Practice Activities for Phonics Skills

In this post I’m sharing literacy center activities that will provide your kindergarten, first and second grade students with the cumulative phonics practice they need for mastery of the skills you have taught them.

Effective phonics instruction follows the essential, evidence-based principles of quality instruction. It is based on the “I do, We do, You do” model. This means students receive direct instruction, have guided practice with corrective feedback, and plenty of opportunity for independent practice. The practice activities should be cumulative meaning they include concepts and skills you have previously taught.

In my last post I shared information to help you make the most of your daily explicit phonics instruction. I outlined how you can use a Sound Wall to support your phonics instruction and offered ideas for meaningful guided practice activities.

But we know simply exposing students to a phonics lesson one week and then moving onto the next the following week is not enough.  In his book, A Fresh Look at Phonics, Wiley Blevins states that a new skill should be systematically and purposefully reviewed for four to six weeks after being introduced for the first time and reminds us that once you introduce a new phonics skill you are “in it for the long haul”.  Students need to be involved in extensive practice in order to develop well-connected and automatic knowledge.

With this in mind, today I want to share independent literacy center activities that will provide your students with the cumulative practice and review they need for mastery of the phonics skills you have taught!

A Note About Independent Practice

While the activities below are independent activities, it is important to note that students need to be fully prepared for them. Even after extensive guided practice, it can be helpful to start together before you ask students to do them totally on their own.

Additionally, studies have shown that students are more engaged when their teachers circulate around the room and monitor their independent work. While these activities offer you the chance to provide small group instruction, you won’t want to do that until you are sure your students are secure with their independent tasks. If while you are circulating you find you have to spend a great deal of time correcting misunderstandings or errors, that is a sign you need to go back and provide more guided instruction.

Cumulative Practice Activities for Phonics Skills 

In his book, A Fresh Look at Phonics, Wiley Blevins suggests using word awareness activities such as word building, word sorts, and word ladders as a way to get students to focus on the spelling of words with the phonics skills they have been taught. 

Word Building 

Word Building allows students to explore and play with letter sounds. Students build a series of words using a limited set of letter cards. As they go from one word to the next, they must orally segment the sounds, consider which sound is different (e.g., going from sat to mat), identify which position the sound is in and which letter or spelling to change. It helps to create flexibility with students’ knowledge of letter sounds and builds both reading and spelling skills. 

Students can do this exercise as a guided practice with the teacher…

…or independently on a computer or laptop with the auditory cues and self-checking word building activities. I’ve shared more information on Word Building and resources here.

Word Sorts 

Word sorts require students to think about how words work by drawing their attention to common spelling patterns.  Students receive a set of words that all have something in common. They must identify the feature and sort them accordingly.

*Note- students should only be using word sorts AFTER a lot of explicit teaching of the spelling pattern. If students are just cutting and sorting words by the letters they see without decoding the words, word sorts become an ineffective activity.

Research on information-processing tells us that students need to spend time elaborating and summarizing their new learning in order to store it into their long-term memory. For this reason, the “what did you notice” section of this activity is key, as is the discussion that may take place after the word sort. Both help students to verbalize the new learning that applies to spelling.

Take a closer look at my Differentiated Word Sorts and download a FREE word sort here! 

Word Ladders 

Once you have a strong word sort routine in place, an engaging exercise to continue the development of word awareness is Word Ladders, aka Word Chains.  

Word ladders or word chains are a fun and challenging word activity for students and are good for when students have already had a lot of exposure to the word pattern.  Students will determine the next word in the ladder by changing just one phoneme to make the next word.

These activities are self-checking and provide students with immediate feedback. This is so important because helps to make sure students do not store misconceptions in their long-term memory.

Take a closer look at these self checking Word Ladder activities here!

Phoneme Grapheme Word Mapping Activities

In addition to word building activities, I like to weave in phoneme-grapheme word mapping activities.  Word mapping is a  physical way to represent the relationship between the phonemes and graphemes.  It allows students to physically connect or match the letters with the sounds they represent. Ultimately, it helps build word recognition and decoding skills that improve fluency in both reading and writing. 

Students find word mapping activities ​​highly engaging because they have both visual and kinesthetic aspects.

You can read more about my Phoneme Grapheme Word Mapping resources and download a FREE CVC Word Mapping resource here. This resource offers materials for guided practice, as well as independent practice students can engage in once they have received direct instruction for the specific spelling pattern.

Research tells us (and we know from personal experience!) that skills we don’t adequately practice are easily forgotten. I hope the information, ideas, and resources I’ve shared today will help you provide your students with the cumulative practice and review they need for mastery of the phonics skills you teach.


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