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Phonemic Awareness Lessons for Kindergarten

Phonemic Awareness Lessons for Kindergarten

At Reading Teacher, phonemic awareness is the foundation of long-term reading success. This fundamental skill takes time to develop -- but by starting as early as kindergarten, young readers can get a headstart on their ability to hear, recognize, and play with the individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words.


Whether you’re a parent or educator, it’s helpful -- and, at times, essential -- to have a healthy backlog of phonemic awareness lessons for kindergarten students. Phonemic awareness is the backbone of confident reading; and in the long run, both you and your student will be grateful for the early start.


Read on for a brief review of phonemic awareness -- because who doesn’t need a refresher? -- followed by four fun and effective phonemic awareness activities for kindergartners.


What is Phonemic Awareness?


When readers unlock the magic of hearing, recognizing, and manipulating the sound units in words, they’re using phonemic awareness.


While there are only 26 letters in the English alphabet, there are 44 phonemes. You can attribute this phenomenon to the power of sound manipulation. Because we can blend certain letters together, such as /sh/ or /ch/, our alphabet allows for unique mixes of sound.


To practice their manipulation skills -- and, in turn, develop their phonemic awareness -- students will also practice segmenting words into phonemes, removing one sound to make a new word, or substituting one sound for another: for example, changing the /g/ in “goat” with /c/ to make “coat.”


Best Phonemic Awareness Lessons for Kindergarten


In kindergarten, many students are eager to tap into the magic of reading. But before they can do this, they have plenty of skills to develop!


Fortunately, these phonemic awareness lessons make it easier for kindergartners to blossom into proficient first-grade decoders -- and, eventually, lifelong readers.


1.   Silly Songs

Phonemic awareness is all about sounds -- so to appease their listening ears, get silly with singing. For an easy tune, try “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands”: you can replace the main chorus with “If you think you know this word, shout it out!”


After singing the verse, shout out the sounds (phenomes) of a simple, 3-letter word. For example, you could say F-A-R, and kindergartners shout back “far.” Teachers who use this activity recommend preparing words beforehand: this lesson can get loud, but it’s also fun and interactive.


2.   Sound Swaps

This lesson is all about manipulating phonemes. You can use a whiteboard, cards, or another visual cue to present a word. Ask students to read the word, then challenge them to swap a sound in the word with a new one. For example, students can make the following swaps:

  • Bat to Cat
  • Dog to Log
  • Sand to Send


Notice that the sound “swaps” can occur in the beginning, middle, or end of a word, depending on the student’s skill level. To cement the meaning of each word, you can invite students to draw a simple picture of the word’s definition, before and after the swap.


3.   Nonsense Words

What’s the purpose of reading nonsense? When students are just beginning to develop their phonemic awareness, there’s actually a purpose to reading nonsense words, which are simply parts of whole words that, on their own, have no meaning.


For example, “rep” and “lat” aren’t actual words -- but “reptile” and “later” definitely are! When students read nonsense words, they’re also learning syllables, which are essential for reading fluency. Nonsense words also give adults a sense of whether a student knows how to decode 3-sound phonemes.


Regardless of their current decoding skills, nonsense words help students build confidence with silly, sometimes funny word-bites before facing the real words in their favorite stories.


4.   Rhyme Time

We love rhyme time: it’s an accessible and engaging lesson that can be incorporated into classroom lessons or while driving to soccer practice. Simply present a word to the student -- for example, dog -- and invite them to list as many rhyme pairs as possible (log, fog, cog, bog, etc.).


For an extra challenge, adults can add a timer or present the word in “20-Questions” style. For example: “I’m thinking of an animal that rhymes with ‘sat.’ What is it?” The answer is “cat”, but it might take the student a few guesses to get there!


What’s the best part about this activity, and most phonemic awareness activities? There’s no pen or paper involved! It’s all about sound, careful listening, and a willingness to get silly while learning alongside your students.



  • Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, recognize, and manipulate the individual sound units (phonemes) in words. Alongside phonological awareness, it’s an essential foundation for reading success.
  • Phonemic awareness lessons for kindergarten are all about sounds, active listening, and lots of fun! Some of our teacher-tested favorites include:
    • Practicing phonemes with silly songs
    • Swapping out sounds to make new words
    • Reading nonsense words
    • Turning any time into “rhyme time”!

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Testing Sight Words and Reading Comprehension

Testing Sight Words and Reading Comprehension

Teaching sight words and reading comprehension is one thing, but testing these two skill areas is an entirely separate challenge.


If you’re an educator and slowly working through a list of sight words with your students, you understand the importance of these words for students’ reading comprehension. These small-but-mighty words account for 75% of English language usage: so the more students know, the better they’ll comprehend texts -- and the more likely they’ll discover their new favorite book.


Testing sight words, reading, and comprehension can be overwhelming, but with a bit of strategy and planning, it’s possible to test and document your students’ progress from Day 1 to the end of the school year.


How To Effectively Teach Sight Words


Sight words are simple words that a reader can “see” and pronounce without sounding out or guessing. In the English language, common sight words include “the,” “a,” “I,” and “to.” Many of these words are difficult to sound out, but they appear often in decodable books and readers.


To effectively teach sight words, reading experts recommend early exposure and engaging students in consistent, fun reading activities that build their sight-word vocabulary.


Teaching sight words as part of a story, looking for them in favorite books, and hanging them around the home and classroom are all simple ways to increase students’ interaction with these familiar phrases.


How Do You Test for Sight Words?


Your system for testing sight words depends on students’ skills and overall reading confidence. Many educators and homeschooling parents use a combination of pre-assessments, flashcards, fun lessons, and post-assessments to test for sight words.


1.   Pre-Assessments

Before proceeding with your sight word lesson, assess students’ familiarity with a list of targeted sight words. In upcoming activities and flashcards, teachers and parents should pay special attention to any words that students miss from the get-go.


2.   Flashcards

Simple yet highly effective, flashcards are a must-have in any teacher’s toolkit. During guided reading time or ten minutes before dinner at home, use flashcards -- based on the pre-assessment list of sight words -- to test students’ growing knowledge and progress.


3.   Fun Sight Word Lessons

Flashcards are crucial, but both teachers and students know that they can get old! To break up the monotony, try some of these sight word lessons to expand students’ knowledge:


  • Heart Word Mapping: A popular technique used to teach both sight words and high-frequency words.
  • Watch Me: In this simple activity, students watch the teacher or parent read the sight word, spell it, and then read the word again. Then, students repeat those steps with the teacher, and repeat them once more independently.
  • Air Writing: After flashcards, ask students to snap a mental photograph of a sight word, then cover it up and write in the air with their fingers. This fun, physical activity improves both writing muscles and long-term memory of sight words.


4.   Post-Assessment

After a busy reading unit of sight word lists, flashcards, and lessons, it’s time to test -- but keep it low-stress! Teachers and parents can simply return to the initial list of sight words and retest students to see how many new words they’ve learned.


Ideally, students will know them all; but we also recognize that sight words take time to master. Continue working on tricky words until students know them all; then, move on to your next word list.


How Do You Test Reading Comprehension Level?


The ability to read most sight words is closely linked with reading comprehension. When students recognize and understand the meaning of sight words, they’re able to understand full sentences -- which, as we know, form the foundation of any good story!


Many teachers test reading comprehension levels while also teaching and testing sight words. To test reading comprehension, reading experts generally recommend the following steps:


  • Invite a student to read a book or passage that is leveled appropriately for their reading skills.
  • After the student reads the text, ask explicit, detailed questions about its content, which could include questions about the character, setting, or overall plot.


Note that these are broad, general strategies, and that reading comprehension assessments can vary depending on the needs of individual students and a classroom at large. Teachers might also create assessments to highlight specific comprehension skills, such as:


  • Summarizing the main idea or moral of a story
  • Filling in missing words in a passage with blanks
  • Asking students to read and follow simple instructions
  • Asking students to paraphrase the story in their own words
  • Presenting inferential questions about information implied by the text


Regardless of which path you take to test sight words, reading, and comprehension, remember that your approach is never one-size-fits-all.


With strategic and intentional lessons (and a healthy dose of patience), you can design tests that meet students where they’re at, allowing them to read, learn, and progress at their own pace.



  • Sight words appear frequently in everyday texts, making them essential for comprehending and enjoying books.
  • To test sight words, teachers can perform a pre-assessment with a list of targeted words; after a unit filled with flashcards and engaging activities, they can re-test with the same list to track students’ progress.
  • Because sight words are closely linked with reading comprehension, many teachers test both skills simultaneously, ensuring that students stay on track to meet their reading milestones.

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Adult Literacy Reading Programs

Adult Literacy Reading Programs

At Reading Teacher, we often talk about early childhood literacy -- but how do adult reading skills compare?


While a majority of adults in the U.S. are functionally literate in English, a striking minority cannot perform basic literacy tasks. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, one in five U.S. adults lacks sufficient reading skills, such as the ability to paraphrase, compare and contrast information, or make low-level inferences.


This translates to approximately 43 million adults who possess low literacy skills -- and this is just in the U.S. Worldwide, poor adult literacy remains a primary concern, given the relationship between literacy skills and education, earning potential, and physical and emotional well-being.


To fill the gap, several adult literacy reading programs have developed powerful, age-appropriate lessons for mature readers. Today, we’ll highlight some of these programs and examine the driving forces of low literacy in adults.

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Causes of Low Literacy In Adults


Poor literacy skills in adulthood are often byproducts of intersecting, intergenerational factors. Some common causes of low literacy in adults include:

  • Undiagnosed learning disabilities
  • Undiagnosed or unresolved physical disabilities, including hearing or vision loss
  • Poverty
  • Family or household dynamics in childhood that limit access to education and/or opportunities to read outside of school
    • Examples include frequently switching schools, childhood illness, or caring for a family member
  • Community violence or violence within the home
  • Needing to learn English as a second language


Whether separate or combined, any of these issues can lead to challenges with school attendance and success in other academic subjects, and ultimately create barriers to employment and other opportunities in adulthood.

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Adult Literacy Reading Programs


If you identify as an adult with poor reading skills, you are not a failure. More than often, low literacy skills stem from educational systems that do not grant people the time, resources, and strategies they need to succeed.


Even in adulthood, it’s possible to recover essential literacy skills and work toward higher-paying jobs, further education, and a more fulfilling life. Below are some of the top literacy reading programs for adults, which give mature students the tools and confidence they need to become effective readers.


1.   Orton Gillingham For Older Students

Orton Gillingham offers a program for older students, which refers to students in junior high and beyond. This well-known program was created by Samuel Torrey Orton, a neuropsychiatrist, and Anna Gillingham, an educator and psychologist. Their approach to literacy is primarily used for readers with dyslexia who struggle in reading, writing, and spelling.


The program emphasizes several essential elements of literacy, including:

  • Multisensory teaching, which recognizes that people learn in different ways; some readers are visual learners, whereas others learn better through sound, movement, or touch
  • The logical connection between sounds and symbols in the English language, which is also known as the Phonetic-Alphabetic connection
  • Diagnostic instruction, which requires instructors to continuously monitor -- and celebrate! -- students’ progress


The program specializes in structured, sequential, and repetitive lessons, so that adult readers have time to process the foundational tenets of literacy and return to them as needed.


2.   Barton Reading & Spelling System

The Barton System is specifically designed for adults with dyslexia, many of whom did not receive a proper diagnosis or support for their literacy needs. The program was developed by Susan Barton, who created her reading system to train tutors for adults with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.


Research shows that this program is highly effective for teaching students with dyslexia how to read, regardless of their age. The system utilizes direct instruction and multisensory techniques, which combine listening, speaking, reading, and tactile or “hands-on” approaches to teach phonics.


3.   Multisensory Teaching Approach (MTA)

Like the Barton Reading System, multisensory approaches to phonics are based on Orton-Gillingham literacy techniques. MTA is similarly designed for readers with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. The program is student-centric, which means that its evidence-based lessons are tailored to the unique needs of both groups and individuals: adult readers included.


Today, MTA is frequently used in dyslexia intervention for younger students, but it also functions as a literacy reading program for mature students.

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4.   The Slingerland Approach

This literacy program offers a meaningful, structured curriculum to improve students’ phonological awareness, reading fluency, vocabulary, and overall comprehension. Like the other programs on our list, the Slingerland curriculum is an adaptation of the Orton-Gillingham approach. Through this program, teachers use multisensory instruction to teach reading, writing, and even handwriting.


For adult literacy learners, the Slingerland curriculum reinforces the interdependence of reading fluency, writing, and handwriting: essential skills that shape any person’s ability to navigate the adult world.


  • Statistics indicate that low literacy levels in adulthood are relatively common.
    • In the U.S. alone, one in five adults lacks the reading skills to perform basic, literacy-related tasks.
  • Several major literacy programs can support mature students who seek to improve their reading skills, including:
    • The Orton-Gillingham Approach
    • The Barton Reading & Spelling System
    • The Multisensory Teaching Approach (MTA)
    • The Slingerland Approach

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Learning to Read for Older Students

Learning to Read for Older Students

In discussions about struggling readers, we often talk about “early intervention.” But when students fall behind early -- and interventions begin too late -- these readers continue to struggle well beyond elementary school.


What can parents, educators, and schools do to support the older struggling reader? Across the world, this question is increasingly urgent: in the U.S. alone, nearly 130 million adults read below a sixth-grade level.


Literacy is a key determinant of long-term success in several spheres, including academic success, earning potential, and both physical and emotional well-being. Even for struggling older readers, there is hope to regain the skills and confidence necessary for reading success.


Read on for the latest information on learning to read for older students, common causes of literacy lags, and three strategies to excite and encourage older readers.

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The COVID-19 Pandemic: A Recipe For Struggling Older Readers


After months of virtual instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, educators reported significant reading struggles among their older students. Many students never received adequate instruction in phonics, which involves explicitly and systematically teaching students how letters represent sounds. As a result, many students now enter higher grades with significant gaps in their reading abilities.


These gaps widened during the pandemic, although research indicates that struggling readers have struggled for decades, and often for the same reasons -- many of which originate in inadequate phonics instruction. When older readers cannot read effectively at the word level, they inevitably face challenges with overall comprehension.


Ultimately, this complicates the belief that U.S. students simply “learn to read” in K-3, in the words of Education Week. Expectedly, older students cannot “read to learn” if they lack the skills to decode more basic words -- let alone, comprehend entire storylines. These issues are compounded by the events of the past few years, as well as an overall lack of opportunities or encouragement to read -- which, over time, means that students never develop the reading fluency skills to build their comprehension.

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Reading Interventions for Older Struggling Students


In the wake of a pandemic, what can supportive adults do to help older readers recover essential reading skills? While the answer partially depends on the student and the curriculum, literacy experts have identified several research-based strategies to rebuild the foundation for lifelong reading.


1.   Use Graphic Organizers

A graphic organizer is an invaluable teaching tool for educators of older students. These organizers allow students to visually depict relationships between facts, concepts, and ideas. Teachers and students can use graphic organizers to break complicated texts into simpler chunks, using pictures, smaller sentences, and diagrams to communicate the major themes.


Graphic organizers are ideal for struggling older readers, students with learning disabilities, and any student who identifies as a visual thinker and learner.

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Example of a storyboard, a type of graphic organizer. Image Source: Wondershare

2.   Introduce Small Group Phonics Instruction

Working in small groups allows teachers to provide as much explicit instruction as necessary -- which is particularly relevant for phonics instruction.


For older readers, experts recommend focusing on two areas of phonics instruction: multisyllabic word reading and structural analysis. Don’t be alarmed by these big terms: they mask simple concepts that produce confident, competent readers.


  • Multisyllabic decoding is a reading strategy that teaches students how to read and spell words with multiple syllables. Readers learn to break words into syllables and identify the vowel patterns in each syllable to read the word.
  • Structural analysis is similar, but instead of breaking words into syllables, students focus on specific word parts, like prefixes, stems, and suffixes.

Just like any other phonics method, both of these reading strategies should be taught through direct and explicit instruction.


To support students’ progress, teachers or parents can make the common syllabic vowel patterns visible on posters or sticky notes throughout the classroom or at home. Readers can reference the patterns while decoding and blending syllables -- and eventually, they’ll be able to decode on their own, without these visual supports.


3.   Meet Students Where They Are

Not every student comes from a home with access to books, educational games, or family members who have the capacity to read with their children at home. In view of this reality, teachers are encouraged to meet students where they are in their educational journeys, using the available science to design lessons that honor the needs of older struggling readers.


In addition to phonological awareness and decoding, literacy experts also emphasize the importance of vocabulary and writing skills for older readers. Teachers and parents can engage these students in conversations about popular media, literature, and current events, which often require the use of more complex words. Writing about these conversations can greatly enhance comprehension, as well as the memorization and application of new vocabulary.


Learning to read for older students is a winding journey -- but with the right strategies, constant encouragement, and the power of phonics, it’s a deeply rewarding one.

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  • In the U.S. and other countries, thousands of older students struggle with basic reading skills: a longstanding concern that was exacerbated by virtual instruction during the pandemic.
  • Inadequate phonics instruction is a common denominator among many struggling older readers.
  • To help older students restore foundational reading skills, parents and educators can utilize the following strategies:
    • Graphic organizers
    • Small groups phonics instruction
    • Personalized instruction to meet each student’s history and needs, with an emphasis on vocabulary and writing

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My Child Struggles With Reading Comprehension: What Should I Do?

My Child Struggles With Reading Comprehension: What Should I Do?

Think of your child’s favorite story or picture book: the one that you read together, without fail, every day. They know the words, the characters, every twist and turn. But when your child attempts to branch out and read a new book, they struggle to get through the first page.


What’s going on here? All too often, we see kids who love listening to adults read their favorite stories -- but when they’re asked to read new books, kids often lack the reading comprehension skills to add another title to their personal library.


If your child struggles with comprehension, they’re not alone; in fact, most readers continue to develop these skills well into adulthood.


The journey starts here. Read on for five actionable ways to boost your reader’s comprehension skills, build their confidence, and set them on a lifelong pursuit of new stories.

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What is Reading Comprehension?


Reading comprehension is the ability to understand and interpret what we’re reading. Literacy experts divide this skill into three key elements:


1.   Decoding

For early readers, each sentence is a code. Through phonics instruction, they’ll learn to associate letters with their sounds and slowly unravel words -- and, eventually, full sentences.


2.   Vocabulary

Kids add to their personal “word banks” through wide and varied reading. Imagine each new word as a “boost” for reading comprehension: when kids recognize more words, they’re able to read with more fluency.


3.   Knowledge

Using books as a vehicle for understanding, kids uncover more about the world, people, and themselves.


5 Ways To Improve Reading Comprehension


If your early reader struggles with reading comprehension, literacy experts often reference the following five strategies to support them. Apply these tactics in the classroom -- or at home! -- to sharpen kids’ decoding skills, expand their vocabulary, and deepen their knowledge.


1.   Choose Books at the Correct Reading Level

Reading should be a challenge, but it shouldn’t be so hard that kids lose motivation to unpack a too-tricky text. If you’re not sure which reading level is right for your child, ask their school and teacher how they assess students’ reading levels.


Don’t be afraid to ask how your child’s school determines and uses reading levels to select books, so that you can make appropriate selections on your own. Tools like the Scholastic Book Wizard allow you to “level” a book or discover new, age-appropriate reads for your child.


2.   Read Aloud Together

Sometimes, our eyes move faster than our brains. By reading books aloud, children tend to go slower, which gives them a moment to both hear and process what they’ve just read.


3.   Reread Favorite Books -- Then, Try New Ones

Sure, you’ve read the same story about a magical frog for the past two weeks. But if your child latches onto a particular story, rereading it together builds their fluency and familiarizes them with a set of words, which will transfer to new books. Stick with it and share in your reader’s excitement: on the distant horizon, new books await!

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4.   Establish a Book Club

It’s relatively easy to create a book club: simply enlist your reader and any siblings or friends, and gather the crew to read and discuss the same book. When they talk about what they’re reading, kids get to verbally process the book and discuss major themes, ideas, or characters -- all of which are essential to reading comprehension.


As the book club facilitator, here are some questions to ask your members before, during, and after reading:

  • Why did you choose this book? What interests you about it?
  • What’s going on in the story? What do you think that character will do next?
  • Can you tell me what happened in the book? What did you like about it (or what did you not like)?


5.   Supplement the Reading

If you’re reading a book with a TV, movie, or audio format, consider watching or listening to these materials after completing the book. Oftentimes, visual or auditory renditions of a book help readers develop a fuller picture of the story, or consider alternative character depictions or plots. When they realize that people envision characters and stories in unique ways, early readers unlock the power of imagination -- which encourages them to discover new stories.

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If your child struggles with reading comprehension, remember that this is a challenging skill: one that can take months and even years for readers to develop.


But with these five strategies and a supportive, patient adult, early readers will build the confidence and curiosity they need to push through -- and, eventually, zoom through -- the books of their choosing.



  • Literacy experts link reading comprehension skills to decoding, vocabulary, and knowledge.
  • There are several ways to help struggling readers improve their reading comprehension, including reading aloud with an adult, rereading favorite books, and choosing books at the appropriate level of difficulty.
  • Regardless of which strategy works best for a particular reader, remember that reading comprehension is a complicated skill -- one that we develop throughout our lifetimes.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

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Best Reading Lessons for Early Readers

Best Reading Lessons for Early Readers

Early readers take in a lot of new information. And if we’re being honest, it can be hard to motivate both kids and adults to continue reading, learning, and mastering new skills.


If you’re looking for fun, engaging, and age-appropriate activities for your youngster, we’ve compiled some of the best reading lessons for early readers to motivate them toward literacy. Each activity focuses on a specific skill and offers a satisfying mix of fun, challenge, and reward.

Reading lessons for early readers

What is an Early Reader?


Early readers include any students who are in the earliest stages of reading. When choosing children’s books based on age groups, parents and educators can refer to this quick list for guidance:


  • Ages 2-5: Early picture books
  • Ages 5-8: Picture books, coloring books, and activity books
  • Ages 4-8: Early readers
  • Ages 6-9: First chapter books


Around ages 4-8, many students are reading “early readers,” also known as first readers, which are literary stepping stones from picture books to chapter books. Early readers tell a clear, exciting story, but in a format that children are able to read with ease and enjoyment. Most include familiar vocabulary, basic phonics patterns, and colorful illustrations.


To summarize: the phrase “early reader” generally refers to a beginning reader, as well as the books that are often read by children during this stage of literacy.


Reading Lessons For Early Readers


1.   Playdough Letters

Unlock the power of playdough by rolling it out and forming letters, either by stamping or molding the letters with your fingers. This hands-on activity familiarizes early readers with the look and feel of each letter in the alphabet.

playdough letters

2.   Sentence Architecture

Time to build some sentences! Create cards with various words: be sure to use a range of nouns, verbs, adjectives, conjunctions, and other word groups to challenge your reader. Together, you can sit down and make silly sentences. For an extra dose of fun, write the reader’s name on a card and feature their name in a wacky sentence.


3.   The Label Game

Most early readers are working on their word recognition. They’re mastering common words as well as special words that relate to their favorite hobbies, shows, or activities.


Get them excited about acquiring more of these special words with the Label Game! Simply write down words on small cards, then stick them to objects around the house or classroom: perhaps a favorite toy, a piece of furniture, or an apple on the counter. You can even hide labeled objects around the house for an extra challenge. When your student finds the label, they can read it aloud; afterward, ask them to draw the meaning of the word.


4.   Break the Code

This Code Breaker Game sheet is a treat for young spies and early readers alike. It might seem tricky, but the steps are simple: hide something in the house or classroom for your reader to find, and then write the “task” describing what they need to find. Use the downloadable sheet to encode the answer into numbers, and then let your detective take the lead.


5.   Going On Vacation

You can play this silly phonics game in the classroom, at home, or while walking to the bus stop. Pick a beginning sound, then say “I’m going on vacation and I’m bringing a…”. Start the object with the chosen sound: if you choose “o” as your beginning sound, for example, perhaps you’ll bring an orange.


Next, it’s the reader’s turn: they repeat the phrase and add their own object, which must start with the same sound. Keep going until you run out of ideas, and then choose another sound!


6.   Stretchy Story

While reading a story to your child or students, stretch out some of the words so they can hear the individual sounds in each word. Their job is to put the “stretchy” words back together by blending each sound. Blending is a foundational phonics skill, along with separating, adding, deleting, and substituting the sound units in words.


These reading lessons are simple, accessible, and, most importantly, can be modified to suit the skills and unique interests of your early readers. If you’re looking for more reading lessons for early readers, check out these 10 free activities.


Above all, don’t be afraid to get silly with literacy. When students have opportunities to play with words and simply have fun, they’re far more likely to become independent readers and lifelong learners.


  • The phrase “early reader” refers to any student in the beginning stages of literacy. Early readers are also a type of children’s book, generally read by children ages 4 to 8.
  • There are hundreds of simple literacy games for early readers. Parents and educators can easily facilitate these activities at home or in the classroom.
  • During any of these reading lessons, adults should focus on giving early readers plenty of opportunities to play with words, read aloud, and discover the joy of storytelling.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

How to Learn Phonics: 5 Steps for Reading Success

How to Learn Phonics: 5 Steps for Reading Success

Before your reader picks up any chapter books, they have to pick up phonics. Both learning and teaching phonics takes time, effort, and strategy. But with daily practice and a science-backed curriculum, most kids can pick up this essential skill and move on to the most exciting aspect of reading: choosing books of their own.


Read on for an overview of how to learn phonics, as well as a step-by-step outline for teaching phonics for kids.

Learn Phonics

What Is Phonics?


Phonics is the study of how sounds (phonemes) connect with letters and letter groups, or graphemes, to form words.


Based on the science of reading, phonics is the predominant approach toward early literacy instruction. While this mode of learning is rooted in science, there’s no need for phonics to be bland; students should learn new sounds and words through systematic instruction, but these concepts can be taught through fun stories and age-appropriate games.


How To Learn Phonics: Step-By-Step


We love a step-by-step guide, but remember that you can rearrange, skip, and return to any of these steps, depending on the needs and progress of your reader.


1.   Decoding

Phonics for kids is like a constant puzzle, and each word unlocks a new piece. Decoding refers to the ability to see a letter and say its sound aloud: a novel breakthrough for any new reader! In this step of phonics instruction, decodable readers are an invaluable tool: their stories expose students to simple letter-sound patterns, which they’ll typically learn during complementary phonics lessons.


2.   Sound Manipulation: A.K.A. Blending!

As students develop their phonological awareness, they learn how to manipulate sound units to form words. In this context, “manipulation” includes blending, separating, adding, deleting, and substituting units of sound.


To become better manipulators of sound, students and their teachers can’t simply focus on blending phonemes together; they must approach words from all angles. Phonological awareness activities use age-appropriate sight words and prompt readers to segment, add, and delete sounds, in addition to blending phonemes together.


3.   Digraphs: Vowels and Consonants

Digraphs blend two sounds together to make one, and they also come in two varieties: vowel digraphs and consonant digraphs.


Vowel digraphs blend two vowels together to make one sound: for example, /ai/, /oo/, and /au/. Consonant digraphs blend two consonants together to do the same job: make one sound! Examples include /ch/, /th/, and /wh/.


4.   CCVC and CVCC Words

These are wonky acronyms, but don’t be alarmed: they’re simply ways to describe the common consonant clusters that readers encounter as they learn phonics.

  • CCVC stands for consonant, consonant, vowel, consonant. Example CCVC words include stop, tram, and clap.
  • CVCC stands for - you guessed it - consonant, vowel, consonant, consonant. Example CVCC words include tart, cold, and cast.


As students learn more CCVC and CVCC words, their vocabularies expand, their reading influency increases, and their confidence levels soar.

Phonics for Kids

5.   Spelling

When teaching phonics, spelling opens a doorway for both testing and fun. As students become more confident decoders, they can test and solidify their skills through encoding activities - otherwise known as spelling! Encoding is the complement of decoding, and simply involves writing down a spoken word. Whether you ask students to write mini-stories or stage a low-stakes Spelling Bee, any writing activity improves both decoding and encoding skills.


There’s no singular approach to teaching phonics for kids, but any combination of these five steps will jumpstart a successful academic career - and hopefully, an affinity for the bookstore. Give kids the tools, encouragement, and ample opportunities to practice, and they’ll continually surprise you with their reading progress.

Learn Phonics for Kids



  • Phonics is the most common and successful method for learning how to read, based on the science of reading.
  • When learning phonics, readers and their teachers should focus on the following concepts:
    • Decoding and encoding (spelling)
    • CVCC and CCVC words
    • Vowel and consonant digraphs
    • Sound manipulation

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Phonics Programs for Kindergartners: How to Choose the Best One!

Phonics Programs for Kindergartners: How to Choose the Best One!

Kindergarten is a foundational year for a child’s academic career and reading success. At Reading Teacher, we understand the importance of this year - and as educators ourselves, we also recognize how difficult it can be to find a reliable phonics curriculum for a kindergarten classroom.


In the age of Google, finding quality resources takes a bit of time, patience, and research savvy. Fortunately, we’re here to do some of the hefty work for you. With a quality program and the principles of phonics in mind, you’ll be ready to embark on a year of phonics-filled fun, learning, and literary growth with your kindergarteners.

Phonics Programs for Kindergartners

What Phonics Should Be Taught In Kindergarten?


Whether you’re working in the classroom or creating a homeschool phonics program, kindergarten reading curricula should cover similar core topics. For kindergarten-age readers, a comprehensive phonics curriculum often addresses:


1.   Letter-Sound Awareness

This refers to activities that improve kindergartners’ phonemic awareness, or their understanding of the connection between written letters and their corresponding sounds.


2.   Short Vowel Patterns

After your reader masters those pesky letter sounds, they’re usually ready to move on to simple vowel patterns. A solid reading curriculum will help kindergartners learn the most common ways to spell short vowel sounds as well as CVC words, or “consonant-vowel-consonant” words. Think “cat,”, “hot,” and other common (and fun!) words sprinkled throughout your reader’s favorite book.


3.   R-Controlled Vowels

Also called “r-influenced vowels,” these occur when the letter “r” follows a vowel and impacts the vowel sound - which also makes it “Bossy R”!


4.   Blends and Digraphs

The ability to blend letters together complements kindergartners’ growing understanding of short vowels and digraphs. Digraphs are a bit trickier, as they combine two letters to represent one sound: for example, ph or ch.


5.   Long Vowels

Move over, short vowels! For long vowels, educators sometimes start with CVCe words: ones with a silent e. This makes for easy comparisons to short vowels, before readers learn the three other ways to form long vowel sounds.

Phonics Programs for Kids

What Are the 5 Principles of Phonics?


You may have heard of them already: those 5 principles that *should* be in any phonics curriculum for kindergarten. Whenever we encounter a “should” in the phonics discussion, it’s important to remember every kindergartner’s approach to reading will differ slightly.


Now, for the five principles of a phonics-based curriculum:


1.   Focus on written and spoken words!

In any kindergarten phonics program, a combination of phonemic awareness and phonics is key. For students to solidify their phonemic awareness, they must understand the relationship between sounds and letters (phonics), and be able to differentiate those sounds in speech (phonemic awareness).


2.   Explicit, systematic teaching.

We say it all the time, but this is an essential characteristic of any science-based phonics program.


3.   Practice reading and writing.

Writing is a fun, creative, and necessary component of learning how to read, even in kindergarten. Start early and encourage students to apply their phonics skills in writing activities.


4.   Be flexible.

Again, all students are different. Ultimately, educators should feel empowered to adapt their curricula to suit the needs of their students.


5.   Teach reading as a holistic subject.

Phonics is essential, but it’s not all about phonics! Kindergartners also need to develop their vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension skills.


Before selecting a phonics curriculum for kindergarten readers, ask yourself: is the program age-appropriate, and does it include activities that address these five principles? If the answer is “no” or “maybe,” it’s helpful to consider any scientific literature or research on the program.


A phonics program grounded in the science of reading will include explicit, systematic instruction. Ideally, it will also use silly, accessible stories like the I See Sam series, which will engage young readers, teach them phonics in bite-sized passages, and keep them reading far beyond kindergarten.

Phonics Programs for Kids



  • When looking for a phonics curriculum for kindergartners, parents and educators should assess whether they include activities for the following skills:
    • Letter-sound connections
    • Short and long vowels
    • R-controlled vowels
    • Blends and digraphs
  • Regardless of the curriculum, it’s important for kindergarten educators to keep these five principles in mind as they teach phonics:
    • Kindergartners need to practice both reading and speaking new sounds.
    • Explicit, systematic instruction is essential.
    • Reading and writing are a pair!
    • Flexibility is paramount.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

I See Sam Books: Fun-Filled Stories Lead to Phonics Success

I See Sam Books: Fun-Filled Stories Lead to Phonics Success

Finding books that engage and excite young readers is no small task. For parents and educators looking to upgrade their bookshelves, the I See Sam book series will quickly become a staple in their collection of phonics- and fun-filled books.


Reading Teacher is partially based on the I See Sam series, which has been downloaded from the Apple Bookstore over 1 million times since its inception. Today, we’ll explain how these simple books help young readers make big strides, and how Reading Teacher uses the same principles to ensure a strong reading foundation in preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school.


The Science Behind I See Sam Books


The I See Sam Readers use the Reading for All Learners (RALP) curriculum, which is appropriate for K-3. Like other science-based curricula, this program provides systematic, explicit approaches to early phonics instruction. Of course, most kids don’t just volunteer to do phonics worksheets: they need engaging, colorful stories to develop a positive attitude toward reading while learning the basic skills for success.


Using small, skill-based books, the I See Sam accomplishes just that. Each book is based on RALP, which is supported by over 30 years of research. The books are well aligned with the views of the National Reading Panel (NRP) as well as the Institute of Education Sciences, both of which address reading instruction research and practice.

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How Do the I See Sam Books Work?


Each book includes wacky stories and silly characters, which motivate children to read for pleasure - not just to work on their phonics skills. The underlying RALP curriculum touches on the Five Big Ideas of Reading, which we practice here at Reading Teacher. If you’re looking for new phonics readers, keep these five building blocks in mind as you read and work with your student.


1. Phonemic Awareness


Blending, segmenting, isolating, and recognizing: believe it or not, your student will develop all of these skills (and more!) as they learn to manipulate various units of sound. In 2006, the National Institute for Literacy highlighted these skills as predictive of long-term reading success. Together, they form the basis of phonemic awareness, which is the ability to manipulate sounds spoken words.


2. Phonics


At Reading Teacher, we talk about phonics all the time, but it’s heartfelt: we love phonics. In Put Reading First (2006), the authors write that phonics teaches children “that there are systematic and predictable relationships between written letters and spoken sounds.” Especially when read with another person, the I See Sam books reinforce the connection between speaking, reading, and listening.


3. Reading Fluency


Fluency is the ability to read smoothly and accurately with the appropriate expression. The RALP curriculum directly addresses text fluency: each RALP assessment specifies the criteria for “mastery,” which measures how quickly and accurately readers progress through the book.


4. Vocabulary


Vocabulary is a marker of reading fluency, The NRP acknowledges the connection between oral and written vocabulary and comprehension: in short, the more words that readers know, the more clues they have available to decode less-familiar words and phrases.


5. Comprehension


Comprehension relies on the previous four skills. When readers comprehend what they’re reading, they’re able to discuss it with others, which further deepens their understanding of the story.

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Where to Find I See Sam Books


You can find I See Sam books online, in most bookstores, or even in your local library. Students will encounter similar stories and reading exercises through Reading Teacher, which includes 100 animated stories across 25 different skill levels.


With 141 books and more than 300 reading lessons, you’re bound to find an I See Sam story that engages and motivates your reader. Each book gradually introduces new sounds and words, which are embedded in easy-to-follow narratives.


Decodable readers, science-backed lessons, and kid-friendly stories: these three elements will help kids find success and joy in every book.




  • Reading Teacher is based on the I See Sam book series, which uses short, engaging stories to reinforce five building blocks of reading:
    • Phonemic Awareness
    • Phonics
    • Fluency
    • Vocabulary
    • Comprehension
  • The efficacy of these books is supported by over 30 years of reading science. I See Sam continues to inform the stories and exercises used by Reading Teacher and other major literacy programs.

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10 Free Ways to Help Struggling Readers

10 Free Ways to Help Struggling Readers

You’re staring at your computer screen, researching activities for your struggling reader. You click on something promising, only to find yourself - yet again - staring at a paywall.

Where are the free activities for struggling readers? you ask yourself.


It’s a question as old as the Internet. But over the years, teachers and parents have banded together to compile some of the best - and 100% free - resources and activities for early readers, many of which are available to anyone with internet access.


Today, we discuss some of the most common reading challenges that kids face, followed by 10 free ways to help struggling readers reach the next level of reading achievement.

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Reasons Why Kids Might Struggle With Reading


With any new skill, there are bound to be moments of challenge and frustration. Some of the most common reasons why your child might struggle with reading include:


  • Poor phonemic awareness, meaning that it’s especially hard for the child to recognize the sound units (phonemes) in spoken words
  • Challenges with decoding
  • Learning disabilities, such as dyslexia
  • Lack of time or motivation to read


These are just a few potential culprits for reading challenges, but of course, every child is different. It’s important to connect with your reader and their teacher to identify common patterns of struggle, as well as any social or developmental factors that may shape their reading journey.


Free Resources to Help Struggling Readers

1. Phonological and Phonemic Awareness Cheat Sheet


Reading teachers love these fun and free “cheat sheet,” courtesy of Teachers Pay Teachers. The worksheet keeps 34 of the essential phonological and phonemic skills in one place, and helps teachers track their students’ phonics development.


2. Teach Your Monster to Read


Inspire a struggling reader with the power of magical literacy games. In a single game, kids will cover everything from letters and sounds to reading full sentences. They’ll mingle with monsters while developing invaluable reading skills; and best of all, the computer version is completely free.


3. Free Children’s Stories


This website is committed to providing free E-books and audio stories for kids. When they’re practicing those pesky phonemes, audio stories are especially helpful for young ears to hear. You’ll find tales for kids ages 3-10, as well as middle school novels and rhyming stories.


4. Free Phonics Games and Activities


Due to COVID-19, many educators have generously shared their classroom reading resources online. This comprehensive E-book is an aid for any classroom or parent working with readers at home. You’ll find a unit’s worth of spelling activities, phonics games, and writing practices to engage readers of all skill levels.


5. Letterland Activity Bank


Letterland offers loads of free resources for readers and parents on their website. If you’re looking for no-fuss reading activities for home, simply pull a game from their handy activity bank. There’s Short Vowels Bingo, a Letter Hunt, and lots more, and each activity has a specific reading objective.

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Other Ways to Support Struggling Readers

1. Offer Specific and Positive Encouragement!


Sometimes, kind words and clear directions are the best way to support a struggling reader. Both parents and teachers can celebrate the small wins: while reading with your student, focus on what they do well, and observe what you like about their reading or spelling. For example: “You spelled the word like it sounds. Awesome listening!”


2. Share Your Reading Mistakes


Adult readers make mistakes, too. When you’re reading with a child, you can model good reading comprehension strategies, like re-reading a confusing sentence or looking up the definition of a tricky word.


If a young reader sees an adult encounter and overcome a reading challenge, they’ll feel more confident to navigate their own. And yes, reading together is almost always free - not to mention, lots of fun.


3. Be a Homework Helper


If you know your child is struggling with reading or any other academic areas, check in about their homework every day. For older students, it can help to sit down together and “chunk” their workload into manageable parts. As a parent, homework offers an easy way to support your child, track their progress, and communicate any concerns to teachers.


4. Celebrate Their Interests


If your child refuses to read a certain genre of book, it’s important to remember that all reading counts: comics, magazines, and dinosaur encyclopedias included. The more children enjoy the book they’re reading, the more excited they’ll be for the next one.


5. Visit the Library


Your local library is a treasure trove. Many libraries host children’s reading clubs, author visits, and other exciting activities that will push struggling readers beyond their regular routines. Get out of the house or the classroom and support your local library: it’s a win-win for your student and your community.

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  • It can be difficult to find effective resources for struggling readers, but some of the best reading resources are already online - and they’re 100% free.
  • Being a supportive and proactive adult is also free of charge. By taking time to connect with your child and their educators, you’ll be ready to help them navigate all of life’s challenges: reading included.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

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