Activities for Teaching Emergent Readers

Patsy Vinogradov, PhD, from Hamline University, gave wonderful presentations during our professional development series on “Cracking the English Reading Code” and then, in a smaller breakout session about teaching emergent readers. I can’t possibly capture all the things she shared with us, but I would like to highlight some key ideas and provide you with some resources/links for further study. Links to some of her resources are at the bottom of this post, as well as a video demonstrating some of the principles discussed today.This information is published with permission from Patsy Vinogradov.

From the morning session, where she discussed the Orton-Gillingham based multi-sensory structured language approach, She highlighted some key points and principles in instruction of instruction.  These principles have been used effectively in ESL instruction as well, and the key principles are:

Simultaneous, Multisensory:  Use all learning pathways (visual/auditory, kinesthetic-tactile) simultaneously in order to enhance memory and learning.

Systematic and Cumulative: The sequence of instruction begins with the easiest and most basic information and progresses to more difficult material. Concepts previously taught must be reviewed in a systematic way.

Direct Instruction:  Concepts are not taught inferentially.

Diagnostic Teaching: Consistently assess and customize material based on the needs of the students.

Synthetic and Analytic Instruction: Use both top down and bottom up approaches.

From the afternoon presentation, The Double Challenge: Teaching ESL and the Emergent Reader, she shared many, many activities and ideas. Key points to remember are to start with the “whole”, break down the sounds, and then finish wih the “whole” again. Example of this is to start with your themed unit’s vocabulary, then pull out specific parts for phonics/phonemic awareness skills, and then finally, finish with the text to practice within the context of the unit.

Alphabetics (Phonemic Awareness and Phonics) Activities:

Blend the word Review theme vocabulary by sounding out the parts of a wordEx:  clothing unit (s-o-k-s) (p-a-n-t-s) What is it?Higher level:  some can write using inventive spelling (write the letters based on the sounds)
Same first letter sound Students can play hangman and then go through each letter and identify other words that begin with the same sound.Example:  hangman word:  SKIRT. Students then generate:  s (Somali, Sunday)  k (kid, kitchen)    I  (in, is) etc.Higher level learners can write some of the words.
Sound chain One student says a word that starts with the end sound of another.Ex:  sweater—-red—–dollar—–rest–etc
Where’s the sound? Cup game Give each team or student three cups to represent beginning, middle, end. Label the cups (b, m, e, or first, middle, last). Teach these terms first though.Teacher asks “Is the sounds I say at the beginning, middle, end of the word?”Students listen and drop a chip into the right cup for where the sound is in the word. The sound, not spelling, is important.Lower level:  only beginning and end sounds    Higher level:  use multiple letter sounds.  Also, say the sound, they listen and find the letter tiles, and then put them in the cup.
Does it rhyme? Emphasize that rhyme is at the end of the word. You can use your hands or write the words to have them understand they are listening for the ending part of the word.Different ways to do this activity:

  • Students listen to three words and identify the one that doesn’t belong. Write or circle the word.   (cash/shirt/trash)    (go/stop/no)
  • Give students pictures, say a word, and they find the picture that rhymes with the word.
  • Identify the rhymes in a chant or songword families activities also emphasize rhyming
Same Sounds Have students sort pictures by two sounds you’re working on.
Match pictures Use to sort by beginning, middle and ending sounds.
Large cards Put letters or letter combinations on cards. Have students use the cards to spell out the words, starting with those related to your context, at the front of the room. (B-o-o-k, now, B sit down, H come up. What word now? Now K sit down, D come up. What now?) Take time to point out similarities and differences amond the words you’re working with .

PHONICS:  Teaching Letters and Sounds

Fill in the missing sounds To review the vocabulary for a unit, give students a list of words that have one or more letters missing (try and choose ones that they could easily hear the sound of).  Students write the missing letters (without dictation).
Circle the word Students have a worksheet that has three word options. Call out a word. Students circle the word they hear.

  1. Sister son     student
  2. Mother married     male
Mixed up letters, tiles Using tiles (like from a Scrabble game), you or a student can call out words that the learners must spell with the tiles. They can work individually or in pairs/groups. You can make a game of it too, with points to the team who spells the word first.
BINGO Play BINGO with sounds (initial, final, vowels, blends), word families, rhyming words, or entire words.
Dictation New readers can write only the first sound they hear, or the final sound, and later the entire word if they are able. Encourage inventive spelling, and students will need a great deal of practice.
Sort words by sound/letter Sort pictures or words by the letter sounds. This works well to discriminate long and short vowel sounds. Also, you can give students a paper with boxes for each sound. They sort the pictures under the sound or words under the sound.

Ssock, sandals, sweater  AsAndalspAnts
SHShoes, shorts, shirt TTie, trousers
9 Patch Students make a 9 square grid. It is usedul in working with sight words and in phonics work. You can use letters only to practice sound/symbol correspondences, or use full words on slips of paper to practice sight words. You an model the listening activity first, then let students take turns calling out sounds/words. Once the grid is complete, students can pair up and practice reading it to each other. It’s also a great chart reading activity.

1   Name 2   Number 3   new
4   School 5   Street 6   State
7   Date 8   Drivers 9   dollars


This video demonstrates some of the principles discussed today. The video has four parts, which you can get on