Reading Manipulatives

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Reading Manipulatives

10 Simple Things Every Early Reading Teacher Needs
By April Connelley


August means only one thing, back to school. Teachers gear up by organizing, decorating, and creating a physical space that supports learning. This is the time when teachers decide which materials to pull out and what to have at the ready for instruction. If you are a new teacher or new to the primary grades you might be asking, what should I make sure I have.


For several years of my career I was a reading interventionist. I was a teacher on a cart, moving from classroom to classroom. I pulled a small group of students to a horse shoe table, and worked with them for 30 minutes, while the classroom teacher continued instructing the rest of the class.


During this time, I learned what keeping it simple really meant, and how keeping things simple benefited students and made my planning easier. It forced me to think about what materials were the most beneficial and how I could use them for multiple purposes. So if you are a reading interventionist, teach small reading groups, or perhaps you have limited space or a cart to teach from, this list is for you.









1. Magnetic letters are a must. You’ll need enough for all the students in your group. Remember that includes making words with double letters. Not only do you need magnetic letters but you need them organized in a way that you can easily use them for multiple purposes. I used cookie sheets, with the letters A-Z across the top and bottom. Students could then easily build words in the middle. It’s important to teach routines and procedures from the beginning so students keep them organized.

HINT: Magnetic letters are great, but if you don’t have the funds to purchase them right now, letter tiles or even letter cards will also work.









2. A set of dry erase boards and markers are perfect for small groups of students. Students can write words and sentences easily for many different reasons.

HINT: If you don’t have the funds to purchase a nice set of dry erase boards right now, plastic sleeves make anything dry erase. Simply stick a piece of paper or thin cardboard into the sleeve and you have an instant dry erase surface.










3. Next on the list, plastic chips or counters. Really anything will work for this, even pennies or dry beans. You’ll find them handy for numerous things such as pushing the sounds in words or playing simple games.

HINT: Look and ask around, someone you know probably has a container of these they will be more than happy to pass on.








4. Make sure you have access to individual alphabet charts. If your school or district has a universal chart that everyone uses, make sure that’s the one you use.

HINT: Make sure your alphabet chart isn’t confusing and uses the most common sound for each letter. The pictures should be things that students recognize and are familiar with.










5. Making sure you have easy access to Elkonin Sound Boxes is important. This is something I kept in plastic sleeves, so students could eventually write on them with dry erase markers. Magnetic letters are also great to use with sound boxes.

HINT: Sound box templates can usually be found in commercial products like your core reading program OR they are easy to make on your own.









6. Picture cards, organized and easy to access, for all kinds of activities. Keep a sizable set of picture cards that you can use for numerous activities such as, picture sorting, matching sounds with magnetic letters, simple spelling activities, and blending/segmenting phonemes.














7. Have 2-3 generic game boards that you can use for multiple purposes by switching the cards out to whatever you are focusing on. Keeping the game boards simple and universal means kids don’t have to learn new rules all the time and you can change the purpose by swapping out different cards.

HINT: Your plastic chips can be used as game pieces.









8. Start collecting small objects to use for phonemic awareness activities. Students can sort by beginning, middle, or end sound; segment or blend; or clap syllables. Kids love small objects and the novelty motivates them to participate. You can collect basically anything, here are some suggestions: paperclip, marble, toy car, or a barrett. Again keep it simple by looking around your house and classroom.

HINT: You can buy containers of small objects, but why not repurpose things you have cluttering up your desk or home.










9. A small desktop pocket chart is also very helpful to have. Pocket charts can be used to demonstrate a skill, display something the whole group reads together, or to use for sorting activities.










10. Even in small groups, a pointer is helpful to students. It helps them know where you want them to look and focus their attention. Keeping one nearby is helpful. Anything will work, as long as it is the right length.

HINT: Early readers sometimes benefit from an individual pointer like a popsicle stick to help them track print while they read.


To wrap things up, I hope this list is helpful to get you started with a few practical, inexpensive, and simple materials that support reading instruction. I’d love to hear some of your must-have essential materials for reading instruction, please comment or email me at [email protected]



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