Are you familiar with the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR)? They have done incredible work making effective research-based literacy activities, and they offer them all for free on their website. The centers include directions for teachers and all the necessary materials. They are mostly print and go activities requiring minimal teacher prep (Yay for that because we are all short on time these days!) There are so many resources on their site that it's tough to find what you're looking for at the time you need it. You can view the collections of resources by type (phonics, fluency, comprehension, etc) and by grade level band. There is also a search tool. Take some time later and see all that they have to offer.
All Reading Center Activities: http://www.fcrr.org/resources/resources_sca.html
Here are my three favorites that have been proven to work with my struggling readers over the past few years.
1. Vowel Picture Sort- This activity is an essential part of my reading curriculum. I do it whole group before my students start learning the long vowels, and I revisit it in small groups when my students need intervention. In the activity, students must listen for the medial vowel in picture cards and then sort based on a long or short vowel sound that is heard. Often in reading instruction, we rush straight from teaching short vowels to introducing the long vowel sounds and magic e rule. This exercise slows the learning down and makes sure that students are developmentally ready for the concept that one letter (the vowel) can stand for more than one sound. The activity trains the ear to segment the vowels and helps students hold both the long and short sounds in their brains. Try this activity with your students. I promise, it will not be time wasted.
2. Vowel Stars-This is another one of my favorite games. Students are asked to change the short vowel in CVC words (example: dig, dog, dug). I usually do this task with students in small groups and make it a competition. They try to get 4/5 or 5/5 correct before switching cards. Students could even grade each other and listen for their peer's responses. I explain the importance of listening for the subtle differences in words in my blog post titled Same Same but Different.
3. Phoneme Swap-In my opinion, students don't get enough time playing with sounds. We used to do more nursery rhymes, poems, and songs in Kindergarten, but now that the reading standards have been pushed down, the Kdg teachers must teach letters and sounds earlier than before so the students miss that language playtime. I believe the missing skill in struggling readers is phonemic awareness (specifically the ability to segment and blend sounds). This activity addresses that weakness. Students must determine how words are changed (ex-boat to coat). That phoneme manipulation will help students improve their spelling and decoding abilities.
Try these activities with your students, especially the ones struggling with learning to read. And have fun exploring the FCRR resources! Let me know your favorites by commenting below.