Phonics Instruction! Lessons and Routines!

Teaching phonics in the lower elementary grades can be difficult. Between time, having a structured routine and assessing students' various needs it's important. I finally cam up with my perfect routine that worked for me and for my students.

First off what is phonics? So often teachers get phonological awareness and phonics confused. Here is how I differentiate between the two: phonological awareness is the ability to listen identify sounds. Essentially, you would be able to have your students close their eyes and give you sounds that they hear. Phonics is where students combine phonemic awareness to start attaching sounds and letters and building words.

The instruction that I am going to give you is for phonics instruction. To say that I did that for every small group/child would be a lie! Fortunately not every student needs this. Remember to think about the child when planning your small group instruction. One group may only need one day of phonics instruction each week and some groups may need multiple days where as others do not need any at all.

So let's talk instruction and what I do each day with my kiddos that really need explicit instruction. The model that I am going to give you will be what I did for my intervention group; that way you can take bits and pieces and use them for other small groups that may not need all of the components that I am going to show you today.

Here are a few different lesson plan formats that you can use to help keep you on track while you follow along with me and also use to plan out your week!

 I start with introducing my one focus phonics skill during whole group. This will typically happen on a Monday. I show my students the anchor chart and environmental print. Each of my anchor charts has two separate environmental print above the letter. The first environmental print says the letter name and the second says the sound. We sing a little chant "M&M, M&M, /m/, /m/, macaroni" the kids repeat it. I then show them the motion to the sound. ***Disclaimer*** I do not teach a letter a week. At the beginning of the year we learn all of the hand motions and songs we can learn for the alphabet. We have whole group activities that we play and continuing playing throughout the year.

After we discuss the environmental print and differentiate between the sound and the name of the letter I show them a Have Fun Teaching video. My kiddos absolutely LOVE these videos. Then I will show students the vocabulary cards and post them on our anchor wall. Students will use these words in their writing throughout the week.

That pretty much sums up my whole group lesson with letters and sounds. If I was teaching a sight word or spelling patter I would do the same as above but incorporate it into our morning message and weekly poem. The rest of my explicit instruction comes from small group and individual conferences.  I've found that if not the majority than half of my class will retain and be able to apply phonics solely from whole group {keep in mind that this depends on the demographics of your district and classroom} and the remainder needed only a 1-2 more lessons in small group. For the small percentage that needed explicit daily phonics instruction I pulled them for intervention.

To give you a better idea of the overall instruction I am going to give you my intervention lessons. This is how I would pull and teach phonics for my intervention group. Now, you wouldn't need to do this with every learner only those who really struggle with phonics.

Every day I complete the same beginning process with my group. When I call my group to come back to my small group table the first thing we do is a warm-up. This warm-up will always review the last 6 (in this case) letters & sounds that we have learned. If you tweaking this for sight words, the same applies. Always review the last 6.

I do several types of warm-ups but try to keep things as consistent as possible. If I try to throw new games at them constantly they will hyper focused on the game and not the material.... and we want them to focus on the material.

Here are some games that I play regularly with my kiddos:

BAM!- In a small cup place popsicle sticks with the letters (both upper and lowercase). Go around the table and have students pick a popsicle stick. The students must then say the letter name and sound. If they have it correct they get to keep the stick. If they get it wrong it goes back into the cup and you move on to the next student. If a student pulls a stick with BAM! then the student yells BAM and has to place all of their sticks inside the cup.
FIND THE LETTER -  I use magnetic letters for this activity but you can use letters on cards or whatever you have around. I mix the letters up and have all the review letters in front of each student (each student has their own set of review letters) I will then ask then to pull down certain letters. I can say pull down the uppercase A or the letter that makes an /m/ sound etc. Quick. Easy, and you get an idea of what your kiddos remember.
ALPHABET MAZE - This is a product I made last year that my kiddos really loved. You can do a few different things with this activity. You can make your printer print 2 to a page and have small miniature versions and glue them into a notebook or you can print and laminate for durability. The final way is to print and place into a dry erase cover. So I tell the students what letter they will go on a hunt for. They will then follow the letter (upper and lower) all the way to the bottom of the maze. Simple and they love it! If you want to try this out here is a link to that product.
BINGO - This most definitely does not have to be anything that is incredible fancy. In fact, I've been known to just take a large index card and write a bunch of letters and would have my kiddos mark off each one that I called out. Nothing fancy because let me tell you sometimes fancy just can't happen.
SEARCH & FIND - This is another activity that can be tweaked to fit your needs. I use books and poems to help teach phonics. Research shows that phonics instruction is best when it is authentic and related to a text. So I pull out books and poems and give students highlighter tape or a pointer and have them go on an hunt to find the letter. This is nice because you can switch it up. For instance, "Find the letter w on page 4." "Find the letter that makes the /s/ sound on page 8."
SWAT THE LETTER - This is another favorite of my class. I wrote out the review letters/sounds on colorful sticky notes and placed the all over my small group table. Each student had a small fly swatter and as I called out the letter they were to swat at it. Who ever swat the correct letter first got to keep it.

Once we have completed the warm-up I move on to introducing the letter/sound (which can be changed to sight words or a spelling pattern) using the anchor or card. I would review the motions. I would give each student the letter (you can use a magnetic letter, letter written or word card) and model tracing the letter and saying the name and sound three times.

****I do a lot in three's****

I would then trace my letters and say the name and sound with my students three times. Then students would do it independently three times.

The next step was to have students build the letter using some type of material. I love to use various types of learning to ensure that I am reaching each of my students.

I give each student the letter building mat and the building material. I've used various types; play dough, wiki sticks, beans, macaroni, gel boards, sand, and pipe cleaners. I let them build the letter and once they are done we begin handwriting.

Handwriting is similar to tracing the letter. I begin by modeling the formation of the letter three times as I say the name and sound. Students join me in writing the letter using their mats and they finish independently writing each three times.

So everything that I have done up until now in small group I would do every day at the beginning. The next activities vary on a day to day. Choose one a day. No more or else this small group will drag on forever...

Here are some of the different options for the last activity:

BOOK - Each letter has a book that is paired along with it. The books are very simple text and most are repetitive text. What I love about these books is that the format is so simple and it brings back my love of three's!!! The general letter book has a simple sentence followed by three letters. When students reach the three letters they say each sound. They end it by reading the word of the letter vocabulary at the bottom. Vowels have two books. Each vowel has a simple decoding cvc book as well as the letter book.
SOUND SORT - Each student receives a sorting mat and a bag with precut cards. You can choose to have students cut but I've always felt like it wastes a lot of time. The lesson is phonics not cutting. Students read the card and sort the sounds they hear at the beginning of the word. This can be done several ways; complete this activity independently, whole group, or in small group as a whole.
READING SENTENCES - For some students the books may be a bit much. For my intervention group last year it was too much for those sweeties so I took out the a sentence strip and wrote out a simple text. We would use the smaller vocabulary cards to read sentences.
ROLL AND READ - This was another favorite of my group. I made 6 different sentence strips (dollar store; they are smaller) and wrote out a string of letters. I gave each student a die and they rolled the die and read the sentence strip.
FLASH CARDS - When in doubt and if time is running out. We reviewed with cards. The way I did this was I would show the students the card and gave them the word. They would then repeat and we would do this until we were finished. By the end of the year they were trying to beat me to saying the word.
SPILL THE BEANS - I have some little bean two-colored counting chips and I would write the letter using a sharpie on the chips. One side would have the uppercase letter and the other would have a lowercase letter. I would give them 6 beans in a small cup and students would shake the beans and drop them out. They would then have to line them up and say the letters first and go back and say the sounds.
CVC BUILDING - Each vowel has a cvc puzzle. I would give each student a small bag containing 3-4 words pre-cut and they would put the puzzles together and read the word for me. I use these containers from Hobby Lobby to store all my individual pieces to my phonics unit. I've even made the labels so y'all can print and be organized! Print the labels on a full sheet of sticker paper, cut, and stick! You can find this freebie here.

After doing an activity I would finish up with a phonological skill practice. After the group was over I would quickly add notes and write my plan for the next day, which consisted of me chicken-scratching the letters I was focusing on tomorrow.

Keep in mind that I didn't focus on all the letters at once with this group either. I had 6 letters to focus on and I would rotate the lettered each day until I felt as though they were fluent in that letter and then I would add a separate letter to the group. One goes out, one comes in.

The final game I would play with my students would be during whole group, small group or even as we were lining up. Each letter comes with a strip with four pictures using that letter's beginning sound. I would sing a song (also with each letter) and have the students tell or write me what letter they heard at the beginning. Quick and easy.

Phonics is such an important component of the younger grades. It gets students prepared to decode words and build an understanding of spelling patterns.  This model really worked for me last year. Y'all when I say that I had some sweetie pies that struggled I am not kidding, but this worked. With consistency and dedication (doing it every day) those kiddos who couldn't recognize or name the letters in their names were learning them by the end of the year.

I hope this was helpful for you all and if you want to hear me ramble on about this packet and my teaching model you can check out my video here:


  1. This video on /phonemic awareness and phonics instruction groups was awesome!
    I look forward to getting the bundle!
    :) Robin

  2. I love the way that the lesson template above has the days of the week on the left side.
    Is it possible to update your teaching planner (the one in your store) with this format as well? I downloaded the planner but I only saw the option of the days of the week shown above (days going vertical).

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! Unfortunately, it will not be available this year. I have taken note of it and will make it available for next year. Thank you again for your support and love!! 😊

  3. Hello there! :)

    Was wondering, where did you get your plastic containers for your phonics instruction?! They are the perfect size!

  4. Hi Bridget! I love your post on phonics instruction and your bundle is remarkable! I am so thankful for the bundle it is a wonderful tool! I can tell you worked very hard on it! With this being said I wanted to let you know that I use it every day, but there are a few issues that I have that I was wondering if you could fix? I purchased through your blog site. First, the word puzzle on the smaller vocabulary cards is spelled incorrectly. Second, there is not a label for phonics instruction y-z. I am unsure if you have fixed these, but I noticed them before. I also have a question regarding the size photo boxes you used for organization. Did you use the 4x6 size or the 5x7 size? Thank you so much for your hard work! I really enjoy watching your YouTube channel as well as reading this blog! Thank you again!

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  6. I really enjoyed your informative and clearly explained program. I retired from teaching grades 4/5/6, but just came back out of retirement to teach grades K/1. Yikes! I feel more confident after watching your clip.... I am on the right track, just out of practice. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Very good post I really enjoy it, thank you for sharing this interesting tips.