Alphabet play dough mats in Queensland Beginners Font

How to Teach Phonics with Play dough

Playdough is always a favourite in my classroom. It’s ideal to use that interest for reinforcing educational skills and concepts. That’s the beauty of a play-based classroom. You can teach phonics and consolidate phonemic skills through the provocations and learning invitations you provide.

Playdough is a wonderful sensory experience. When you stimulate any of the 5 senses (seeing, touching, smelling, tasting or hearing) you are helping the brain to develop. When you ignite the senses of children, neural pathways are created in the brain. Current brain research suggests that sensory learning experiences will help children to LEARN more and RETAIN more too.

How to teach phonics with playdough?

Play dough by itself stimulates the sense of touch. Adding an essential oil to play dough will ignite the sense of smell.  Now 2 senses are being stimulated and those neural pathways in the brain are being created. If you want to teach or reinforce a phonics concept, add a phonics stimulus to the mix. The first phonics stimulus I always add is an alphabet play dough mat. This is how I teach alphabet letter symbols with playdough. Allow the children to feel the letters as they squeeze, roll and bend the playdough. They will be creating and accessing brain pathways through their sense of touch, smell and sight. When they form letters with the playdough you will be teaching phonic concepts they will remember.

koala play dough mat

The senses, being explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge. Our apparatus for educating the senses offers the child a key to guide his explorations of the world, they cast a light upon it which makes visible to him more things in greater detail than he could see in the dark, or uneducated state. (Maria Montessori: The Absorbent Mind)

I like to add props to my playdough table. This enhances the sensory learning experience even further. I use the props to teach and reinforces our focus letter sound. This is how to teach phonics with playdough.

For some information on phonological awareness or phonemic awareness, and how they relate to the teaching of phonics, please read this blog post.

Adding props to the play dough also develops more creative and critical thinking. The children will experiment and problem solve with the play dough and the props. Adding some well-planned and thoughtful props transforms a simple play dough experience into a learning provocation. You will also have the bonus of extending their oral language as they discuss the new props.

Choose props to match your phonics focus

As i already mentioned, the first prop I add to the play dough is one of my phonics playdough mats. I carefully designed each mat with a phonics theme in mind. For instance, when I use the /Hh/ mat with the beautiful image of herbs as the background, I also add either a vase of cut herbs or a small herb plant to the play dough provocation. The children’s fine motor skills can be further developed by adding scissors to cut some of the herbs. These cut herbs can be added to their playdough. Their sense of smell is awakened as they smell the cut and crushed herbs.

This learning provocation now encourages

  • open ended creative play
  • critical thinking and problem solving
  • extensive vocabulary development
  • added sensory stimulation
  • further development of fine motor skills

We all know how important revision and practice is in learning. You can’t teach a child once and expect them to have learnt the new letter and its corresponding sound. A new phonics concept needs to have exposure numerous times. It needs to be included in many diverse sensory experiences. The greater the number of opportunities, the stronger the brain and memory can connect, learn and remember. The more varied the opportunities, the stronger the brain and memory can connect, learn and remember.

Herb play dough alphabet mat for sensory play
play dough provocation props

How I teach phonics in my classroom

At my school, we teach phonics using The Jolly Phonics Program. At the beginning of the Prep year we focus on 3 sounds over 2 weeks. I explicitly teach each letter, sound and action. Then the children practice and revise these concepts during our investigation time. The play dough table is just one place in my room where they can do this.

Using my play dough phonics mats and related phonemic props to teach phonics means I need to change the play dough table around quite regularly.  It’s very easy to create a new learning experience with little effort. To introduce a brand-new provocation, all I need to do is swap the mat and a few props. The new props bring new learning opportunities. Oh, and the minute you add something new to an area, I can guarantee they’ll be lining up to get there.

 By providing students with materials that they can physically manipulate, play with and explore, teachers help them learn more about the world and develop crucial skills that they will utilize later in life. (Caitrin Blake, Concordia University Nebraska)

The letters featured in my mats are in Queensland Beginners Font.  You might like to have these beautiful mats in your classroom to help you teach phonics at your play dough table. The pack contains 40 mats in A4 size. They each have an authentic photograph background reflecting the associated phoneme. Every 26 letters of the alphabet are represented at least once. There are two mats for each vowel, with both the long and short vowel sounds included.  For repeated use, be sure to laminate the mats or slide them into a sheet protector before using them.

Everything we know about the world and ourselves has come through our senses (Bogdashina, Sensory Perceptual Issues in Autism and Asperger Syndrome)

I tend to make one batch of play dough each term. You will love my favourite play dough recipe. It lasts for ages and doesn’t need refrigeration. You can find it here.

how to teach phonemic awareness and early reading skills

How to Teach Phonemic Awareness

Before you can expect a child to read or write, you need to be teaching phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness can be broken into four main skills. The first of these is the ability to hear and isolate sounds (phonemes) in words.  The next two skills a child needs to master are the blending and segmenting of phonemes. The final skill is phoneme manipulation. I have found this is usually the most difficult of the four phonemic awareness skills.

Isolating Phonemes

This is where children need to be investigating both the producing and hearing of phonemes – sounds. Getting children to listen and watch you produce a sound helps them to isolate phonemes.

Ask them to copy you and make the sound too. They should be noticing the position of their mouth and tongue when they do it. It can be a little easier for some children to have access to a mirror when they are producing different sounds. A mirror helps them see and copy the mouth positions.

Tongue twisters are a fun activity that children always love. Have them repeat or create tongue twisters to reinforce the isolation of phonemes. You can download some tongue twisters here.

Picture and word sorting are fantastic activities for exploring phoneme isolation. I have some picture sorts available in my store. These picture sorts are designed to focus on initial sounds in words. The position of the phoneme in each word has a different level of difficulty. The initial sound in a word is the easiest to hear and isolate.

Blending and Segmenting Phonemes

Before you tackle the blending and segmenting of sounds, it is important that your students have a solid understanding of letter, sound and word concepts. Children need to be able to differentiate between these concepts before you begin any blending and segmenting activities.

Phoneme Bingo is a game to develop phonemic awareness

I designed a phoneme bingo game to build phonemic awareness in beginning readers. I use this phonemic awareness game to teach my students how to blend and segment the sounds/phonemes within words. Some other activities to help teach the blending and segmenting of phonemes are:

  • count the phonemes in words
  • play with a puppet that emphasises initial, medial or final sounds “look at that c-a-a-a-t”
  • use an elastic band to demonstrate segmenting by stretching the band and saying the word slowly at the same time

Manipulating Phonemes

One of the most difficult of the phonemic awareness skills requires children to substitute, delete and add phonemes to words. I have had success with this skill once children have started formal reading and writing. We make words in numerous ways. We use magnetic letters, rock letters (letters written on flat pebbles) and scrabble tiles. I always begin with CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words. When the children can make CVC words quite competently, we start swapping letters out to make new words. If you can make cat, you can make mat, fat, sat, pat, bat etc.

Research indicates that phonemic awareness in young students is one part of an effective reading program. The teaching of phonemic awareness is most successful when there is an explicit focus on recognising and manipulating sound units— phonemes.

This Phoneme Bingo game has helped the students in my class recognise and manipulate phonemes. They love playing this game. It has been great to see them gain confidence and experience success with their phonemic awareness skills.

This .pdf file contains a call sheet and 18 bingo cards. Each card has 6 pictures. I have used stock photos for the pictures as I like the authenticity of real life images. Your students will instantly recognise the pictures on each card. Instructions for playing are included along with some information on phonemic awareness.


This game is easily differentiated to suit the developmental level of your students. Some ideas for differentiation are included.

Check out my blog post on Phonological Awareness if you would like to read more about phonemic awareness and other pre-reading skills.
CVC Sentences to develop Decoding Fluency from My Teaching Cupboard

CVC Sentences to Develop Decoding Fluency

Looking for decodable texts that are authentic?

Simple decodable texts from My Teaching Cupboard

Give your beginning reader success and a joy of reading with decodable texts.

Teaching a child to read must be explicit and follow a developmental sequence. In the first stage of reading, a child is learning the relationship between letters and sounds and between print and spoken words.

The texts given to a beginning reader must be simple with a combination of a few sight words and some easy to sound-out words. Decodable texts are just that!

CVC words, consonant – vowel – consonant words, are the easiest to decode or sound-out.

Successful Readers Draw Upon Six Skills When They Are Reading

  1. Phonemic awareness: the ability to hear and identify the separate words in a sentence and the separate syllables and sounds within words.
  2. Letter-sound relationship: knowing the sound that goes with each letter.
  3. Sounding out or decoding words: using their letter-sound relationship knowledge to sound out words.  This is called decoding.
    These two kinds of knowledge (letter-sound correspondence and decoding) are called the alphabetic principle.
  4. Fluency: the ability to read accurately and quickly without the need to stop and decode. It is important that the reader is still comprehending and understanding the text they are reading.
  5. Vocabulary: knowledge of what words mean.
  6. Comprehension: understanding and gaining meaning from the text.

First a child must develop their phonemic awareness.

It is the vital pre-requisite to formal phonics instruction. When children know all their single letter sounds they are ready to start decoding words phonetically.

The ability to decode words phonetically is an important skill for the beginning reader. It lays the foundation to becoming a competent, fluent reader. If a child cannot decode words, their reading will not be fluent. Their reading comprehension skills will be poor too.

Sounding out words – decoding is an important part of becoming a fluent reader. Children competent in phonemic awareness, concepts of print and letter/sound relationships (phonics) quickly master decodable texts. In no time they are ready to read other books with richer and varied vocabulary.

CVC sentences to develop decoding fluency from My Teaching Cupboard

Decodable readers are the stepping stones to becoming a fluent, confident reader.

CVC flip sentences to develop fluency in decoding. Help build reading success in the beginning reader. From My Teaching Cupboard.

In my classroom, I often found my students were quite competent at sounding out words in isolation. However, they were having difficulty transferring this skill to their guided reading texts. The answer to this transference problem lies in practice. Practice in reading decodable texts is a necessity.

I found that most of the decodable reading books available to the beginning reader were not very authentic in their sentence structure or story line. To solve this problem, I designed these Flip Sentences.

The sentences in this resource are simple in structure with authentic content. They are helping my beginner readers develop automatic decoding skills and building their fluency. More importantly though, my children are enjoying success as readers and their confidence and enthusiasm is growing daily.

The 56 sentences contain common sight words

along with decodable CVC words.

I usually use these Flip Sentences in my small group Literacy Rotations. Children work with a partner. One child reads the first sentence and their partner follows along. If the sentence is read fluently, the listening partner says, “flip it”.

The reader flips the sentence over to reveal the matching illustration. This gives the children an opportunity to self-check their reading accuracy. The children then swap roles with the listening partner becoming the reader and decoder.

They really love this activity. I get requests for the Flip Sentences often.

The sight words in my Flip Sentences are:

I, am, a, we, to, and, here, my, little, go, come, see, like, she, look, he, the, me

Teaching Phonological Awareness, Syllables and Phonemic Awareness from My Teaching Cupboard.

Teaching Phonological Awareness, Syllables and Phonemic Awareness

As the year goes on, I am becoming more aware of the importance of Phonological Awareness and Concepts of Print to the Prep child. Phonemic awareness was my focus for term one and as I look at my reading data – I’m glad it was! There are still children having difficulties with these skills so I decided to research the topic. I found a wealth of information and thought I’d share the most relevant to Prep here.

What is Phonological Awareness?
What is Phonemic Awareness?

Phonological awareness is an awareness of the ways in which words and syllables can be divided into smaller units. There are three levels of phonological awareness: syllable awareness, intra-syllable awareness, and phonemic awareness.

Syllable awareness consists of the segmenting of syllables in words and the blending of syllables together to form words.
Intra-syllables are the units we often refer to as onset and rime. This level includes the blending of sounds to form words, segmenting the sounds in words and adding, deleting, or changing the sounds in words or in a sound cluster.

What is phonological awareness

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is the awareness that words are composed of phonemes or sounds and that those sounds have distinct features. Phonemic awareness consists of four major skills which involve hearing, focusing on, and manipulating the phonemes in spoken syllables and words. Phonemic awareness may sometimes be confused with the teaching of phonics.

Phonics refers to teaching the letter-sound relationships. Children can be taught to manipulate sounds in speech without any phonics or letter knowledge and therefore phonemic awareness instruction is not phonics instruction.

These terms can be illustrated in the word: fishing. The syllables are fish and ing. The intra-syllables are f(onset) and -ishing (rime). The phonemes are /f/i/sh/i/ng/. Note that phonemes in fishing are different from letters and the spelling of the word. Phonemes represent sounds and although a letter (or grapheme) represents a sound, there is not always a one-to-one correspondence. In the word fishing, there are 7 letters but only 5 phonemes.

What is phonemic awareness

How does Phonological Awareness develop?
Is there a suggested order to teach the skills?

Phonological awareness skills develop along a flexible continuum. Children rely on their auditory skills for the development of the phonological awareness skills of syllable segmentation, blending, and rhyme. Then they rely on their speaking articulation skills for the next stages of phonological awareness where they demonstrate sound blending and sound segmentation. In the final stage of phonological awareness, children are relying on their orthographic knowledge for the higher level skills of sound manipulation and cluster segmentation.

Researchers conclude that there is a relationship between phonological awareness skills and literacy development. Phonological awareness is necessary for decoding text but the critical aspect of phonological awareness is that the child becomes aware words are made up of sounds. Graphemes or alphabet letters and the teaching of phonics makes no sense to a child who does not understand that words are made up of sounds. Once phonological awareness is established however, children begin to understand the relationship between speech sounds and print.

Key findings from the report of the National Reading Panel, “Teaching Children to Read” (NICHD, 2000) state that phonemic awareness can be taught and can be learned. Phonemic awareness instruction helps children learn to decode, read and spell. Phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when it focuses on only one or two types of phonemic manipulation at a time. Segmenting and blending are the most critical phonemic awareness skills. Phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when children are eventually taught to manipulate phonemes by using alphabet letters.

The report also supports the teaching of phonological awareness in the Prep classroom. Children need to be engaged in systematic, developmentally appropriate activities that are aimed at facilitating shallow levels of phonological awareness like rhyme and alliteration. By the end of the Prep year, activities that are aimed at deeper levels of awareness like segmenting and blending are appropriate. Therefore, those children who are not demonstrating phonological awareness by the middle of the year can be identified and targeted for explicit intervention.

Benchmarks for Phonological Awareness Achievement

Note. I do = teacher demonstrates skill; We do = students repeat with teacher; You do = student completes example independently

I designed these Initial Sound Picture Sorts to help build phonemic awareness with my Prep children. These fun, hands-on sorting activities help children develop an awareness of sounds that is essential to reading success. They help develop students’ understanding of alphabet letter sounds along with the beginning phonemes in words. Picture sorts ensure your students develop their phonemic awareness skills and lays the foundation for any Early Literacy Program.

The PDF file contains 31 pages. It includes up to 12 quality sorting pictures for each letter of the alphabet, matching alphabet letter labels, clear and detailed instructions for using the cards and learning activities in your classroom. I have been using these for some time now. I love them, my children love them and I don’t know how I did without them.

Something valuable from the research that spoke to me is the fact that Teachers need to teach not test. Often our teaching looks more like testing where we ask a child a question rather than modelling, giving feedback and scaffolding. Teaching is helping a child do something that he or she was not able to do before. I was happy to find that the most effective instruction of Phonological Awareness involved The Gradual Release Model.

Teachers need to teach - not test.

The Gradual Release Model

Steps for teaching phonological awareness skills:

Get the boys writing with this Spiderman writing Provocation from My teaching Cupboard.

Writing Provocation

Want to get the boys writing? Just add Spider-man. This was a huge hit today. I actually have boys signing up on the waiting list to use this little writing space. I added a Spider-man figure from Kmart, some party cups to hold the pencils and pens, a sticker sheet, colouring book, a Spider-man party banner and a few red accessories.

I have a Batman and Superman table planned now. I’ll leave this one set-up for a couple of weeks before I change it. Of course the themes are endless.