Implementation – A few ideas

Evidence based practice and multi-modal instruction involving the Visual Phonics (VP) strategy are helping to make connections between what students know (a picture or familiar word in their oral vocabulary) and the orthography that represents these words, resulting in improved decoding and encoding (spelling/writing).  Keeping in mind that the value of a method shows up when exposure is frequent, intense & dynamic, I have written out some thoughts on activities that can be used to facilitate sound-print connections. This descriptive listing of activities is not exhaustive by any means, but does illustrate a variety of ways to facilitate sound-print connections through the use of Visual Phonics hand shapes and written symbols.


  • Folder/Card Activity. Have cards or a folder that has familiar pictures (usually depicting word types that the kids are working on) and then have another set of cards or small strips that have the printed word. Place the Visual Phonics symbol under the letters of the word that you want them to “notice” . . . that could be single vowels, vowel families/teams, consonant letters (such as digraphs like /th/), etc. The object of the activity is to match the picture to the word. If you use picture cards, then you can add the word to the back of the card as a self-check.
  • Sorting by Sound. Have a set of word cards that have Visual Phonics symbols under the vowels or vowel teams (aka vowel digraphs). Have students sort by the vowel sounds, using the VP symbols as the sorting characteristic . . . remember that there are more than 6 spelling patterns for the sound of long A (A as a VP symbol). By using just the symbol, students don’t have to know all of the possible combinations long A, and the association built by having the symbol present is a great way to expose them to the different spelling patterns in words that have a common vowel sound. You could have 2 or 3 vowel sound groups in one set of cards. If the words are familiar, then the students should say each word after they have completed the sort and make the VP hand shape for the vowel sound as they say each word. This makes another connection of sound to print. This activity can be done as a partner or individual activity, or even as a small group activity with the teacher, aide, or volunteer.
  • Matching Activity. An extension of activity #2 would be to have a set of cards in letters and a set of corresponding cards written in VP symbols. The card with letters could have the VP symbol under the vowel sound . . . this makes it easier for some of the students to get the “match” quickly. For those who are already familiar with the words, use of the VP symbols provides another instance of connecting VP symbols and sound to print. The object of the activity is to match the words in letters to the words in symbols . . again, you can add the word in letters to the back of the card written in VP symbols as a self-check.
  • “Puzzle pieces”. I have seen this done for years. One part of a 2-piece puzzle has the letter and the other has the VP symbol for the sound the letter represents. The edges can be cut so that only 2 certain pieces will fit. This activity can also be done as a word building “puzzle”, with just the straight edges so a beginning letter, vowel and ending letter(s) can be combined. I’m sure that some of you already have materials that work on “assembly” with different letter combinations. A simple way to enhance this activity is to use Post-It tape and put VP symbols under the letter(s) – this will help develop better proficiency with the critical literacy foundation skill of mapping sound-to-print.
  • Folder activity. This is a slight variation of activity #1. There are so many of these – your only limitation is your creativity. Just one idea is to match words written in VP symbols to either pictures or to words in print. Look at what you already have and see if you can add VP symbols under the letters on which you want the students to focus – this is another place where Post-It tape can be used.
  • Word Search. Once the students know the hand shapes and have been exposed to the symbols, use word searches that you already have or can create on the computer, and put the VP symbols under the vowels on the word list that is the “key”.  An extension of this would be to cover the word list and rewrite the words in VP symbols. Students are capable of writing in symbols and I have personally seen this in students as young as Kindergarten!  Have a blank beside each “list” word and have students write the word in letters once they have found it in the grid . . . or have them write the word first, then find it in the grid . . . or let them do it whichever way works best for them. It really doesn’t matter, because the symbol (sound)/print connection is being made. Don’t require the students to do everything the same way . . . remember that the same outcome can be achieved through different types of efforts.
  • Fill in the Blank. This can be done with or without pictures, and on the word level or phrase/sentence level. If targeting vowel knowledge and using pictures, the word is under/beside the picture and the vowel spelling pattern is replaced with a blank space, with the VP symbol under the blank. Students then fill in the blank with the appropriate letter(s). For phrases/sentences, pictures are an option. The power of the picture plus the phrase/sentence will give the struggling learner more to go on. Here is where there could be some choices to the side or on a separate piece of paper. To make it very obvious, the VP symbols for whichever sound is being targeted could be under the blank and under the word in the choice bank. This provides an “indirectly” taught “link” which serves as a memory “hook” in the process of being able to map sound-to-print. Remember . . . 85% of what we learn is learned by association!
  • Sliders. I saw this and thought it was a great activity for centers or groups. This can be done with pocket charts or a sliding door on a thin box or envelope (Lakeshore Publishers sell specially made “cards” with the sliding door). The idea is that the word is covered by a piece of cardboard or vinyl (on pocket charts) that can be slid to the right through a slit on the left side of the pocket on the chart or box/envelope. As the word is uncovered letter-by-letter, students say the sound of each letter, make the corresponding hand shape, and then say the whole word once all letters become visible.

No matter what the activity, students need to saying each word at some point, and making the VP hand shapes as they say the words. Anytime we “piece” words, whether it be during the phonemic awareness activities of blending or segmenting, it is very important to say the whole word before moving on to the next word. Some words will require making a hand shape for each sound and some words will only need the hand shapes for the symbols they see (vowels, for example).

© 2010  Dave Krupke  All Rights Reserved