Listening Word Games

Julie Kanel, a reading specialist, shares three interactive "Listening Word Games" for young learners, promoting phonemic awareness. These games, suitable for grades TK to 2, help improve students' reading and spelling skills. The activities include "I Spy" for beginning and ending sounds and rhyming, "Guess My Object" where students deduce the object based on clues, and "Rhyming Categories" to reinforce rhyming and sound discrimination. These games make phonics practice engaging and enjoyable.

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Julie Kanel, a reading specialist at Bullis Charter School in Los Altos, California.


Hi, my name is Julie Kanel and I’m a reading specialist at Bullis Charter School in Los Altos. I’m affiliated with the California Reading and Literature Project based out of UC Berkeley. I’m here today to talk to you about doing “Listening Word Games” with your young learners, primarily transitional kindergarten, even up to second grade.

The ability to hear and manipulate sounds and words has been shown to be a strong predictor of how well a child will be able to read and also spell. So, as teachers, we often do these listening sound games in order to prepare our students for reading and spelling. I’m going to teach you three different games today with your young learners.

The first one is simply an “I Spy” game. So after everybody is on the carpet, you can just look around and think of a category like “beginning sounds” and you would say to the students: “I spy something that begins with the sound [say sound]” or even, “I spy something that begins with the letter M.” So they would look around, raise their hand, and then offer a suggestion that would fit into that category. There might be lots of things that begin with that first sound, and then you could even replay them with the kids like: “Okay, well, let’s name all the words that begin with the letter M. There’s man, there’s marbles, there’s math, there’s map,” and really get them to hear that first sound in the word. You could also do the ending sound, for example: “I spy by something that ends with the letter P or that ends with the sound [say sound].” Again, that’s a little harder, but that’s another possibility.

A third category is rhyming. So you would say: “I spy something that rhymes with mencil.” In this case, there’s usually just one answer. If you want to make it a little bit more complicated for your students, you could do compound words: “I spy a compound word.” And in my resources, I have various compound words that are often found in a classroom like: classroom, notebook, or backpack. And there are a few others. You could also do syllables. Simply say: “I spy a two-syllable word.” And there might be a lot in the classroom: pencil, notebook, backpack.

Anyway, once students say that two-syllable words you could even clap it out. Hey, let’s clap all the two-syllable words that we could see and go through them that way. So that is the “I Spy” game.

The second game that I want to show you is called “Guess My Object”. And what you do is you could think of an object, or you might even have some objects near you, but you would say: “Hmm, I’m thinking of an animal that rhymes with the word “miger” that begins [say sound], or maybe even that begins with a letter T”. And then they would do the rhyming word and change that first sound to say tiger. Or I’m thinking of a food that rhymes with poodles but begins [say sound] and then they would say noodles. So that’s always fun. Again, no prep and just easy to do when you have an extra couple of minutes.

The third game that I want to tell you is called “Rhyming Categories”. And so you pick a category, for example, numbers, and you would say: “Oh, this is the number zun.” And then altogether they would say, no, not “zun”, it’s one. This is the number “moo”. No, not “moo”, it’s two. So you don’t have to go in order like that, but it’s important for the students to say both the rhyming words: the nonsense one, and then the real one. It helps them to hear the sounds and the words and to discriminate the sounds.

So sometimes when I do body parts, I often have a whiteboard next to me and an eraser, and then I just draw a very simple face on the whiteboard and I would say: “I’m going to erase the man’s bear,” and then they say, “no, not his bear, his hair.” Or ,”I’m gonna erase the man’s south,” and they would say, “no, not his south, his mouth.”

So, they’re usually laughing a little bit, especially at the very end when there’s usually just an ear left or maybe a nose left. It’s pretty funny and it’s a great way to do rhyming with them and have some fun. Again, the ability to hear sounds in words is a very strong predictor of how well the child will read and spell, and so these exercises are beneficial to do with your students. Have Fun.

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