Word games to boost early literacy skills: Listening for sounds

Children cartoon reading book and sitting on alphabet blocks

Word play breaks down the fundamental basics of reading and spelling. When a child understands how to connect sounds to letters and words, they can begin to learn how to read. These fun word games can be played anywhere and help promote early childhood literacy.

Listening for Sounds In Words Activity

As children approach their kindergarten year, they can begin to listen for and manipulate the smallest sounds in words that distinguish one word from another. These sounds are known as phonemes. Children can have fun pulling sounds apart (i.e., “What is bay—-bee?” Baby; “What is Mom—-mee?” Mommy), or putting sounds together (i.e., “Put eye and ball together.” Eyeball; “Put duh and og together.” Dog).

Try playing the word game below:

  • Adult says to child, “Say blue bird.” Child responds, “blue bird.”
  • Adult says to child, “Say it again, but don’t say blue.” Child responds, “bird.”
  • Adult says to child, “Say football.” Child responds, “football.”
  • Adult says to child, “Say it again but don’t say foot.” Child responds, “ball.”
  • Adult says to child, “Say elbow.” Child responds “elbow.”
  • Adult says to child, “Say it again, but don’t say el.” Child responds, “bow.”

As children approach age five, they can listen for even smaller parts of words. For example:

  • Adult says to child, “Say make.” Child responds, “make.”
  • Adult says to child, “Say it again but don’t say “mmm,” Child responds, “ake.”

Once your child has mastered this game, reverse roles and have your child test you.

Have you enjoyed this word game? Find even more, like Rhyming fun and Alliteration activities, posted on the Mass Literacy blog.

Jean Ciborowski Fahey, PhD is a 2014 Mass Literacy Champion. She is the author of Make Time for Reading: A Story Guide for Parents of Babies and Young Children. Learn more about Jean here.

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