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Phonemic Awareness Games for the Early Grades

written by: Faye Angeli Vitan • edited by: Laurie Patsalides • updated: 8/2/2012

Find some great games to enhance and assess phonemic awareness among young learners. Learn several games to help the beginning reader to recognize individual and meaningful sounds in a word.

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    Phonemic Awareness Games

    In the English language, phonemic awareness is the ability to distinguish the smallest meaningful sounds in a word. For example, the word dog has the sounds /d/-/o/-/g/. Learning this pre-reading skill must be practiced during the early grades wherein students are learning beginning reading strategies. This practice will eventually help them to develop other related reading skills, such as decoding.

    Here we will outline phonemic awareness games:

    • The Ending Sound Game for assessing comprehension of the ending sounds

    • The Rhyming Game for assessing comprehension of beginning, ending and substitute sounds

    • The Letter-Blend Game for testing comprehension of blending, beginning, ending and substitute sounds

    • Dropping the Letter Game for testing comprehension of dropping sounds

    All of these activities require little preparation since they are oral and aural in nature. Whenever possible, play them in small groups to group students by skill set and do a proper assessment of each child’s ability.

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    The Ending Sound Game

    The objective of the game is to create a link of words using the last sound of each given word.


    1. The teacher will give the first word. For example, the teacher will say "garden." Take note that the last letter of the word should correspond to its sound. Do not give words such as "dance" in which the last sound does not match with the last letter. This would avoid confusion in spelling in the future. For students in the early grades, use words with the CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) word structure.

    2. After the teacher gave a word, she calls on a student to give a word that starts with the last sound of the previous word. So if the teacher gave the word garden, the student must give a word that starts with /n/ such as net, nap, nail, etc.

    3. The next student will then think of a word that starts with the last sound of the previous word. This will continue until every student in class has given a word. Smaller classes can have 3 or more rounds of this game.

    For advanced classes, a category can be given to make the game more challenging. For example, if the category is animals all words that should be mentioned are related to animals.

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    The Rhyming Game

    Based on its name, the goal of the game is for the students to think of words which rhyme.


    1. The class will be divided into 3 to 4 groups depending on the class size.

    2. The teacher will give a word. Use words that end with consonants such as mat, hair, fit.

    3. Each group will give words which rhyme with the word given by the teacher. Depending on the general ability of the class, allot 15-30 seconds for each group to think. The students provide words until a group cannot give a word any longer.

    4. The group who gave the last word will think of a new word to start the next round.

    To make the game challenging, a scoring system can be done. A tally mark is given to the group who provides a word. The group with the most tally marks wins the game.

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    The Letter-Blend Game

    The goal of this game is for students to provide words that begin with the consonant blends assigned to them.

    Materials: flash cards with common consonant sounds


    1. The class will be divided into 2 groups. Both groups form a circle. One group will be the inner circle while the other will form the outer circle surrounding the inner one.

    2. The outer circle will have the flash cards with letters b, c, d, f, g, k, p, s, and t. The inner circle will have the h, l, r, and t. Note that the letters can be duplicated to fit the number of students.

    3. To start the game, the teacher will play a song while the students at the outer circle move around the students in the inner circle. When the song is paused or stopped, each student in the outer circle must be paired up with a student in the inner circle. They will show one another the letters that they have.

    4. Each student in the pair will have to say a word that starts with the consonant blend that was formed by the letters they have. If the combination of the letters cannot form blends, the students will have to raise their hands. The teacher writes consonant letters that do not blend on the board.

    5. The game will continue until all of the blends are mentioned.

    A time limit should be set for each pair to give words with consonant blends.

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    The Drop the Letter Activity

    The purpose of this activity is to test how fast the students can isolate the sounds in a single word.


    1. The teacher will show a word and will ask the students to read it, for example, sister.

    2. The teacher will cover the first letter of the word and ask the students to read the word again without the covered letter. For example, sister, -ister remains

    3. The teacher will cover the other letters one by one until only one letter sound remains.

    The activity is quite tedious and repetitive but this can be a good form of assessment of individual mastery of sounds. Just keep the activity moving at a fast pace and choose a word with no more than 6 letters.

    Although these are not the only phonemic awareness games the students can learn to play, they will surely ask to play these again and again.