Easily Improve Phonics Instruction with Concrete Objects

Teaching phonics with concrete objects can help spelling patterns to stick. Multi-sensory phonics instruction for first and second grade.

One of my favorite memories from Kindergarten was creating a Letter Museum. My teacher asked my classmates and I to bring in objects, pictures or drawings of things that started with the letter we were learning that week. We were all so proud of our museum, because it was something we had a hand in creating, and it had personal meaning to each one of us. 
Do you know why a primary alphabet has pictures above each letter? The reason is simple, it is building a relationship between letter name (and how it looks) and sound. If a student were to get stuck when retrieving a letter sound, the picture cue could help stimulate a connection. 
easily improve phonics instruction with concrete objects
Dough Mats from Lakeshore Learning.
My Kinders love these!

What happens though, when our students move beyond the 26 letters of the alphabet? What can we do to help build those connections? Using concrete objects to introduce new spelling patterns can create a deeper association and lasting memory of these new skills. We can use my Kindergarten teacher's idea for the "Letter Museum", and keep it relevant for our first and second graders.

You could certainly, still ask your students to bring in objects that match the phonics pattern/spelling skill you're teaching, however, that could get difficult because of the many ways to spell the same sound (LONG A: a, a_e, ai, ay, eigh). 

Instead, we can control the experience a little more by providing our students with unique opportunities to make memories with the new skill. 
teaching spelling patterns that stick using concrete objects
When teaching my students about the final -ck sound, I like to use the visual of a BACKPACK. All of my students know what a backpack is, AND, perfectly, a backpack goes on their back - just like the final -ck sound goes on the "back" of a word/syllable.

They create their backpack from a file folder and "stuff" it full of pictures and words that follow the final -ck pattern. This activity, while it takes some time, not only helps my students with a visual, but it also solidifies when they should use the final -ck pattern.

When I only have my students in front of me for 20-30 mins each day, I have to make the most out of the time I have with them. A multi-sensory project like this may look like just another craftivity, but I make sure to include word sorts, picture matching and encoding practice. This activity when paired with decodable readers, could last most of the week in my small groups. 
Even though it can be fun, it doesn't always have to be a project, or a grand production. When teaching R-Controlled vowels: 
  • We pull out the pirate patches for AR
  • We snack on popcorn for OR
  • We draw a simple picture of angry dogs for ER, IR, UR
When possible, I also try to find a read aloud to help introduce new skills to my students. THIS post shares a great book to read for R-Controlled Vowels.
These ideas while simple, can have just as great an impact on our students. The only goal we have is to help solidify a memory, and make retrieval of these sounds/spelling patterns automatic. All of this can be done with the experiences we create during our phonics block.

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Let's start a list! Share in the comments some ideas you have for concrete objects. Make sure you list the phonics skill/spelling pattern it applies to.

And before you go, check out these related posts: 




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