Make Decoding Practice Fun with 5 Simple Activities

Photo of letter magnets spelling out "fat" with an "h" above to create a new word. Text says: Make Decoding Practice Fun with 5 Simple Activities.

Make decoding practice fun with the 5 easy activities in this post.

We’ve all heard the phrase “drill and kill” – and most of us have sat through lessons with so much repeated practice that we were bored to tears. And we’ve probably taught a few phonics lessons that have felt like “drill and kill.”

We also know that just because you teach something once it doesn’t mean the students learned it.

It’s hard to find the fine balance between too much meaningless practice and not enough. After all, the goal is for students to learn.

Sometimes when you find your students becoming bored with your repeated practice, you need to find new ways to engage students and make the task meaningful to them. It’s much easy for young students to participate if they understand why you are asking them to learn something.

In this post, I will share some of my favorite activities to make decoding practice fun for beginning readers. Many of these activities can be used to practice decoding words as well as for the pre-cursor skill of practicing letter sounds.

Phonics Scavenger Hunt

This is one of my all-time favorite ways to make decoding practice fun for my little learners.

My kindergarteners absolutely LOVE to go on a letter scavenger hunt! I hand each child a letter we’ve been practicing, then we head down the hall, looking for that letter in its natural environment – in words in our school. Every time they find the letter, they have to say the name and sound.

Photo shows a hand holding a magnetic letter s.

A letter hunt is easy to do with small groups of students. To do adapt the activity for the full classroom, students could look throughout the room and take pictures of the target letter with an iPad. Alternately, they could use a poem or printed text to highlight the target letter.

This activity can be easily adapted to look for spelling patterns, such as words with “sh” or “ing.” They can look in the school hallways, on displays in the classroom, or even in books.

If you are having students search for patterns such as words with “short a” or the CVCe pattern, you might have an adult support the word. Because the letter “a” makes so many different sounds (and so many words end with “e.”) And adult could help students check that that the word actually follows the spelling pattern being studied.

Read (Fun) Decodable Texts

Successfully reading books can definitely be a way to make decoding practice fun. But we have all used some decodable texts that make no sense. (One of my favorite non-sense books involves a kid jogging to a log to get jam for mom. Seriously?!?!)

Anyway… there are some texts that are easy for beginning readers to decode and have a bit of an engaging plot. Here are a few of my favorites:

Photo shows a decodable one-page text for The Little Red Hen.

These kinds of books are fun for kids to read because they feel successful. They know how to solve most of the words – and they can follow along with the plot. Some of them even involve a bit of humor, which the kids enjoy.

Rereading these books helps students build fluency and orthographically map words (which helps students read them automatically.) Make repeated readings fun by allowing students to read their books to a partner.

Try Fun Voices

This activity doesn’t take any additional material – just a bit of creativity.

As students are reading decodable words (or sentences, or sounds), challenge them to read them in a fun voice. My little ones light up when I make this an option. 

Here are some of our favorite types of voices to use:

  • mouse
  • monster
  • ghost
  • princess
  • whisper
  • shout (we only do this for a few words)
  • mom/dad
  • baby

Just this little variation increases focus to the task at hand, especially when I tell them we can only do it if they are doing the job quickly (without distractions.)

Include Multi-Sensory Techniques

You may have heard of multi-sensory instruction before. It’s been around for awhile.

Using multi-sensory techniques is one way to make decoding practice fun for kids, especially when you mix it up from time to time, to keep it novel.

Traditionally, multi-sensory techniques include seeing, saying (hearing), and tracing letters, sounds and words. Students say (and hear) the letter, sound or word, as they write it, often with their finger.

Here are a few multi-sensory activities your students might enjoy:

  • trace in sand or shaving cream
  • trace on the table or carpet
  • trace on sandpaper or a needlepoint canvas
  • write with smelly markers (or other unique writing utensils)
  • write on the sidewalk with chalk

Multi-sensory instruction has a strong history in reading instruction, particularly with students who need additional support to learn to read efficiently. The famed Orton-Gillingham method utilizes a multi sensory approach to instruction.

While some recent researchers have raised questions about whether or not an Orton-Gillingham based approach is more effective, incorporating multiple senses can certainly increase student engagement.

Regardless of the criticisms, repetition does help students learn and recall letters. Adding some sensory technique can make decoding practice fun for kids.

What should students trace and write?

Young students can practice naming letters and their sounds, while simultaneously practicing letter formation. Making letter formation automatic helps students become familiar with the details of letters (such as the difference between n and h), while also paving the way for efficient writing down the road. 

Once students have learned several letters sounds, they can also use multi-sensory techniques to practice spelling words. This is a great way to practice spelling decodable words. (Note: the process of of hearing the sounds in words and writing them in order – spelling – is referred to as encoding.)

Build Words with Magnetic Letters

I’ll be honest… letter magnets can be a lot to manage. But there ware ways to simplify it. First, organize enough magnets for a small group of students.

Second, kids can use them on a non-magnetic surface, such as a table. That leaves you one less thing to manage.

Photo shows letter magnets to make decoding practice fun. The letters are arranged in a row, with the word "hat" spelled with magnets below.

Teach your students to line up their letter magnets above their working space, so they can quickly find the letters they need.

Now that we simplified the materials… Letter magnets can be a powerful way to make decoding fun and understandable to students.

The easiest task is to say a word, then have students make that word using their letter magnets. Once they make the word, have them slide their finger under the letters, while saying the word slowly (to check that they are correct.)

Once students understand the process of using letter magnets to make words, you can do any of the following:

  • spell a word orally for them to make with magnets, then have them push up each letter while saying the sound and blending the sounds into a word
  • change the first a letter to make a new word (ex; if they made rug, tell them to change the “r” to “d,” then read the new word)
  • practice a new spelling pattern to change a word (such as adding a silent “e” to the end of “can” to make “cane”)
  • break a word into parts, based on morphology or spelling patterns (such as “go-ing” or “sh-ip”)

Letter magnets can be very engaging for students. In addition, making a word larger (anymore isolated) than in a book helps students focus their attention on a particular feature of that word, as well, making the decoding task clearer.

Your Turn to Make Decoding Practice Fun

It can be hard to find engaging materials and activities to make decoding practice fun. The repeated practice can feel monotonous and stale.

But, intentional planning and text selection can make phonics practice more fun. That’s why I created this new series of decodable fairy tales. They are made with beginning readers in mind!

A collage photo from a decodable text set for The Three Little Pigs. The photos show the one-page text; a page from a book; a list of decodable words; and a photo showing the one-page passage, story book and readers' theater script.

Each fairy tales includes:

  • a 5-day lesson plan
  • words to practice before reading (makes a great word list for letter magnet work)
  • a one-page decodable passage of the story
  • comprehension and phonics worksheets
  • the story retold as a decodable story book
  • the story retold as a readers’ theater script
  • materials to perform the readers’ theater for an audience

Each story in this series is designed to make phonics work more fun for your students and save YOU time!

Click here to get the Decodable Fairy Tale bundle from my store.

Try It for Free

Get a free sample with The Three Little Pigs decodable story. This sample includes the decodable passage, words to practice and the comprehension pages. Your students will LOVE being able to read this familiar tale by themselves!

Help your students develop solid reading habits and become lifelong readers by making decoding practice fun and engaging. Add some of these techniques to your lesson plans tomorrow!

Photo of letter magnets spelling out "fat" with an "h" above to create a new word. Text says: Make Decoding Practice Fun with 5 Simple Activities.

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