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Using Word Work to Target Phonemic Awareness Skills

Are you using word work time in your classroom? If not, you’re likely missing out on a valuable opportunity to practice a variety of phonemic awareness skills with your students! Not to mention, word work is just plain FUN! Today, let’s chat about the connection between word work and phonemic awareness in the primary classroom, and look at some simple ways to get started today!

This image says, "Using Word Work to Target Phonemic Awareness Skills" and includes examples of resources and activities that can be used to practice phonemic awareness.

What is Word Work?

This photo shows a word work activity that targets phonemic awareness skills. Students will segment words, identify the medial sound, and then sort pictures into the short a or long a column.

First things first, what exactly is word work time? Word work refers to literacy activities that are used to give students opportunities to work with letters, sounds, and words. This practice works best when it’s done regularly, and it’s often included as part of a small group guided reading session. It’s also great to incorporate into center time as well! The phonemic awareness skills focused on during work word include:

  • Isolating sounds
  • Blending
  • Segmenting
  • Sound manipulation

Word work has many benefits for students as it lays the foundation for learning to spell, and encourages the development of strong phonemic awareness skills in our young students. Ultimately this goes hand-in-hand with building confident, strong readers so it’s a must if you’re teaching in the primary grades!

How is Word Work Used?

Many teachers, including myself, have chosen to include word work as part of their weekly routine. Just a few short activities at the beginning of your guided reading groups and some fun word work centers is all it takes to help facilitate a deeper understanding of phonemic awareness skills among your students!

This image shows a teacher leading a small reading group at a table.

There are so many word work activities to choose from that will help your students develop phonemic awareness skills. Personally, I am all about variety in the classroom, so I always used many different approaches in our word work activities. Doing so will ensure you maintain high engagement levels, even if you’re using word work activities daily. After all, no one wants to get stuck in a rut of doing the same old activities day after day, right?!

Instead, think about ways you can mix up your word work sessions. Consider different materials to use for different skills and pay close attention to what resonates with students. You might find that certain activities are better for independent practice, while others need your guidance. The key here is to develop a word work routine that fits your classroom needs. For more on getting started with word work, be sure to check out this post!

Developing Strong Phonemic Awareness

So, now that we know what word work is and how to use it, let’s talk about how simple and easy it is to use it to target phonemic awareness skills. I think once you start using word work in your classroom, you’ll quickly and easily see why this practice makes such a big impact on phonemic awareness.

As students work through word-building activities they’ll naturally begin to work on phoneme blending, manipulation, segmentation, and substitution. This is especially true when you use word work activities in small groups as you’re easily able to guide children, ask questions, and facilitate the practice of these skills. By simply choosing to use word work activities in your weekly routine, you’ll be amazed at how much growth can occur!

3 Easy Word Work Activities to Foster Phonemic Awareness

Word work time was always one of my favorite parts of our routine because it really does help those literacy lightbulbs go off. You’ll start to see your students “get it” and it’s so much fun to watch! If you’re not quite sure what kinds of activities to include in your word work time, don’t fret! Here are some of my favorites to support phonemic awareness.

1. Phonics Flashcards & Letter Tiles

This photo shows a long a and short a picture sort. Not only is this a great word work activity, but it also targets phonemic awareness skills as students segment the words and listen for the vowel sounds.

In my classroom, I made sure everyone had a set of letter tiles to use during word work time. As we worked through different activities and practiced building words, they came in really helpful for students to get some hands-on practice with. In small groups, I loved using letter tiles alongside my phonics picture flashcards. We used the cards to identify the beginning sound for each of the picture cards. You can also use them to facilitate skills such as:

  • Differentiate between different sounds
  • Segment sounds in a word
  • Introduce patterns in words

I loved having my students sort the cards into categories by the patterns they heard in the words. This might be beginning sounds or long/short vowel sounds, but it could also include ending sounds, blends, digraphs, or any other skill you are working on. When I set up the sorting activity, I liked to include the new skill we were working on and a previously learned skill. This not only provided a little review, but it gave students a chance to compare and contrast the two skills.

You’ll be amazed by how quickly they advance in phonemic awareness through this simple activity! This is a great daily warm-up to use with your students during guided reading groups. Be sure to read this post for more ideas on how to use letter tiles during word work time.

2. Stamp It

As I mentioned before, the key to running successful word work time in the classroom is variety. Guided reading group time is a great opportunity for word work, but we can’t forget center time either! That’s where activities like this will save the day! Stamp It is a simple, yet effective activity that students can use independently. It reinforces the spelling of the words with the spelling pattern you are focusing on for the week and since it uses picture prompts, your kiddos can tackle it all on their own!

This photo showcases a word work activity for long a words. By using phonemic awareness skills, students will segment words and stamp each sound they hear beside a corresponding picture.

All you need for this activity is a stamp pad, alphabet stamps, and the Stamp It worksheets shown. To use, students will name the picture and identify the sounds to spell it. Then, they will stamp out the word on their paper. This is an excellent follow-up activity to the phonics flashcards and letter tiles activity mentioned above. It gives kiddos yet another opportunity for some hands-on, engaging practice with the words you’re focusing on.

I recommend storing the materials in a plastic bin and simply swapping out the response sheets each week. That way, you’ll already be prepared and ready for at least one of your center activities for the week. This makes it quick and easy to support the development of phonemic awareness skills among your students.

3. Word Hunt Write the Room

Word hunts, like the one shown in this image, are great word work activities to use during center time. In the example, students are hunting for words ending in -ck.

Looking for another fun center activity to promote phonemic awareness? I’ve got the perfect option for you! Write the room is a great center activity in the primary classroom. It is a wonderful opportunity to get students up and moving while also staying focused and on task during word work time. It’s also great for center time because it’s low-prep and easy to facilitate.

All you need are printed word cards and a recording sheet. When it comes to word work, you’ll want to choose words and spelling patterns you’re focusing on that week. We used these Word Hunt activities to write the room.

Prepare for this activity by posting your word or picture cards around the classroom. “Hide” them a bit if you’d like to make it more interesting for kiddos! Then students will then put their response sheet on a clipboard, grab a pencil, and begin moving around the room to find the hidden cards. As they find a card, they read it or say the word for the picture shown. Then, they decide which spelling pattern it belongs to on their sheet. Then they write it down on the response sheet in the correct place.


You can also use these worksheets to have students find words with similar spelling patterns in books, on posters, or other materials you’re using. Another fun option is to hide word cards in a sensory bin! I love this activity because it’s super versatile and engaging for students. We use it in a different way weekly to mix it up. Plus, it’s perfect for reading and writing practice focusing on the spelling pattern(s) of the week. In other words, you can bet your students will be getting plenty of practice with phonemic awareness skills such as isolating, blending, segmenting, and more with this activity!

Facilitate Phonemic Awareness with Word Work

Once you realize just how powerful word work is for facilitating phonemic awareness, the decision to include it in your weekly learning routine is a no-brainer! Using word work time to support skills like segmenting, blending, sound manipulation and more is simple when you use activities like the ones in the Word Work Study Bundle.

This photo shows a word work activity that focuses on sorting short a and long a words. Activities like this can be used during work work time.

Inside this resource, you’ll find the activities mentioned here and many more to use with your students. Best of all though, there are 60 lessons included in the bundle so you can work your way through each spelling pattern throughout the year. Included you’ll find activities for:

  • CVC Words
  • Short Vowels
  • Long Vowels
  • Blends
  • Digraphs
  • Diphthongs

Using these activities in your small groups and center time will help your students develop phonemic awareness skills in a fun, realistic, and simple way throughout the year. What could be better?! If you want to test out these activities with your students, good news… You can grab a FREE sample from the Word Work Study Bundle here! Your students will love these activities for Digraph ng as they build strong phonemic awareness skills. I know you and your kiddos will look forward to weekly lessons. Grab the freebie and get started today!

Save These Ideas for Phonemic Awareness Made Easy!

Word work is a simple and effective way to promote phonemic awareness. Pin this post on Pinterest to keep these ideas handy!

Looking for ways to target phonemic awareness skills in your first grade classroom? Word work is a great way to practice phonemic awareness and with these resources, you can target these skills in centers or in small groups!


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