I’m not sure why this simple, homemade game has been such a hit with all of my kids. Maybe it’s the shaking. Maybe it’s the dumping. Whatever the reason, they’ve all loved it!
I wish I could recall where I heard about this game first. I’ve seen variations of it floating around, but I’m not sure who came up with the original idea for Phonogram Sound Shake. Whoever you are, thank you!
Before I continue, if you’re not familiar with the term “phonogram,” it’s simply a fancy way of referring to a letter or group of letters that make a certain sound. So, for example, the phonogram “m” makes the sound /m/ (as in mom) and the phonogram “sh” makes the sound /sh/ (as in shell). Some phonograms can make more than one sound like “ch” which can say /ch/ (as in chair), /k/ (as in school), or /sh/ (as in chef).
The more we can make our pre-readers aware of the phonograms around them, the easier time they’ll have learning to read. And the more naturally we can do this, the better.
If you’ve got a toddler or preschooler, try talking about letters (phonograms) like you’d talk about farm animals. The cow says “moo,” the duck says “quack,” and the “m” says “mmm.” Any kid that can remember that a rooster says “cock-a-doodle-doo” can certainly memorize that a “t” says /t/!
Once they have a handful of the easy letters memorized (that is, some of the letters that only make one sound – like M, N, P, etc.) you’re ready for Phonogram Sound Shake!
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Phonogram Sound Shake DIY Game
Setting up the game couldn’t be easier. Here’s what you need to make your own.
- Plastic container with lid (we used a parmesan cheese container)
- Cardstock (or index cards, cardboard, etc.)
- List of phonograms (I used the comprehensive list found here)
- Pen (or marker)
- Cut your paper into small rectangles (about the size of a domino or a little smaller, depending on the size of your container).
- Using your phonogram list as a reference, write one phonogram on each small rectangular card.
- Starting with about 5-10 phonograms that your child knows, put the phonogram cards into the container to begin the game. Set aside the remaining cards (with the phonograms they haven’t learned yet) for the future.
BONUS TIP: For phonograms with more than one sound, I also add a tiny number in the upper corner of each paper to remind me how many sounds that phonogram makes. So, for example, the phonogram “ch” has three different sounds (/ch/, /k/, and /sh/) so I put a tiny “3” in the corner for my own reference.
Let your child shake the container to their little heart’s content and then dump out the cards. For each card that lands face up, have your child tell you what sound(s) that phonogram makes. They get to keep the cards they get correct.
You can play until they get a certain number of cards. Or, have them keep shaking and dumping the ones that landed face down until, eventually, all of them have landed face up and they’ve practiced them all.
(If I’d known I would someday write a blog post about this, I would’ve made mine a little nicer looking. But it gets the job done and my kids haven’t complained, so I count that as a win.)
Once they master the letters of the alphabet that make only one sound, try adding in other alphabet letters, easy vowel teams (like “ee”), or common consonant pairs (like “th”). Soon they’ll have enough building blocks memorized to begin sounding out and blending words together like a pro!
If you have a reading or spelling program that you plan on using (or are already using) with your child, you can easily coordinate Phonogram Sound Shake with whatever phonograms have been introduced in those curricula. For years we’ve used this game to practice phonograms in our All About Spelling curriculum, even with my fluent readers.
This game builds a great foundation for pre-readers and beginning readers. Use it in combination with other phonics resources – like my favorites, the Leapfrog Letter Factory DVD and The Three R’s book by Ruth Beechick – and your kiddo will be reading in no time!
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