First-Grade Phonics Games to Play in the Classroom

First grader holding up small book.
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Early phonics instruction helps children to connect sounds with spelling, making it easier for them to read and comprehend text. To use phonics, first-graders don't have to sit silently pouring over worksheets. Get creative and use games to teach phonics to your first-grade students in a hands-on manner.

1 Phonics Bingo

Phonics bingo allows you to choose your own specific language focus, such as consonants or vowels. Cut out or print pictures that match the phonics focus. For example, if you choose beginning consonant sounds, you might pick "cat" for "C" and "frog" for "F." Choose 16 pictures and sounds, making a bingo grid with four across and four down. Glue or tape the pictures to the board. As an alternative, write the actual words onto the board. Make bingo pieces that feature the letter that you are connecting to each word. Write each letter onto a separate pieces of card stock paper, cutting it to fit over the bingo board squares. Call the first word out. The students must either look for the picture or written word. If you are using pictures, write the word as well on the board for the students to see. Ask the students to say the word back to you, focusing on the first letter. Have them look for the letter marker and match it. When a student gets four across or down, she calls "Bingo!"

Vocabulary Builder

2 Letter-Sound Hopscotch

Connect letters and sounds with a classroom hopscotch game. This gross motor activity helps students to understand the relationship between letters and the sounds they make. Use masking tape to create a hopscotch board or draw one on the playground with sidewalk chalk. Pick individual letters to write in each square or use digraphs such as "sh" or "ch." A digraph is two letters that make one sound. Recognizing digraphs allows students to read words such as "shoe" or "thank." Call out a word that begins with one of the sounds. For example, the first square might say "sh." Say a word such as, "shirt" or "shoe." Focus on the "sh" sound as you say the word. Have the child repeat the word, find the beginning letters and hop to that square. Continue in this manner for different squares and sounds.

3 Blending Sounds

Identifying letters alone isn't enough for a child to become a fluent reader. She must develop the ability to blend sounds into one word. Write individual letters onto index cards. Hold up each card and ask the first-grade students to make the sound. Give each student her own deck of cards. Set five minutes on the clock and ask the students to see how many words they can make by blending the sound cards. Each student must arrange the cards into words by saying the letter sounds and then blending them. For example, /c/ /a/ /m/ /p/ makes "camp." After making the word, the student will write it on a piece of paper. She can then start over and create a new word. The student with the most words at the end of five minutes wins.

4 Switch the Word

Keep the sound, but switch the word. This game helps your first-graders to better understand how they can use one sound for different words. Write a word on the board that starts with a sound or letter you are working on. For example, write "block" for the letter "B." Ask the students to separate out the first sound as "ba." Erase the "lock" and ask who can come up with a new "ba" word. As the students say words such as "boy," "back" or "band," write the new words under the "B." For every 10 words that the students can come up with, they win a small prize such as a sticker.

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.