Monster News

Playing with sounds: Phonic fun

It’s good to make any area of school life fun, phonics included. Educational Consultants for Teach Your Monster to Read, Angela Colvert and Alison Kelly discuss their favourite methods for teaching phonics.

Teachers have used phonics as a method for teaching reading since Victorian times! Look at a photo of a Victorian classroom and you will see rows of children being taught to sound out letters to make words such as ‘cat’. Move forward to the 21st century and you still see children sounding out phonemes (sounds) and blending them to read (or the reverse – segmenting the phonemes and turning them into graphemes to spell).

Children learning

So what’s changed? First and foremost, we know a great deal more about how children learn and, specifically, how they learn to read. Victorian teaching was governed by behaviourist ideas with imitation and reinforcement at its heart: drilling was the order of the day. More recent learning theory (drawing from the work of Vygotsky, Bruner, Mercer and Alexander amongst many others) has taught us that children need to be active in their learning, that learning is essentially social. The importance of the teacher has not diminished but he or she is there to scaffold children’s understanding rather than drill facts into children once viewed as empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge.

A challenging language

The teaching of phonics in the 21st century is still based on the idea that children need to be able to crack the alphabetic code. In the case of English, it’s a tricky code because we have more phonemes than we do letters. The linguist, David Crystal, traces one reason for this: the alphabet we use was not originally intended to fit English sounds and dates back thousands of years to the Middle East where a north Semitic language very similar to Hebrew was spoken. This was passed from the Phoenicians to the Greeks and Romans. When Christian missionaries arrived in this country in the sixth century they brought the Roman alphabet with them. In addition, of course, repeated early invasions added to our linguistic pot! The resulting misfit between symbols and sounds of this opaque language means that some letters have to work overtime to address this (digraphs and trigraphs such as ch, sh, ai, igh).

Teaching reading now

As well as developing their understanding of the alphabetic code, children today must learn that reading is a wonderfully rewarding activity: they need to know that time spent cracking the code is worthwhile. Hence the amazing efforts that teachers make to provide engaging and welcoming reading classrooms. A teacher can be the best teacher of phonics in the world but if the children are not motivated to read, then all his or her efforts have been for nothing.

Whilst children in the Victorian classroom were typically learning words by rote for testing, there is much more emphasis now on applying phonic knowledge to real, authentic reading. This is why phonics is often taught today using a four-part lesson structure: ‘Revisit and Review’ (running through previously learnt knowledge); ‘Teach’ (learning a new grapheme-phoneme correspondence); ‘Practise’ (practising it in a word – either reading or spelling) and ‘Apply’ (applying the new learning in a sentence).

What else is different? Well, it’s how we teach. Teaching phonics today can be fun, active and multi-sensory. Children are not passive recipients of phonic knowledge; they should be engaging actively with it. It’s for this reason that teachers make use of a wealth of games in delivering a four-part phonic lesson. Here are just a few examples:


  • There are graphemes (letters) scattered over the classroom or playground floor. Children are given a picture and have to find the matching grapheme (or vice versa).
  • Children sing songs with actions to accompany different sounds.
  • Children have grapheme baseboards. When the teacher calls out a phoneme the children have to match it on their board, using a counter.


  • Teachers provide an engaging imaginative context in which to learn a new grapheme-phoneme correspondence, e.g. “Santa’s Christmas e-e-e-elf has got a special box. Can you help him find the presents that start with /e/?” (This would work well in Revisit and Review as well).
  • The teacher hides the new grapheme behind a whiteboard. Children have to hiss each time it peeks out.
  • The children are given little smelling pots to introduce a new sound (soap, strawberries, sweets, salt and vinegar crisps).


  • Full circle: the children are all given grapheme cards. They are asked to form a starting word e.g. ‘ship’ and change one phoneme at a time until the game comes full circle to ‘ship’ again (e.g. ship, chin, thin, than, can, cash, rash, rang, ring, rip, ship).
  • Snowballs: a great game for practising different pronunciations of the same letter. There are alternatives attached to two buckets (e.g. ‘down’ and ‘snow’). Children have pieces of paper with words from both groups. They scrunch them up and throw their ‘snowball’ into the correct bucket.
  • Bucket game: the children are in four teams. Each team has to run to a bucket which has pictures of words, for example, with the /aw/ phoneme (‘paw’, ‘lawn’, ‘saw’ e. Children run in turns to the bucket and collect a picture. They run back to team who decide on the word and make it either using post-it notes (p – aw) or magnetic letters.

Children also need plentiful opportunities to practise and apply their knowledge outside the four-part lesson. Skilful teachers leave out props and materials used in the lesson for the children to play with later. And playing is good: it reinforces understanding and supports the new learning. Watch children uncovering buried pebbles with graphemes on them; shooting grapheme ping-pong balls down a chute and returning another one with the same phoneme but different grapheme and playing teacher with the grapheme and picture cards used in the session. This playfulness is key in enhancing all the rigour of the phonics lesson itself.

Phonics is fun: enjoy!

Angela Colvert Senior Lecturer, University of Roehampton

Alison Kelly, Educational Consultant

This article was originally published on Innovate My School in June 2015

Sign up and play Teach Your Monster to Read for free!

Using the game in school

Ewa Wilson, Deputy Headteacher at Bonners Church of England Primary School in East Sussex has used Teach Your Monster to Read with her students over the past few years. She currently teaches Year 1 and 2 and is also the SLE (Specialist Leader for ICT/Computing) at the school.

I discovered Teach Your Monster to Read while searching for phonics games online. I was looking for a fun and engaging phonics review game for students in Reception and Year 1.

Teach Your Monster to Read is relevant for key stage 1 and works as an effective additional tool for classroom phonics teaching and intervention groups. It is also free to play.

The game was a instant hit with the children. It captured the children’s imagination in an interesting and colourful way and the children just wanted to play it.

How do you use it in class?

I have used Teach Your Monster to Read in our phonics and literacy lessons, with the Reception class students, Year 1s and also with the after school reading intervention class.

We generally use the games for 20 minute individual computer sessions, 5 minute bursts (when children had some spare moments free), or as a class IWB session.

During our IWB sessions, children identify the sounds using a button within Teach Your Monster to Read that enables you to press on the grapheme so you can hear the phoneme. This works as a brilliant introduction to the sounds they will be working on that day and it also helped the children practise the sounds that appear on the screening test.

Screen shots from Teach Your Monster to Read 3: Champion Reader
Who plays the game?

The game is split into 3 levels. The reception class use the first game in the series, First Steps which is an introduction to the letter sounds, high frequency words and also includes simple blending and segmenting practice.

Even young reception class students were able to access the game, log on and go straight into playing. This accessibility encourages independent practice and also mouse control.

Year 1 students progress on to the harder levels and begin to practise sentences, learn further graphemes and phonemes and also tricky words. Game 3, Champion Reader has been particularly useful for those children who were coming up to the phonics assessment.

The game is also used in the after school intervention class. The children are always excited to show their parents their monsters and the game. It’s a good homework resource and parents can easily sign up their children to the game. It’s also simple to set up as a teacher, and there’s a parent letter that you can download and share.

Why does the game work?

What stands out for me is that children are completely engaged with the game. They are immersed in the world of Teach Your Monster to Read. It is an adventure rather than a set of stop and start mini games, so the reading practice flows along without stopping, which helps with independent learning.

The children become very attached to their monsters and want to make sure their monsters are learning to read. They also see the monster as their little learning partner, and this is one of the unique features of the game that really brings it alive.

The children are teaching their own monster to read and this is taking the pressure off their own learning. They grow in confidence because they are acting as the teacher and this confidence helps them engage with wider reading in general.

It’s so easy to use too. Sign in and off you go. Children can very easily use this at home or in the classroom, and work through it at their own speed.

How does Teach Your Monster to Read improve teaching/learning?

I noticed a big impact in their phonics knowledge, particularly when using the ‘sound button’ within game 3’s Champion Reader.

The game also helped children learn their ‘high frequency words’. These words are integrated into Teach Your Monster to Read. The children have to collect the little ‘tricky’ creatures and put them in their monster’s pocket. They see the words, and also read them within a sentence, which helps retain this new knowledge.

Progress is also monitored in the game and it is possible to see which sounds need extra work. This helps me to make an instant formative assessment of the student’s level and ability.

What difference has it has made to the classroom?

The children’s enthusiasm for Teach Your Monster to Read is astounding, and it has created a real excitement around learning to read away from the computer.

Teach Your Monster to Read can also be relied on as a homework tool. The game contains all the relevant information to help fill in the gaps in learning; high frequency words, blending and segmenting practice and lots of sentence practice.

It’s made phonics lessons more exciting, and it is a brilliant addition to a teacher’s phonics toolkit.

Going forward…

It would be very easy to integrate the game into other classroom activities; storytelling, character and personality descriptions. We’ll be using Teach Your Monster to Read in the coming year, and hope to make more of this fantastic resource.

Sign up and play for free at:


Watch the new game trailer!

Happy summer holiday from Teach Your Monster to Read!

Teach Your Monster to Read would like wish all our teachers a very happy summer holiday and we’d like to thank you for all your support over the past year.

It’s been a fantastic year for Teach Your Monster to Read and the Usborne Foundation with the launch of our third game, Champion Reader, which has surpassed all expectations. It has been played over 30,000 times in its first month of launch!

We’ll be sharing some new resources with you in September; including phonics songs and animations, physical game ideas and IWB activities. Exciting stuff!

We’re looking for teachers in the coming months to work through some improvements to the first game. If you’re interested in testing our new games and products in class then do get in touch: [email protected]

Thanks and enjoy your summer!

The Teach Your Monster to Read team.

Beta testing Champion Reader

Children and teachers from several schools across the world helped to beta test the new Teach Your Monster to Read game, Champion Reader, over the past few months. They played it extensively, looking for bugs and reporting back on educational issues and playability.

It was an insightful experience for everyone involved and we had some fantastic suggestions from the children. Our favourite suggestions was a vampire cloak and a pink dress to go in the shop, more stars to collect, and the mega treasure chest stuffed full of treats.

Teachers suggested many improvements, such as a map for the new world and better ways to navigate the monsters through the game. Teachers had a big input into the words and sentences used in Champion Reader, too.

It was invaluable to have this kind of insight into how the game works in a classroom setting and has helped make Champion Reader even better.

Thank you to our teachers Helen, Matt, Gina, Kimberlee, Nicky, Kristal, Tom, Dawn, Ewa, Debbie and their students!

Ms Lewis’ class in Florida using Teach Your Monster to Read on the whiteboard.

Geavoni, testing the new game for bugs while teaching his monster to read.

Here’s what one of our testing teachers said about Teach Your Monster to Read. Thanks Kimberlee!

“The Teach Your Monster to Read program is a truly amazing addition to the classroom curriculum. After teaching or reviewing phonics I would allow students to work with their monsters to reinforce what they had learned. The activities presented helped students practice phonemic awareness as well as essential word building skills. While my students enjoyed creating and teaching their monsters I felt that the most important part of the experience was the deep joy they discovered in reading. – Ms Lewis, First Grade Teacher

If you would like to join in and test for Teach Your Monster to Read in the future, please get in touch by emailing [email protected].

Find out more about Teach Your Monster to Read 3: Champion Reader.

Teach Your Monster to Read 3: Champion Reader is LIVE!

We’re excited to announce the launch of our fantastic new game Teach Your Monster to Read 3: Champion Reader – it’s our biggest adventure yet!

Building on children’s existing reading knowledge, this new adventure offers extended phonics and reading practice for young learners.

Take your monster on a brilliant new adventure. Visit a universe full of dazzling planets and curious characters.

Your mission is to defeat the horrible Goblin Prince and become a Champion Reader!

Champion Reader is completely free to play online.

Sign in and play

Find out more about this game and the Teach Your Monster to Read series.

Read magical spell books and help your monster on its journey

In Teach Your Monster to Read 3: Champion Reader, the monster’s mission is to a cast magical spell to banish the Goblin Prince and rescue Jessica’s friends from the blocks of ice they’re trapped in.

The monster must find the Goblin Prince then creep past his lair and grab the spell book from under his nose. Tiptoe, tiptoe… snatch!

Once the monster has the spell book, its mission is to complete the sentences within the book and read them out loud. This will send the Goblin Prince away from the planet and out into the universe once more.

This spell book mini-game engages the children in purposeful, fun reading and they are getting practice in reading sentences.

Teach Your Monster to Read 3 launches on 4th June 2015.

Log in or sign up here to play the first two games in the series, Teach Your Monster to Read: First Steps or Teach Your Monster to Read: Fun With Words:

Cross the chasm by reading or spelling the word correctly.

In this new Teach Your Monster to Read mini game, Stepping Stones, the monster must jump across the turtles to get to the other side.

Hear a word and then choose the right letters on the turtles’ backs to make the word.

Read a word and choose the right sounds on the turtles to blend its sounds together.

Be careful, if the monster gets the word wrong, it goes back to the other side.

This game helps children to rehearse blending and segmenting of individual words. It also helps children read and spell words that have split digraphs in them.

Teach Your Monster to Read 3 launches on 4th June 2015.

Log in or sign up here to play the first two games in the series, Teach Your Monster to Read: First Steps or Teach Your Monster to Read: Fun With Words:

Super Jump – a new mini game in Teach Your Monster to Read 3: Champion Reader

The monster is on its quest to find the Goblin Prince and is exploring the new planets.

It comes across a yellow trampoline. Of course the monster cannot resist having a jump around, but on its first jump, it shoots off into another dimension.

The monster now finds itself flying through the sky in a meteor shower. Watch out!

The monster must now find the right letter sounds on the meteors to make the word and get to the next part of the game.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. Good luck monsters!

This game helps rehearse segmenting using a target grapheme.

Teach Your Monster to Read 3 launches on 4th June 2015.

Log in or sign up here to play the first two games in the series, Teach Your Monster to Read: First Steps or Teach Your Monster to Read: Fun With Words: http:/

Teach Your Monster to Read and defeat the evil Goblin Prince!

The monster has found itself in a galaxy ruled by a horrible Goblin Prince. The Goblin Prince is round and green. He wears armour and comes complete with a villainous cackle.

The monster’s mission (should it choose to accept it) is to banish the Goblin Prince from the galaxy and prevent him causing more trouble in the universe.

Helped by his friend Jessica, the monster must work through all the reading challenges on the planet, collect stars and read the spell book to banish the Goblin Prince once and for all.

Just watch out for the Goblin’s henchmen. They look tough, but they are really scaredy-cats!

Teach Your Monster to Read 3 launches on 4th June 2015.

Log in or sign up here to play the first two games in the series, Teach Your Monster to Read: First Steps or Teach Your Monster to Read: Fun With Words:

Win a Teach Your Monster to Read T-shirt

We have three Teach Your Monster to Read kids T-shirts to giveaway. All you need to do is name our cute new game 3 character, The Dragon.

The best answer (as judged by some of our young players) will be sent one of our T-shirts (size 5 years). Just put your suggestions in the comment box below.

Here’s a couple of our monster fans wearing the T-shirts.

Don’t forget! Teach Your Monster to Read 3: Champion Reader launches on 4th June 2015.

The deadline for the competition is 1st June 2015. Terms and Conditions can be found here.

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