Basic Reading Skills: Games to expand a child’s phonological awareness

Even in grad school, I continued to confuse the emergent literacy terms phonics, phonemic awareness and phonological awareness, so it’s difficult to imagine a Kindergarten parent without training in education having a strong grasp on what teachers and reading specialists are working with their children to understand. Therefore, it’s probably even more difficult for a parent to gather ideas on how to make the learning process fun for her beginning reader. I’ll try to break down the differences for you, and show you just how easy it is to make beginning reading skills fun with simple activities to enhance learning sounds and words.

games to teach beginning reading skills in phonics, phonemic awareness and phonological awareness

In the process of emerging literacy and learning to read, children will need to conquer phonemic awareness, a part of phonological awareness. While the two are related, there’s a difference that should be understood before parents step into a conference with a reading specialist or teacher:

phonemic awareness: the ability to hear and identify the individual sounds in spoken words

phonological awareness: the understanding that spoken language is made up of individual and separate sounds.


phonics: a method of teaching people to read by correlating sounds with letters or groups of letters in an alphabetic writing system.


At the youngest of ages, we work with children on enunciation and sounds. Parents make sounds, encouraging children to mimic, then, as children work out using words, parents and friends help with enunciation. This is a beginning stage of phonological awareness.

Make reading fun with phonics games

As children approach pre-elementary age, they begin to identify sounds associated with words and language, which helps them in the earliest stages of reading. To help pre-kindergarten and kindergarten-aged learners, there are several learning games to play.

Rhyming Circle

Start with any word and go around a circle, rhyming. Example:

Person 1: look
Person 2: book
Person 3: nook

It’s acceptable to create words when playing a game like this, in this situation even though stook is not a word, the game can go on. An alternative to this game is to use a ball and pass it to a friend whose turn it is to rhyme. Pass hot potato style around a circle, or toss across the circle from friend to friend.

Alliteration circle

Just like the rhyming game, above, play with alliteration. (This is often much more difficult than rhyming). This time, it’s the last part of the word that changes: green, gram, grill, great, etc.

Letter tiles: Making Words

Letter tile games like Bananagrams are great for teaching children to associate sounds with letters (which is a part of phonics). Spell a word with letter tiles, then replace some letters to make a new word. GAME becomes GAVE becomes GIVE becomes HIVE becomes HAVE, etc.

For the most beginning readers, kids can pull a letter from a cup, then make the sound of the letter. As a follow-up step, kids can place the letters into categories such as hard sounds and soft sounds, consonants and vowels. Or children can think of words that use the sound they pulled, such as saying “cat” when they pull the letter c.

Another game to play with letter tiles, for older learners, is Making Words. Start with a large word, or your child’s name. For example, spell the word dinosaur with letter tiles. Next, discover all the words one can make from the word dinosaur, including sour, soar, no, or, our, in, as, and more.

There are many ways to adapt these games, and so many more games to teach children the basics of phonological awareness and to enhance beginning reading skills.

Phonics Games to add to your collection

Of course, it’s very exciting to play games — the kids will never know they’re learning when they play these games.

mom of 3 and wife living in the Philadelphia suburbs, Julie is a former elementary school teacher and a Public Relations manager. She is the owner/editor of Julieverse, a merchandiser with Chloe + Isabel ( and founder VlogMom and Splash Creative Media. A marketing strategist and freelance education and parenting writer by trade, Julie attempts to carve out time to enjoy playing with her kids, PTO, cooking and exercise.

© 2015, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.


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