Phonics Sorts

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Elevating Reading Instruction for Young Learners

Hey there, fellow educators! 🍎 Let’s dive into the fascinating world of phonics sorts and how they can take your reading instruction to the next level. Buckle up because we’re about to embark on a journey of decoding mastery!

Cracking the Code Together

Teaching our young learners how to read isn’t about handing them the code. It is about empowering them to crack the code themselves. This is where phonics sorts come in. Teaching phonics most effectively requires the students to analyze, compare, and make connections between words. This is how students move from recognition of spellings to application of those same skills to new words they encounter.

And students are not just sorting letters and sounds. They are becoming word detectives as they analyze orthographic (spelling) patterns, phonemic (sound) patterns, and connections between words’ grammatical parts and vocabulary. Your instructional time is precious. So I want to offer you efficient phonics sort ideas that address all of these strands of the reading rope.

Mastering Multiple Spellings

Take the classic duo “oi” and “oy.” Phonics sorts help students see beyond the surface and identify spelling patterns. When they sort words like “boil” and “boy,” students are not memorizing. Instead they are internalizing the logic behind these spellings, the placement of each spelling in a syllable, and the orthographic patterns to map into their long term memory. But remember, that students need to say aloud the words as they read and sort them. We want to train their brains to match the individual speech sounds in words with the orthographic (spelling) patterns on the page. So, DON’T LET YOUR SORTS BE SILENT! 🙂

oi and oy spelling phonics sort

Navigating Multiple Sounds

Letter “s” is like a linguistic chameleon with its multiple sounds. Phonics sorts make students sound-savvy as they differentiate between the hissing “s” in “snake” and the zippy “s” in “rose.” It’s all about honing in on those phonemic differences to help students decode and spell with accuracy.

Two sounds of s for a phonics sort and phonics activities

Cracking the Syllable Code with Phonics Sorts

Teaching syllable types is an excellent way to teach the structure of words in the English language. But the point of teaching syllable types is not to master syllable types. Instead our goal is for students to use their knowledge of syllable types to anticipate the vowel sounds for accurate decoding and overall reading fluency.

Tackling closed syllables vs. silent e syllables requires attention to the differences in the orthographic patterns (a final silent e!) and differences in the vowel sounds (short vs. long). But if we stop at this level of instruction, students will only have to use recognition instead of the higher level reasoning and comparison. It is these higher level skills which will take their learning to the next level! One of my favorite phonics activities with these two syllable types is playing Go Fish with closed and silent e word pairs. With Closed and Silent e word pairs like cap and cape or fin and fine written on separate notecards, students must look for the corresponding pair to a word in their hand to make a match. For example:

“I have mad. Do you have made?”

I have cane. Do you have can?

This requires a degree of phonemic awareness to manipulate the sounds. But I assure you that you will see your students’ brains REALLY working with this engaging syllable matching game. You can check out and download this version of my Go Fish Game for FREE!

Tackling Tricky Similarities

Many phonics curricula and approaches teach the graphemes “ng” and “nk” alongside one another. This is likely because they share a nasal n. But sorting words with these spellings is an excellent way for students to differentiate between the two similar spellings. As students sort words like pink and ping they transition into a space of clarity about the similar spellings.

ng and nk spellings with a phonics sort for reading and spelling

Grammar, Vocabulary, and Phonics Sorts …Oh My!

As Scarborough’s Reading Rope informs us, skilled readers have a fluent connection between word recognition and text comprehension. So, weaving in language comprehension skills such as vocabulary, and semantics with phonics skills helps to solidify students’ overall reading.

An easy way to weave in grammar and vocabulary with phonics is to have students sort phonetically-connected words by parts of speech. As students read the words aloud, they practice their decoding. But as they sort them by parts of speech, they also build their knowledge of the words’ meaning and uses. For example, when reading aloud words with the ck spelling pattern, think about the word knowledge students will gain when discussing the multiple meanings and uses of the following ck words:

Phonics sort with grammar for ck spelling pattern

Making Reading Efficient and Fun

As our young word detectives progress through phonics sorts, they are mastering spelling patterns. But with these sorts, they are also making reading and spelling more efficient. Phonics sorts foster connections between words, spelling patterns, sounds, and word meanings. Using this multi-layered approach makes it so that you do not have to teach each word in the English language. One sort can unlock the spelling and meaning of hundreds of words! This is one way we can teach reading with purpose, understanding, and engagement. Plus, the joy of recognizing patterns can turn decoding into a game (and who said learning can’t be fun?!).

So, dear educators, embrace the magic of phonics sorts. Let’s empower our students to become word wizards, unraveling the intricacies of the English language one sort at a time. Happy sorting! 🕵️‍♂️📚

Phonics Sort Bundle for reading and spelling activities
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