Phonics Puzzles for First Grade

Puzzles are a great hands-on activity for first grade students to practice short vowel (cvc) word families!

Word family puzzles allow students to work independently practicing reading word families and matching correct pictures. 

One of the great benefits of a puzzle activity like this is the self-checking feature of the puzzle shapes.

Not only are word family puzzles good practice (and easy for students to complete), but they make PERFECT word work station activities!

What Can You Do With Phonics Puzzles in First Grade?

What’s the benefit of CVC puzzles?

  • Phoneme blending and segmenting in addition to onset and rhyme (word family) matching
  • Hands on practice with key phonics skills
  • Self-checking feature give students immediate feedback
  • Clean design with less distraction for students

Once students are able to blend three phonemes to read a CVC word, the next step is to start “chunking” the word into parts to read it faster. 

For example, instead of sounding out c-a-t, students should be able to recognize the rhyme and only have to blend c-at. It helps them read faster!


Why do students need to practice word families?

(In case you are wondering what an onset/rhyme is… it’s a fancy way of identifying what we normally refer to as word families. The Rhyme starts at the first vowel and includes all of the subsequent letters. The Onset is all of the letters before the first vowel. For example, in the word cat, the onset is “c” and the rhyme is “at”.)

CVC puzzles offer students hands on practice with the key phonics skill of blending and reading short vowel word families. This is great for tactile and kinesthetic leaners.

There are several different puzzle designs creates a built in self-checking feature that makes these CVC word families perfect for independent word work stations or centers during guided reading time, morning work or early finisher activities.

These puzzles also offer “clean” designs without a lot of distraction for students. They simply show one clipart image, the onset and the rhyme.

First Grade Stations with Spelling Lists

Here are a few ways that you can use them:

  • Independent Word Work Station/Center
  • Small Group Instruction
  • RTI/Intervention Groups
  • Early Finishers
  • Morning Work

These short vowel CVC puzzles can serve SO many different purposes in your classroom!

For the basic level, students must:

  • Identify the picture
  • Match the onset
  • Match the rhyme
  • Read the word

For an advanced level, students can:

  • sort them into the different families (an, at, ag)
  • write a sentence using one word
  • write a story using as many of the words as possible
  • turn all letter cards over and play a memory game to make the different words

To use in a guided reading group or RTI/intervention group:

  • Help students read/sound out the onset
  • Help students read/sound out the rhyme
  • Guide students to blend the onset and rhyme together
  • Help students find the matching picture

A Spelling Station that works for ALL First Graders

Here's How to Differentiate:
As I mentioned earlier, the word family puzzles that I designed have built in self-checking features due to the different puzzle designs I used!
For struggling students, I also print the puzzles in a different color to use as a matching mat (as seen on the left). I've found that this extra step is very helpful for some students!
For students who need more of a challenge out of their spelling station, I have them write their words on a recording sheet. 
By recording sheet, I really mean just a blank sheet of paper. 
If I REALLY want to challenge them, I make them write complete sentences with their words OR see how many of those words they can write in one sentence and still have it make sense!

Next Step... Word Sorts!

The next step after word family puzzles is word sorting! 

Once students are comfortable with word families, I have my first grade students start sorting short and long vowel sounds.

Word sorts have similar benefits to word family puzzles because they are very hands on and interactive. 

Word sorts are the perfect resource for your guided reading group or stations especially when the pictures are easy to understand and sort.

The purpose of this station is for students to practice identifying the vowel sound in a word as a short vowel or a long vowel.

Students are given a picture card, then the student must sort it under short a or long a.

Use for:

  • Word Work Station/Center
  • Whole Group Phonics Instruction
  • Small Group Guided Reading Instruction
  • RTI/Intervention Tutoring Groups

Want to beef it up a little for more advanced learners?

Have students:

  • Write a sentence using one word from the word sort
  • Write a story using as many of the words as possible
  • Turn all picture cards over and play a memory game to match short a's or long a's
  • Play go fish with a partner to match short a's or long a's

First Grade Phonics Puzzles and Word Sorts

All of the spelling puzzles and word sorts seen in this post can be found HERE:

This product is a 5-Part phonics kit for teachers to use when teaching students about CVC (short vowel words). It is designed to give the busy and tired teacher everything they need to fulfill the phonics and spelling needs of their emerging readers.

More First Grade Phonics and Writing Favorites

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Kristen Sullins

Kristen Sullins

I am a current Elementary Librarian and
Enrichment Teacher, mother of two, follower of Christ and Texas native. In my own classroom, I love to save time by finding unique ways to integrate writing, social studies and science into all parts of my day. I also love all things organization!