Inspiration for Multi-Sensory Phonics Activities

Hi everyone! It's Bex here from Reading and Writing Redhead. While working on phonics during RTI, I try and make the repeated practice as interesting and varied as possible, while still being effective. There are so many ways to teach phonics in a multi-sensory way and it can make such an impact on your students, I thought I would share some of the things I have tried, some tried and true strategies, and a couple new ideas with you.

Multi-Sensory Phonics Activities

The definition of multi-sensory activities from the International Dyslexia Association: "Multisensory teaching is simultaneously visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile to enhance memory and learning. Links are consistently
made between the visual (what we see), auditory (what we hear), and kinesthetic-tactile (what we feel) pathways in learning to read and spell."  To put it in simpler terms, it is teaching to read or spell by making connections between the visual, auditory, and tactile (what we see, hear and feel/touch). If you use a multi-sensory approach to teach phonics, children are at an advantage because they are learning by tapping into all three pathways, not just the visual as they would if you only used pencil and paper - plus it is much more engaging and interesting to children!

I have a great deal of suggestions for you of activities and materials that incorporate the kinesthetic into teaching phonics and phonemic awareness. Many of these ideas have been around for a long time, so I don't know who originally thought of them but if I saw anything new (to me) recently, I include a link to the blog post or website where I saw it.

Playdoh: Roll the letters to make words but you can also flatten Play Doh into pancake-type pieces and "carve" the letters in them.

Craft Sand, Flour, Salt, Sugar, Rice, Spaghetti: Use them at your own risk because they can be quite messy - but also quite effective! Different teachers have tried different things, like putting the sand into a dish washing tub or a large baking pan to contain the mess. Regardless of how you use it, making letters in these materials is great for making kinesthetic connections.

Plastic Screen/Red Crayons: Plastic screens can be bought in craft stores or stores like Michaels and AC Moore in the yarn sections. Place paper over it and use red crayon (I suppose that you could use any color but it was introduced to me by a colleague as "red words")  to write letters and words. When done, the words have a bumpy texture and can be read letter by letter or a whole word at a time.

Shaving Cream: make letters in the cream with your fingers. For easier clean up you can use the shaving cream on a tray instead of a desk, although I have heard the cream also cleans surfaces well (and leaves a nice scent).

Chalk: On the chalkboard, or even better, get everyone outside and use sidewalk chalk to write your words!

Foam Alphabet Stamps:  alone or dip in paint

Alphabet Cookie Cutters - with cookie dough  or play dough

Phonics Pebbles: I had never heard of these until recently but you can buy them at places like Really Good Stuff or Amazon. They look like a neat idea! But they are fairly pricey.  If you have the time, patience and lots of pebbles nearby you could make your own.

Balloons: Write words you are working on on the balloons, toss them, and whichever word your hand is touching, you read aloud. For a different twist on this, use balls instead. No Time for Flash Cards has an awesome post on how she did this with ping pong balls!

Glitter Glue:  My second graders love these for art projects so why couldn't you use them to help with phonics and phonemic awareness instruction too?

Pipe Cleaners: bend and shape them into the letters you need.

Wikki Stix or Bendaroos (I have heard Bendaroos are less expensive): Bend those wax covered sticks into the letters and sounds you are working on like you would with pipe cleaners.

Twister: Instead of playing with colors write words with different word families you are working on on the mat with dry erase marker (you can wipe it off and write new ones later). When the spinner lands on red, fox example, you would put a foot on a "ack" word or a hand on a "ike" word. You can also tape index cards with words on them onto the twister board.

 Mom to 2 Posh Lil' Divas has a terrific post on how she uses this.

Hit The Word: Tape word cards to wall (scattered) and toss a ball. Whichever word you hit, say, or  you can do the opposite, read a word, then hit it with the ball. You can do the same with words on the wall and a fly swatter, or just use words on paper at a desk, easel or white board  and hit with a fly swatter after reading it.

Wilson (or other brand) magnetic tiles: If you are using regular letter tiles or Wilson tiles you can use them on the table just fine, but also try using them on an old cookie sheet. Ask parents to send in cookie sheets they don't need any more.

Block Towers: For each word with a particular phonics sound such as short i, or each rhyming word, the child adds a block to the tower. What child doesn't like making towers? It sounds fun to see how tall it can go and it is fun when everything falls down, too. Admit it, you've smiled and laughed even as adult when you or your child or student knocks a tower over!

There are many more ways to get the kinesthetic  sense  involved with learning. It is a great way to help your struggling readers learn phonics skills while having tons of fun!  You also may want to head over to Emily's blog: The Reading Tutor/OG because she has tons of terrific phonics suggestions, among many other literacy ideas. What other suggestions do you have?


  1. I have used many of these, but I like the block towers idea. I have used block towers for phoneme segmentation, but not for rhyming and word patterns, I like it! Thanks for sharing!

    Hanging Out in First!

  2. Oh my!! I am behind on my reading. But this post is PACKED with ideas!!! Thanks!