Short Vowel CVC Word Activities & Games

As I learn more about the Science of Reading, I have been completely throwing out my old lessons and activities and creating new literacy resources. Over the last year, I have been developing short vowel CVC word activities. They were designed for preschool and kindergarteners, but I have used them with students as high as third grade to help them fill some learning gaps. 

After my children learned the letter sounds and how to make two-letter blends, they were ready to decode three-letter words. I created a learning unit for CVC three-letter words and word families for short vowel words. 

Please visit my Teacher’s Pay Teacher’s page for the recources included in this post. 

What are CVC words? 

CVC words are three-letter words that begin and end with a consonant, and the middle of the word is a vowel. Because consonants surround the vowel, the vowel will typically be pronounced with a short vowel sound. 

CVC word example.

What are short vowels?

In English, vowels can have long sounds when the letters; A, E, I, O, and U are pronounced how we say their name. Like in words acorn, be, silo, and unicorn. Short vowels are the other sounds vowels can make. These lazy sounds are found in terms like; hat, men, sip, dot, and bus. I love the way Secret Stories program teaches this. I use the Secret Stories app and better alphabet song daily to teach, reinforce, and practice letter sounds. 

Short vowel example.


ABC to CVC Toss Game

This game can be played with one child or in groups. I have used bean bags from Lakeshore Learning with letters printed on them for this activity and made my large alphabet cards using for visuals. We toss the letters all over the floor, and then I call out three letters at a time. Children gather the letters from around the ground and try to figure out the letters’ order to build CVC words. Another way to play this is using phonemic awareness picture cards of CVC words to call out what word to try and spell next. 

In August, this game was played with just a few letter cards, and then we gradually added more and more letters. Finally, starting in January, we added blends, digraphs, and sight words. The new additions to the game only cover things explicitly taught.

CVC toss game.

Sensory Bin Find and Read

Using a permanent marker, write letters on magnetic bingo chips. Place the letter chips around in a shallow tray and then cover them with colored rice or pom poms. Next, place CVC word cards or CVC visual cards and magnetic wands in a small container. Have children pull a card and search for the correct letters in the tray. For added help, have a word mapping mat with expo markers to help with decoding.

Hidden letters sensory bin for building CVC words.
Decoding set-up with magnetic bingo chips and wand.

Word Scramble 

Doing a quick 2-5 minute word scramble activity is one of my non-negotiable activities we do every day. I first learned the activity two decades ago while interning in a kindergarten classroom. I was mystified watching five-year-olds take seven letters, line them up in a row and listen as the teacher would call out word after word and talk them through the phonics skills they were learning. The entire activity moved so quickly and beautifully. When I became a teacher, I would use this for grades 3-5 with a small group and tutoring 1:1 only, and I wish I could go back in time and continue doing this with ALL students of every age! I review and teach skills using this activity, including; letter sound recognition, blending sounds, building CVC words, open & closed syllable words, syllable division rules, and encoding (spelling rules).

Magnetic Bingo Chips & Magnetic Wands: I used this resource to help students build CVC words. I love the versatility of using this resource. You can use permanent markers and write a letter on the chips. Then wipe them off with an expo marker. Students can even make their own to add an encoding activity to the lesson.

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Procedure for Word Scramble

  1. Hand out a strip of letters (teacher pre-made) or magnetic letters for small groups or 1:1. If you use letter strips, let students cut out each letter. 
  2. Model and ask students to line up all the letters on the top of their learning area. We line them up with vowels first, then ABC order for the consonants. 
  3. Have students say the sounds the letters say out loud. 
  4. The teacher says words aloud, and students build the words from the letter cards provided. I start with two-letter words and then build up to more powerful and rhyming words. 
  5. OPTIONAL: One way to play this game is to give specific letters that build the word with ALL the letters. See the example below for more details. For beginning CVC learning, I provide multiple consonants and only two vowels at a time, and children can make dozens of words for this activity. See the second image for that example.

Some materials I used for other versions of this activity are letter chips, small thematic letter cards, bingo chips, and magnetic letters. 

Read the Right Word

My child felt overwhelmed one day with decoding a book, so I closed the book and took out cards with ALL the words that the book included. First, I shuffled the cards and put four in front of her at a time. I called out one word, and her job was to find the correct word. Then, I tried making them have similar features so she wasn’t guessing. As she progressed, I started putting two words aside and asking her to read them. Then three, then four. Soon she had read entire sentences. Then I showed her the book again, and she felt more confident and was ready to try the challenge again.

Short A list of words.
Example words for students to need to sound out each sound in a word to select the correct choice.

CVC Dice

My favorite educational store, Lakeshore Learning, makes CVC dice! This is not an affiliate link; I want you to have this resource available if you want it. I LOVE IT! I throw three dice on a shallow tray, add three loose parts like gems, three colors of sticky notes, and a marker, and away we go! The gems are for slowly decoding tricky words. My kids love making nonsense words. So you can make lists of created words that are real vs. nonsense. The three-color sticky notes are for students to practice writing out the letters they rolled to form a word. After writing out the letters on each color, they reread the sticky notes. I also stack these sticky notes as a review activity when students are done creating words. Then they slowly pull off one note at a time to review reading the words they made. 

Organization of CVC Activities & Games

I was getting overwhelmed with all the resources I was making and using daily, so I decided to finally buy the colorful photo boxes I have seen for so long online and now realize why so many people use them! I have one vowel for each color; A is pink, E is orange, I is yellow, O is green, and U is blue. That leaves a few extra boxes for additional overflow resources for the letters. I also use purple for my Schwa word activities. 

I use mesh zip-lock bags for my letter-sized activities and games. Again I sort by vowel skill and use large and small clips and rubber bands to contain smaller parts. Then daily, I place whatever materials I need into my rolling cart, and away we go! Cheers! 

Other Posts for CVC Activities

For more posts about CVC please visit; CVC Word Building Activity- Science of Reading Center and Word Family Activities and Games.

What are some Science of Reading resources that help teach short vowels to beginning readers? 

  • HEGGERTY: I start phonemic awareness activities for 5 minutes at the beginning of my literacy block using Heggerty daily lessons. This resource has improved my spelling! I wish I had had this resource when I was in school! The tasks are simple, effective, and engaging for learners. I have used digital video lessons since I homeschool, but when I tutor older students, I do the task from printed resources.
  • HELLO LITERACY: I recommend this program by Jen Jones to everyone who will listen to me! I LOVE it so much! Her information and products have impacted my students and my knowledge of how to teach literacy more effectively. Her decodable books are excellent, and I follow her Scope and Sequence religiously! I highly recommend buying her decodable books + lessons. She includes countless activities for guided groups to teach phonic skills.
  • Secret Stories: Everyday homeschooling begins with The Better Alphabet Song from Secret Stories and then followed by a Heggerty lesson. I use the Secret Stories app when we come across a new word or phonic skill. Also I use the stickers from their TPT’s page for our daily chart/poems.
  • My Literacy Space: I LOVE all the ideas on this account! They have the BEST games and hands-on style literacy learning that all align to the Science of Reading. The activities are easy to implement right away with students!
  • SNIPPETS by SARAH: This teacher’s blog and Teacher’s Pay Teacher’s page has helped me begin my journey into SOR (Science of Reading). I am so grateful I came across her account on instagram!

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