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Gameshow Activities to Liven Up Your Phonics Lessons

With a touch of game show theatre and very little effort, your phonics sessions can become a high point of the day, says Jacqueline Harris…

  • Gameshow Activities to Liven Up Your Phonics Lessons

You might not believe me when I say phonics is fun, but it is, both for the teacher and the children.

If you have fun and enjoy exploring words and spellings, you can’t help passing on that enthusiasm to the children you teach.

Teachers are in the fortunate position that pupils like routine; they like to know what is going to happen next and how a lesson will pan out. Phonics is structured to use that love of routine, which makes planning easier as you don’t need to do drastically different things each week.

You can start to collect activities that you know your class enjoys and then reuse them with different phonemes and graphemes.

Curtain up

When I was doing teacher training (many years ago) my tutor said that whilst a child might not remember exactly what they were taught, they would always remember the content best if it was delivered in an engaging and exciting way.

With phonics, however, it can be very easy to slip into a dull routine because you’re covering the same subject every day.

I try to keep in mind that teaching and acting have quite a lot in common; both are performances of a kind and many actors and entertainers were former teachers (Sting, Sylvester Stallone and Hugh Jackman were all teachers before they found fame of another kind).

Phonics is 15 to 20 minutes to unleash your inner performer!

Some of the best lessons have what I call a ‘ta-da!’ moment. This conveys excitement and anticipation to the class. It can be as simple as a box or a hat from which a new grapheme is pulled – with an accompanying drum roll, of course.

This is telling the children that learning new phonemes is exciting and something to look forward to. It can also be made a bit more dramatic by revealing objects ahead of the phoneme to see if the children can hear the same phoneme in the objects, eg a coat, a goat and soap before the /oa/ is displayed.

I’ve even seen a teacher use a little theatre style box model, where she drew back the curtains to show the grapheme.

Your starter for 10

It turns out that phonics is entirely suitable to provide light entertainment in the form of game shows; you can really let yourself go here – some teachers even have props to accompany their quiz master persona.

Practising the day’s new phoneme and grapheme as well as revising previously taught letters works perfectly with the quiz show format and can consolidate word comprehension as well.

Is that your final answer?

Who Wants to be a Millionaire? is a very simple quiz format that is easy to turn into a phonics game. There’s no need to do 15 questions, five will fit nicely into the practise part of the phonics lesson. You can, if you want, do the questions as multiple choice, depending on the class; multiple choice is easier.

Start with easy questions and ask the children to work in pairs to come up with the answers. I tend not to make children officially ‘out’, as then they would not be taking part. Add in ‘phoneme a friend’ for asking for support.

So, your quiz could look like this:

A Phase 5 Quiz on /I/ Might Look Like This:
  • For £100, spell the word ‘tin’
  • For £1,000, spell the word ‘remind’
  • For £10,000, spell ‘child’ and ‘children’
  • For £50,000, give two or more alternative spellings / words with long /i/ sound (eg pie, mine)
  • For £1,000,000, what does ‘grind’ mean? (Hold up the word but don’t say it)

Alternatively, the £1,000,000 question could be a mini dictation for the ‘apply’ section of the lesson.

Children love getting £1,000,000 and plan all sorts of ways to spend it – even though they know it is not real and would not even buy a house in parts of London!

Chequebook please!

Blankety Blank asks that children use comprehension as well as spelling. You give a word and the children need to come up with another word that goes with it, so ‘ice’ could become ‘ice cream’ or ‘ice cold’, etc.

You give one point for the correct spelling of the key word, which will be a grapheme from that week, and then an extra point if the second word is also correct. If you are feeling generous, a third point can be awarded if they have more than one suggestion.

The children can work in pairs or small groups to complete the tasks; those with good comprehension but possibly poor spelling can shine with this game if well paired with other children.

A Phase 4 Game Might Look Like This:
  • Lamp – lamp post or head lamp
  • Step – door step, foot step
  • Stand – handstand, headstand, bookstand, coat stand
  • Brush – hairbrush, nailbrush, paintbrush
  • Lunch – lunchbox, lunchtime.

You may need to give lots of clues when you first play this game, but children get better at thinking about words with practise such as this.

Cuddly toys ahoy!

This involves memory as well as spelling ability and, provided you can find the objects, is a lot of fun. Once again children play in pairs and you pick four or five objects with names that include the grapheme you are working on.

Make a tray with the objects and give the children a short time to look at and remember them. Then cover the tray up and ask children to write down, spelling correctly, the objects.

A Phase 3 Game Might Look Like This:
  • A tray with a ship, a shop (picture) a shell and a fish
  • A challenge for the more able might be the addition of a brush and a shirt

There are lots more games – such as Pointless, Who Dares Wins and Blockbusters – which can easily be given a phonics theme and made as simple or as challenging as you need.

The great thing is that none of them requires lots of resource or preparation time, yet children find them enjoyable and a good way of consolidating their phonics learning.

And while you do not have to be Terry Wogan, Chris Tarrant or Bruce Forsyth to make the lesson entertaining, it might be fun to try!


Jacqueline Harris is a literacy consultant and passionate advocate of high-quality children’s literature. Follow her on Twitter at @Phonicsandbooks.

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