Phonemic awareness games may help your child read fluently. Research has shown that the quicker a child differentiates the sounds in a word, the faster they understand. According to the National Reading Panel report on Teaching Children to Read, teaching kids phonemic awareness significantly improved their reading in various age groups and grades.

What is Phonemic Awareness?

Although phonemic awareness affects the reading ability of a child, it isn’t taught with the written word. It’s about listening to the spoken word and being able to identify and manipulate the sounds in a word. Phonemic awareness breaks a single word into sounds. The child recognizes the beginning sound of the word and the individual sounds in the word. The child can then also manipulate the sounds to form a word by blending the sounds.

If written words are used together with a phonemic awareness activity, it may confuse the child. For example, the word off has two phonemes but is spelled with three letters.

Phonics, however, focuses on the sounds of the written words and the spelling thereof. Phonemic awareness is one aspect of phonological awareness. Where phonemic awareness focuses on the sound of word segments, phonological awareness concentrates on the complete words. Words strung together to create sentences.  

Below is a list of phonemic awareness games for pre-k, kindergarten/1st graders that focus on the three main aspects of phonemic awareness: listening, rhyming, and segmentation. We’ve added some games that include physical activity for the restless ones.

Listening Phonemic Awareness Games

Although listening is an essential part of phonemic awareness, often young kids don’t know how. Teachers and parents shouldn’t assume the child knows how to listen; they need to be taught how to listen carefully to the sounds of a word.

1.      Who Can Spot The Sound?

Equipment Needed: Nothing!

Game Rules and Descriptions:

A relaxing game for after lunch or when the class needs some quiet time.

All the kids lie on the floor without making a sound. They listen to the sounds around them and try to identify what they are hearing. Is it door closing, a teacher’s voice, a kid yawning?

They aren’t allowed to use their eyes, only their ears. Talk about the sounds they hear. Be dramatic and overemphasize to add a fun element to the activity.  

2.      Beginning Sounds Mail Sort and Song

Equipment Needed:

  • Mailbag for each child (create one from a paper bag)
  • Copy of the song
  • A set of 10 Beginning Sound Mail Envelopes for each child (cards that look like envelopes with pictures on each mail piece)

Game Rules and Description:

The object of the game is to find all the mail that has an image of an item that begins with the same sound the kids heard at the end of the song.

Give each child a mailbag and spread out the envelopes in front of each child.

Sing the song on the tune of “I’m a little Teapot” and insert the letter sound.

Mail Delivery Song Lyrics (Lyric from Growing Book by Book)

I deliver mail

Rain or shine.

If you put a stamp on, it will get there in time.

Can you help me sort my mail today?

Collect the ones that start with ____ (insert letter sound)

3.      I’m Thinking of a Word

Equipment Needed: No extra equipment needed

Game Rules and Description:

The teacher sings a song with spelling out the sound syllables of each word. For example, “I’m thinking of a word named /c/ /a/ /t/, /c/ /a/ /t/. What is my word?”

The kids respond by sing back, “Is that word that you’re thinking called cat?

4.      ‘Moo-Moo,’ Where Are You?

Equipment Needed: No equipment needed

Game Rules and Description:

The game teaches children to listen for a sound, to listen for the sounds in words, and where it is coming from.

The object of the game is to identify the animal sound and the direction it came from. The kids sit in a circle with the child who is ‘it’ lying with closed eyes in the middle of the circle. Another child moves to a place in the room and pretends to be a cow. ‘It’ needs to identify the animal sound and where it is coming from. They point in the direction they hear the mooing coming from.

If ‘it’ identifies the sound and points in the right direction, they go next in making a different animal sound from somewhere in the room.

5.      Block Challenge

Equipment Needed: 3-4 One-inch cubes of each color. Four or five different colored cubes.  

Game Rules and Descriptions:

 The object is to identify the different sounds by using colored blocks. The child chooses a block for each sound they hear. If the noise is repeated, they pick two blocks of the same color. For two different sounds, they will select two blocks one each of a different color. Increase the difficulty level for more advanced play.

Rhyming Phonemic Awareness Games

Rhyming teaches children that sounds form patterns and have meanings. Most kids understand the concept of rhyme or learn very quickly how to rhyme.

6.      Rhyming Books, Poems, and Songs

Equipment Needed: rhyming book, poem or songs

Game Rules and Description

The goal is to familiarize kids with the rhyme concept. The more rhyme books, poems, and songs you read to the kids, the better their understanding of rhyming.

Be silly. Have fun. Rhyming, books, poems, and songs are fun ways to introduce rhyming to young kids. Exaggerate the rhymes to make them aware of the verse. The more fun you have, the more fun they will have, and the quicker they will grasp the rhyme concept.

7.      Rhyming Bingo

Equipment Needed:

  • A bingo board for each child. (Download free printable sheets here or create your own. The set contains 8 different Bingo boards.)
  • Counters – Use buttons, candy, counting cubes, or crackers.

Game Rules and Description:

Each kid receives a Bingo board and a handful of counters. Start with each child placing a piece on the free spot in the middle of the bingo board.

The game rules are the same as those of Bingo; you need five in a row or column to win.

When you call out a word, the child searches for a picture on their board that rhymes with the word called. If they find one, they place a counter on it. For example, if you called ‘mat’ and there is a ‘cat’ picture on their board, they must identify it and place a counter on the cat picture.

Obviously, winners can eat their counters on the bingo row or column.

8.      In My Box

Equipment Needed:

  • A small box
  • Cards with pictures of familiar rhyming words, e.g., cat/mat, box/socks, bear/chair.
  • Have enough pictures so that everyone has a turn.

Game Rules and Description:

The game is for kids who are familiar with the concept of rhyme. The object of the game is for children to take turns in coming up with rhyming words.

The kids sit in a circle. For an easy start, choose a child that is good at rhyming. Choose a card. If the card contains the picture of a bear, for example, say, “In my box, there is a bear.”

The kid you chose needs to come up with a word that rhymes with bear – like chair or pear and say, “In my box, there is a chair,” for example. If the kid came up with a rhyming word, pass the box to them to choose the next card.

9.      Making A Rhyme

Equipment Needed: None required.

Game Rules and Description:

The object of this phonemic awareness activity is to rhyme sounds. The focus is not on the words but on creating sounds that rhyme. Therefore, making up silly sounds that aren’t actual words, are allowed; it’s part of the fun.

Create new rhymes that the kids can fill in. Then give them a turn to make up their rhymes. For example,

  • A hat on a…mat (or cat, bat, zat)
  • A tree with a …key (or sea, knee, bee, me)
  • A bug in a …mug (or hug or slug)
  • A picture of a…fixture (or mixture, nicture)

A variation to the game is to sing the rhymes a familiar song like Farmer in the Dell.

10.  Rhyme Memory Game

Equipment Needed: rhyming memory cards (Create your own or download printable memory cards here)

Game Rules and Description:

Rhyme Memory is a variation of the classic Memory Game. Before you start the game, go through all the cards with the kids. Make sure they know what word fits with each card. For example, a bee is a bee, not a bug.

Place the cards face down in a grid. Start with a few cards for younger children and make the grid more complex for older children. The child turns over two cards and names the pictures they see. They must tell you if the two words rhyme or not. If the two words rhyme they remove the two cards; if not they turn over the cards and it is the next child’s turn.

Segmentation Phonemic Awareness Games

Segmentation activities teach children that words are made up of smaller parts according to their sounds. It also shows them how to group sounds to form words. Where listening teaches children to hear and identify words, segmentation teaches them to understand the individual sounds the words consist of.

11.  Bippity Boppity Bumble Bee

Equipment Needed: Stuffed or printable bumble bee for kids to hold.

Game Rules and Description:

The game teaches segmentation by using the names of the children. To familiarize the children with the individual sound syllables, they clap out the names focusing on each syllable in the name.

The teacher walks around the circle and points to a child with the Bumble Bee toy or gives the Bumblebee for the child to hold, saying, “Bippity, Boppity, Bumble Bee, will you say your name for me?”

The child responds with their name. Then the class says her name out loud while clapping once for each syllable in the name. Next, the teacher tells them to whisper and soft-clap the syllables in the name.

Lastly the teacher thanks the child, “Bippity, boppity, bumble bee, thank you for saying your name for me.” Repeat the process with each of the kids sitting in the circle.

Variation to the game is having the kids take on the role of the bumblebee instead of the teacher.

12.  Old MacDonald

Equipment Needed: Kids should be familiar with the Old MacDonald song.

Game Rules and Description:

The game teaches children to merge segmentations to form a word mentally.

Tell the kids they are going to learn a different version of the Old MacDonald song. Warn them it is a silly version.

Start singing, “Old MacDonald had a farm, e-i-e-i-o. And on the farm, he had a /_/_/.” Here the teacher introduces a different animal singing the word segments, e.g.,/ti/and /ger/. The kids immediately pick up the silly version and the introduction of a different animal. Without realizing it, they merge the segments and form the word of the animal—tiger.

Next show them a picture of the animal confirming that they figured out the correct animal.

13.  Falling Snowflake Segmentation Activity

Equipment Needed:

  • Large foam or paper snowflakes for group activity
  • Snowflake manipulative for example, snowflake sequins, foam snowflakes, white pompoms, or cotton balls
  • Falling Snowflake Segmentation Mats (Download free printable snowflake mats here)

Game Rules and Description

Develop and strengthen their motor skills with this phonemic awareness activity.

Use large snowflakes the kids can drop to the floor to help develop gross motor skills. Demonstrate to the kids how the game works and then let them do it as a group. Say a word and drop a snowflake for each sound in the word. Start with two or three phoneme words.

When they are comfortable playing in a group, help them strengthen their fine motor skill with the second part of the phonemic awareness activity. Kids can play individually or in small groups of two to three. Give each group or kid snowflake manipulatives and a snowflake mat.

The goal is for the kids to pull the snowflakes in the sky (top of the mat) down to earth (bottom of the mat)—one snowflake for each sound in a word. They start from left and move to the right. Not all the snowflakes will be used each time. Then they move the snowflakes back into the sky for the next word.

14.  Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

Equipment Needed: None

Game Rules and Descriptions:

A fun phonemic awareness activity that practices segmentation while being physically active.

Give the kid a word that contains a maximum of four phonemes. The children must stand and touch first the head, then the shoulder, knees, and toes as they say each segment sound of the word. For example, for the word sit, they will touch their head for s, their shoulders for I and their knees for t.

15.  Turtle Talk

Equipment Needed:

  • Word list
  • Game cards

Game Rules and Description:

Turtle Talk is a phonemic awareness activity that teaches listening skills and segmentation. The idea of the game is to help the child merge sounds to form a word and then to break the words up into sound segments. 

Tommy (or Tammy), the Turtle, takes the lead. Remind the children that turtles talk just as slow as they move. Tommy Turtle doesn’t say the whole word at once but speaks one sound at a time. To understand what he is saying, the children must listen carefully and then merge the sounds to form the word.

Use the word list and say one word at a time with a pause between each phoneme.

Use the counting cards for the next part of the game. After the kids formed the words, do the opposite. They must break the words up into sound segments and count the number of segments with the counting cards.

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