Best 5 ways to teach phonics to first graders

Phonics skills are the building blocks when learning to read.

Simply put, phonics is how you pair written symbols to their specific sounds.

As you read this, you hear the sounds and pairs or groups of sounds in your head.

It might come intuitively to adults, but for younger kids, it’s vital to provide a strong foundation in phonics, so they develop excellent reading skills.

Knowing how to teach phonics to first graders is especially essential.

If, by this stage, they don’t grasp phonics, they might fall behind in their reading in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades.

Since so much of our schooling, learning, and daily activities involve reading, phonics is a skill that kids need to learn early on in Kindergarten and first grade.

Knowing how to recognize and sound out each of the letters of the alphabet is the first step to phonological awareness – the ability to recognize the different sounds that make up a word.

How do we build on this foundation to teach phonics to first graders?

Let’s take a look at the 5 best ways.

5 Best Ways to Teach Phonics to First Graders

1) Oral Language / Listening Activities

Best 5 ways to teach phonics to first graders

Whether you read stories aloud to kids, or let them listen to a recording, it’s a wonderful way not only to keep kids engaged but also teach phonological awareness.

Stories that use simple words with the same beginning, middle, and ending sounds, can help first graders learn their phonics.

By listening to words in action, students learn how words they see on the page sound.

By repeating the words they are hearing, they also build on their vocabulary bank and phonological awareness.

Listening to spoken language helps them figure out how words sound that start with the same letter, e.g., Bb as in “ball,” “basket,” “bubble.”

Medial sounds, the sound in the middle of the word, can help teach phonics to first graders by showing how two separate sounds string together to make a different sound.

When kids hear words like “cap”, “man”, “and” “hand” they can recognize the medial “a” sound.

Hearing words that end the same, like “map,” “tap,” “nap,” and so on, also helps them understand how the different sounds within a word come together to make unique sounds specific to that word.

SuperBooks Phonics

Being able to tell apart these sounds at the beginning, middle, and end of words enhances children’s phonological awareness.

They begin to develop the intuitiveness for reading familiar and new words by stringing together sounds they have heard and learned before.

Listening activities are also a brilliant way of engaging auditory learners, who retain information better by listening compared to reading and writing.

If you include other interactive elements to this activity, like acting the story out, you can also not only engage kinesthetic learners but also help all your students visualize what they are reading.

Visualization skills are essential for all learners of all ages since they contribute to better recall!

2) Use Riddles

Best 5 Ways to Teach Phonics to First Graders

Riddles are a fantastic – and fun! – way to teach phonics to first graders.

It makes the process interactive and feels like a game, so it can get your students excited and invested in the lesson without even knowing they’re learning!

You can say to them, “I’m thinking of something that starts with ‘b'”

“It’s round, and you can throw it!”

By answering riddles like this, kids are reviewing words they already know, or encountering words they didn’t from the answers their classmates, or you will give.

When you ask them a riddle like this, kids have to recall the things they have learned from their memory intentionally.

Neuroscientists call this process retrieval, and they have established its necessity in building memory.

Whenever you recall information you’ve learned before, the connections your brain has made for that information get stronger.

So, reviewing in this way is an excellent way of building your students’ memory of phonics and words.

Similarly, by giving them clues of what the word is or does, you are helping them visualize the word.

Creating mental images of information you need to learn is how memory champions and learning experts alike learn and recall things quickly.

For a visual place like school, learning to visualize like this naturally can help your kids farther along in their academic lives!

You can engage your students by making the riddles into a written quiz, a spoken game, or with pictures!

3) Use Rhyming WordsBest 5 Ways to Teach Phonics to First Graders

Learning rhyming words are a fantastic – and fun! – way of teaching your kids phonics!

Once they understand how the different sounds of different letters come together to form words, they can themselves start figuring out other words in a word family.

For example, you can ask them to list down all the words they can think of, which end in “-ish.”

The list could include words like “dish,” “fish,” “swish,” “wish.”5 Best Ways to Teach Phonics to first graders

Help them visualize these words with images, practice writing them down, and saying them out loud!

Not only are they learning new vocabulary and spelling, but they are also improving their ability to recall information, problem-solve and translate their thoughts into written words!

4) DictationBest 5 Ways to Teach Phonics to First Graders

Dictating words you have reviewed in previous lessons and having the kids write them down is an excellent way to teach phonics to first graders.

As we discussed earlier, recalling things you’ve learned before is a necessary part of improving memory.

Memory of what you learn fades faster if you don’t review or attempt to remember it.

Dictation helps your students practice several skills at once.

They practice recalling information they have learned, listening to and recognizing words, and writing down by spelling out the words they are hearing.

To help kids continue their own practice, you can include review activities in their homework diaries, so parents can help kids go over the material they have learned at home before the next class.

5) Write and Spell

SuperBooks Phonics

A lot of the activities we have discussed involve learning and recall – the next step towards building an intuitive grasp of phonics is application.

Assign kids activities that involve using the words they have learned in class.

They can make up sentences using a specific keyword, or write short, simple stories with a set of the words you learned in class.

These types of activities allow kids to explore beyond the text they have learned.

They exercise their imaginations and learn how and when to apply the words they have learned.

By encouraging them to write out their thoughts and stories, you can inspire them to try to figure out how to spell words they don’t know or look up new words, which helps them express themselves better!5 best ways to teach phonics to first graders

And there you have it – 5 best ways to teach phonics to first graders!

Using these activities, kids can naturally pick up and develop phonological awareness and grow into enthusiastic readers in no time.

So, which of these tips are you going to try out first?

I would love to hear back from you!

 JoAnne Nelson is the author of award-winning SuperBooks and a foremost expert in using phonics to help kids read in under two weeks.

She has written more than 150 phonics based books for early readers (grades K-2) that both teachers and parents love because the lesson plans are done for you and kids successfully read very quickly!

Visit to view SuperBooks Kits and Story Packs for use at home or in classroom.

SuperBooks are the original phonics-based “little books” program that has been successfully teaching children to read for over 40 years!

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