How to Challenge Students That Don’t Need Basic Phonics

Do you have students that just fly through phonics practice?  What about students who are just bored with the simple and basic one-syllable words that are often associated with learning phonics?  Well, it doesn’t have to be this way.  As students become better readers we need better phonics words to keep pushing them forward.  You ask yourself, “How do you challenge students that don’t need basic phonics?” Challenge Phonics to the rescue!

phonics instruction that leads to mastery

Teaching phonics is so important to building strong, confident readers. However, sometimes our readers pass up the phonics lessons that are often filled with one syllable words that are ideal for lower reading levels.  Other students need more than that in order to continue growing their reading and spelling skills. They need to see the phonics rules in higher level words that better correspond to their reading level.  They need their material to be differentiated for them because they don’t need the basic phonics rules.  They need a phonics challenge!

What is Challenge Phonics?

For years I’ve watched as many students easily complete phonics activities because they are just easy. This is especially true with 2nd and 3rd grade students who have mastered or are close to mastering phonics, students who are making the transition from learning to read to reading to learn.  They have been exposed to phonics rules since kindergarten and they need a challenge to take their learning and mastery to the next level.

Challenge Phonics is meant to be a challenge.  It is perfect for those students who are easily flying through the simple words that are often associated with phonics lessons.  It is perfect for grade level students that are ready to be pushed just a little.  And it is perfect for independent phonics practice while you are working with small groups.

Challenge Phonics is filled with multiple-syllabic words that highlight and target all of the phonics sounds and spelling patterns.  Students are challenged to use their knowledge of the phonics sounds to work with more advanced words, words that will challenge them, words that will help them get to the next level of reading, spelling and writing!

The Method

Through the years I’ve noticed some consistent methods that have helped my students learn phonics rules and sounds.  Methods that all my students have learned from and remembered.  Methods that have led to mastery. I’ve taken those methods and put them into Challenge Phonics so that I know my students are working independently in a similar way to proven teaching methods.

Within each Challenge Phonics set your students will get repeated exposure to the target sound and spelling pattern.  It is not enough to teach a phonics sound, give some word examples and then move on.  Our students need repetition and repeated exposure.  In Challenge Phonics every sound combination comes with four different no-prep printable practice pages. Each page is filled with numerous opportunities for students to work with the target sound.

phonics pages for ai vowel combination long a sound
In addition to repeated exposure, students are provided with a wide variety of activities.  This variety allows them opportunities to work with the target sound and spelling pattern in different ways.  For each phonics sound, students will be seeing or using the sound in a variety of ways. Your students will use the target phonics sound in:

  • reading words
  • within syllables
  • spelling in multiple activities
  • word meaning
  • reading a passage with a focus on the target sound
  • reading comprehension 
  • writing with the words

  Through this variety students get the big picture of words, not just a spelling list.

no prep phonics practice ee vowel combination long e sound
In this activity pictured above, students are working with words in many different ways.  This is a great introductory page to get students started on the new sound.
phonics based reading passage ea vowel combination long e sound
Next, students work on reading with the target sound.  However, reading is taken out of sentence form and put into a full a reading passage.  After finding the words with the target sound and reading 3 times, students are challenge with reading comprehension questions to check their understanding.
phonics in spelling and vocabulary ai vowel combination long a sound
In another activity students focus word meaning and syllables.  Students are really working to put together the full picture of the words and their spelling patterns.
ai vowel combination phonics puzzle long a sound
Finally, students can finish with a spelling based puzzle.  Who doesn’t love puzzles?!?


Students Doing Phonics

We all love when our students have those a-ha moments.  But as I think back I realize that very few of those moments came from me telling my students something.  The vast majority of those moments came from students doing. Doing activities that are designed to help them learn and practice a skill or concept.  This is when their brains start firing neurons and building connections.  Our students must be doing phonics to learn phonics.
teaching phonics and a ha moments

In My Classroom . . .

Students in my classroom use Challenge Phonics during their independent center time while I am working with small groups. Our I will work in small groups with my struggling learners to provide them with direct instruction using words that are on their reading level.  This allows them opportunities to work with the words without being frustrated.  My on level students may start Challenge Phonics with me as we work together to talk about the sound and the word list.  However, once they have been introduced to the words through small group teaching they are usually able to complete the activities independently.  My above level students will get the phonics instruction as it is introduced whole class, but they are ready to work on all of the Challenge Phonics pages on their own.
Challenge Phonics also makes a super easy way to differentiate for the needs of my students.  Sometimes we are all working on the same phonics sound and spelling pattern, but sometimes we are not. Sometimes our target phonics sound is connected to our guided reading selections, which will vary by level.  Having Challenge Phonics on hand, I can quickly and easily pull different phonics practice for my different groups.

Give it a Try!

I think you will love Challenge Phonics as much as my students and I do.  But don’t take my word for it – try it.  This printable FREE 4 weeks free set of Challenge Phonics is a perfect way to try it out for yourself.  Or you can try out the digital CH digraph for free as well!


You can find the full set of Challenge Phonics in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  I have sets for long vowels, digraphs and diphthongs.  You can even find a bundle with all of them and save.  All of the sets are available in DIGITAL FORMAT too! 
teaching phonics digraphs set printables

teaching phonics diphthongs resource

teaching phonics vowel combinations long vowel sounds

teaching phonics no prep resources

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Are you looking for a way to challenge your  high-flying students during your phonics time or add center work to your upper grades?