The Internet TESL Journal

Ten Simple Phonics Activities Requiring Little Preparation

Matthew Wilson
educationaladvisor [at]
Sendai Board of Education, (Sendai, Japan)


Getting students to discover and practice the connections between letters and the sounds they represent should be an important part of any English class routine. The following activities can be adjusted to meet different levels and adapted to fit into any timeframe. Please note that not every activity you do in class has to be extremely challenging. Simple ideas that everybody is able to accomplish can work wonders with student confidence which, in turn, can increase motivation.

The following are ten activities that can assist you in practicing phonics at any point in your lesson:

Letters on the Board

At first, the teacher writes some letters on the board. The teacher reads out a word, one at a time, and asks the students to try and spell each word using only the letters on the board. It is always a good idea to stop after the first word in order to write the correct spelling on the board.  This can then be used as a reference point for the students for successive words. After reading out five to ten words, go through the spellings of each word.  Also, limit the number of vowel sounds you practice as the variety of sounds they represent can be really challenging for students, especially beginners.

Speed Reading

Write a number of words on the board. If necessary, go over the pronunciation of each word. Then read through a list of the same words at a good speed leaving out only one of the words. The students should be listening to you read the list of words while following along on the board. After you are finished, they tell you which word (words) you didn’t read out. This activity can be targeted for a higher level by adjusting the vocabulary used, the speed you read, the number of words you leave off, or by doing additional tasks (e.g., like telling you which word you read wasn’t on the board).

Battleship Phonics

This is based on the popular game Battleship. The teacher would draw a grid on the board with initial sounds written across the top, and medial and final sounds written together down the left side of the grid. You would let the students know that you have chosen a few squares as ‘special squares’ that they should seek out. They find these squares by volunteering to say a whole word made up of a letter at the top and the side of the grid. The intersection of this row and column highlights a particular square. The object is for the students to find all your designated special locations.

Phonics Bingo

Write a good number of sounds on the board, e.g., pha, ma, la, ga. The students would choose a designated number of sounds you wrote and write them on an available space for writing. You would then play this like bingo and read out the sounds one by one. The students can get bingo when they have three of their sounds chosen or all of their sounds chosen. It is a good idea to go over all of the sounds written on the board beforehand to help ease comprehension.

Criss-cross Phonics

All the students stand up. To begin, show a word or a picture. The first student to raise their hand gets called upon and if they can correctly say the first (or last) sound of that word they can sit down and choose if the people in their row, horizontally or vertically, can also sit down. Gradually, there are fewer and fewer students standing. When you no longer have rows to choose from, only individual students would sit. Words and images could also be written/drawn on the blackboard if the teacher had no time to prepare cards.

Missing Sound

Draw or show an image on the blackboard. Beside the image, write all but one of the sounds. For example, there is a picture of a dog on the board, you write ‘og’ beside it and the students have to provide you with the missing sound, not the letter. This can be made into a group contest or a simple whole-class exercise where you would give the class time to think of the answer and get everyone to say the answer at the same time.

Two Sounds

Good to practice sound distinction. Have two words on the board representing the two different sounds you would like to practice, e.g., MEN, MAN. You would then show the students pictures and get them to put those words under the appropriate column. For example, you show a picture of a pen, the students should write ‘pen’ under the MEN column. (If you are dealing with beginners, they could just mark their choice with an ‘X’ under the column instead of asking them to write out the words. You would, however, have to give numbers before every word to help everybody keep track of choices.)


Students copy down the chart you provided on the board which is divided into three sections. You can label the three sections, ‘beginning’, ‘middle’ and ‘end’ in English or the native language of your students. You would focus on a specific sound and read out words containing that sound. The students would have to decide if that sound was found in the beginning, middle or end of the word by writing the sound in that appropriate column. This is a good listening activity with some implications for positive phonics reinforcement.

Ball and Cap Game

The students pass around a hat and a ball. When the music stops, the student with the hat must take out a piece of paper with a letter or letters written on it then read out its sound, not the letter name. The student with the ball must guess the letter(s). In lieu of music, the teacher can simply have his back turned and call out “stop”. 

Pen and Eraser

Students have a pen and an eraser in front of them. You have two sounds you would like to practice, e.g., ‘f’ and ‘v’ sounds, and designate one sound for the pen and one sound for the eraser. When you say a word beginning with one of those sounds, the students should pick up the appropriate object (for upper levels, the sound can be in any part of the word not just the beginning). If you say a word not incorporating one of the sounds, the students should make a big X with their arms. This can evolve into a pair contest with one pen and one eraser for every two students. The students would aim to be the quickest to pick up the object after you read out a word.

Concluding Remarks

Matching sounds to letters and letters to sounds can be quite a tricky and daunting task when students are learning English. Activities such as these are simple to initiate, easily adaptable, and are good ways to practice and enforce English phonics.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XIV, No. 4, April 2008