, 2014, p. 263)
  • “Teachers get the best results when differentiating small-group instruction in response to the students’ existing alphabet knowledge.”(Stahl, 2014, p. 262)

Here’s how I like to run the year in Kinder:

  1. For the first 1.5-2 months of school, I introduce the alphabet letters in a whole group setting. We usually do 3-4 per week and also discuss letter formation. During this time, I also teach students how to complete picture sorts.
  2. Once the kids have been exposed to all the letters, I assess them to see what letters they know. I then form groups accordingly. (I focus on letter sound knowledge rather than letter name knowledge.)
  3. We continue our work with letters in a small-group setting. This usually takes place during guided reading, because they’re not doing a ton of actual reading yet. Additionally, students work on picture sorts and other hands-on activities during independent time.
  4. As the year goes on, I usually shift into a dedicated word work block with one of the schedules from Option 1. The activities may be a bit different, however, since some kids are still working on letters and others are working with simple words. Picture sorts and hands-on activities continue to be an important part of our letter/word work, although some kids do progress to regular word sorts.


Could any of these ideas work for you? Or do you have a different schedule to share? Please leave a comment below!

Also, if you are looking for examples of what a complete daily schedule might look like, take a peek at these posts:

Some of the ideas about grouping come from the Words Their Way book:

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

Another resource I cited was:

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

Make sure to check back each Saturday (through April 2018) for more word work posts and freebies!

Happy teaching!