Muffin Tin Toss

Set it up: Write word families (such as –ake and –ing) on 2-inch circle cutouts. Place the cutouts in the 12 spaces of a muffin tin. Place the tin and a container of buttons or counters in a center. Add a clipboard, a recording sheet, and pencils.
Play it: Invite children to take turns tossing a button or counter into the tin. Challenge each child to come up with a word that uses the word family written in the tin where the button lands, and then write the word on a recording sheet. For example,
if the button lands in the tin with the –ake cutout, a student might write take or cake. Allow each child to play several times.

Valentine Candy Box

Set it up: Write word families such as –ate and –ose on the lids of empty heart-shaped candy boxes. Display the boxes in a center. Make copies of a candy-shaped template and place those in the center, too.
Play it: Challenge children to write words on the templates belonging to the word families written on the boxes. Have students place their vocabulary “candy” into the right boxes.

Word Building Blocks

Set it up: Write a different word family (–all, –at, etc.) on each side of a few cubes or blocks. Write a different consonant on each side of three additional blocks. Place the blocks in a center with a clipboard, a recording sheet, and a pencil.
Play it: Have children assemble as many different words as they can with one consonant and one word-family block. Ask them to write their words on the recording sheet. Challenge students to come up with at least six different words for each word family using all the consonant blocks.

Silent E Spinner

Set it up: Push a brass brad through the center of a paper plate. Use the brad to attach a paper strip to the plate’s underside. The end of the strip should fold over the edge of the plate. Write the letter e on the folded-over portion. Radiating around the brad, write various words that form a new word when a silent e is added (e.g., tub, hat, rat, kit).
Play it: Invite partners to take turns moving the e and reading the word beside it with and without the added letter. Discuss how the silent e turns the vowel from a short to a long sound, or makes us say the vowel’s “name.” You can also make –ing, –y, and –ed spinners.

Long I Fries

Set it up: Ask a fast-food restaurant for unused french-fry containers. Write one of the phonemes that make a long i sound (e.g., –igh, –y, and –ie) on each of the containers. Write words that contain the long i sound (such as sight, fly, and lie) on yellow paper “fries.”
Play it: Have children sort the fries into the appropriate container, then exchange containers with a partner to check their answers.

Snowflake Sorting

Set it up: Write different vowel sounds on recycled snowman or other holiday gift bags (e.g., long a, short a, long e, short e, long i, short i). Write words that contain these vowel sounds on paper snowflakes. Place the snowflakes and the bags in a center.
Play it: Challenge children to sort the snowflakes into the appropriate bags. You can also leave blank snowflakes and pencils in the center for children to add their own words.

The Phonics Groundhog

Set it up: Make a simple groundhog puppet out of a paper bag (or use a mask or stuffed animal).
Play it: Kneel behind a puppet theater or counter. Tell children that the Phonics Groundhog comes out of hibernation only if he hears words with a long a or that belong to the –ing word family (you decide the rule). Have children take turns calling out words. If the word follows the rule, pop the groundhog up from the theater. If it doesn’t follow the rule, encourage the child to modify the word until it fits (for example, you might say, “Good try, but map doesn’t belong in the –op word family. What’s another word that starts with m and rhymes with top?”) When children have gotten the hang of it, invite them to take turns being the groundhog. Later this spring, have the groundhog become a phonics-loving bunny or butterfly.

Word-Family Eggs

Set it up: Write different word families on plastic eggs. Put a random number of beads inside each egg. Place the eggs
in a center with a clipboard, a recording sheet, and a pencil.
Play it: Invite students to open the eggs one at a time and count the number of beads inside. Then challenge children to write the same number of words from that word family on the recording sheet. For example, if there are three beads in the –ing egg, the student might write sing, wing, and ring. Have partners compare their word lists. Did they come up with the same words?

Egg Carton Scavenger Hunt

Set it up: Using a marker, write different word families, blends, or beginning or ending sounds at the bottom of the cups of a clean egg carton.
Play it: Invite students to gather small objects from around your classroom (or from a treasure chest) that “fit” each cup in the egg carton. For example, a student might place a pencil in a cup labeled p or a mini stapler in a cup labeled –er. Invite students to check their work with a partner, then pass the carton on to the next student. 

Web Phonics Practice

Pull up one of these terrific sites on your interactive whiteboard to create another instant center.


Teachers love Starfall for good reason — kids can practice reading the alphabet, phonemes, vocabulary, and simple stories for free.

Clifford Interactive Storybooks

Check out this student activity to find a fun phonics matching game that’s just right for kindergartners.

Let's Find Out Magazine

Scholastic’s Let's Find Out magazine for kindergartners offers bonus language-arts practice.