9 Awesome Phonics Manipulatives You Need for Hands-On Multisensory Activities


Inside: Discover 9 essential literacy tools and phonics manipulatives to create engaging, hands-on multisensory phonics activities to help your students master essential reading skills.

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I printed the letters cat one by one on the whiteboard, turning to face my first-grade students sitting cross-legged on the rug. Their eyes were already glazing over from just watching me write.

“What sound?” I asked, pointing to the c.

“/k/” they chorused, trying to mask their boredom.

I moved to the next letter. “/a/”

Then finally, “/t/”.

“Okay, now let’s blend those sounds together into one word.” An awkward silence fell over the circle as they stared blankly at the flat letters on the board. I tried again, slowly stretching out “Caaaaaaattttt” while drawing my finger under the letters.

One brave student attempted, “C…c…cuh…a…a…tttt…cat?” But most just shrugged, having trouble understanding how these individual sounds and letters I kept putting on the board actually connected together into a whole word.

Their disengagement was obvious. While they could identify the separate phonemes, blending them into words was an incredibly abstract concept. Simply watching me write letters on the board wasn’t concrete enough for them to grasp how the sounds meshed together.

I needed to find the right phonics manipulatives and tools to create engaging multisensory activities to help my students grasp these critical skills.

9 Awesome Phonics Manipulatives You Need for Hands-On Multisensory Activities- phonics tiles

You Need to Make It Fun

Let’s be real—we know that giving kids traditional phonics worksheets and lessons isn’t exactly the way to get them excited about learning to read.

But do you know what does get them fired up?

Play. Kids love to play (even big kids).

And the easiest way to make learning feel like play is by giving your students hands-on, multisensory activities.

When students can touch, move, and physically interact with letters and sounds, those abstract concepts click in a whole new way. Multisensory phonics activities play to kids’ natural strengths, engaging their senses of sight, sound, and touch for maximum understanding and retention.

3 Powerful Benefits of Incorporating Multisensory Phonics Activities in Your Classroom

It Covers All Bases

Kids learn in various ways – some get it through listening, others need to see things, and then there are the hands-on learners who understand best by physically doing. 

Multisensory phonics activities cover those bases using visuals, sounds, and movement. 

That way, every student, regardless of their learning style, gets the kind of experience they need to grasp new reading skills.

alphabet magnets on a notebook

It Builds Brain Connections

There’s something about physically moving letters around and putting words together that helps kids get it.

When students engage multiple senses, they create interconnected neural pathways that solidify new information—which is a fancy way of saying they make the connection in the brain that they need to read better.

Moving the letters around and hearing the sounds makes stronger connections than just reading or listening alone.

a closeup of a students hands holding a bunch of colorful magnetic letters

Hands-on phonics practice isn’t just fun; it’s the key to helping kids truly master those essential reading skills.

It’s for All Learners

Multisensory activities provide an alternate road to success for kids who just can’t seem to “get” phonics through traditional methods. When they can manipulate letters or use color-coded tiles, phonics concepts click in a way worksheets alone can’t achieve. Multisensory methods boost confidence and create those satisfying reading breakthroughs.

a teacher doing a multisensory activity for literacy with a student using literacy tools

9 Must-Have Literacy Tools for Engaging Multisensory Phonics Activities

Bringing that multisensory magic into your literacy instruction is easier than you think. A huge part is simply having the right hands-on literacy tools in your classroom. 

With some planning, you can seamlessly work these phonics manipulatives into small group lessons, centers, independent work, or even whole-group multisensory activities.

 To get you started, I’m sharing my top 9 favorite phonics manipulatives for engaging all the senses during reading instruction.

two students working with phonics manipulatives

1. Magnetic Letters 

Magnetic letters are a classic—and I’m willing to bet you already have some in your classroom. These letters are a hands-on tool that allows students to construct and manipulate words physically. By providing a tactile and visual way to interact with letters, magnetic letters reinforce sound-symbol connections and engage multiple senses for better learning.

magnetic letters on a desk

2. Phonics Tiles

If you want to take your instruction to the next level and align with the Science of Reading, phonics tiles are a must. A step above basic magnetic letters, these color-coded tiles represent individual phonemes and graphemes. So, instead of just manipulating single letters, students construct words while visually separating the precise sounds and letters.

For example, to build the word “brush,” students would use one tile for the /b/ sound, one for /r/, one for /u/, and one for /sh/ – instantly seeing how those four distinct sounds blend together into the complete word. This purposeful, hands-on approach cements the understanding of how sounds merge to form words tangibly. Phonics tiles make those sound-spelling connections concrete.

phonics tiles in a container and scattered on a table

3. Sound Boxes 

Phonemic awareness—hearing, identifying, and manipulating individual sounds in words—is vital to building strong reading skills. Soundboxes are a fantastic way to develop this key literacy component.

Here’s how it works: The teacher says a word aloud, like “cat,” and students move letter tiles or markers into three separate boxed spaces to represent each distinct sound they hear – /c/ /a/ /t/. 

Students solidify their understanding of how words are constructed from individual phonemes by physically segmenting and assembling the sounds.

Sound boxes incorporate visual and kinesthetic elements to lock in phonemic concepts. Students love the interactive, hands-on process of analyzing words at the sound level. Plus, reversing the process and blending boxed sounds provides practice in the other core skills of phonics instruction. It’s so simple yet incredibly effective!

an elkonin sound box with a hand pushing counters onto it

4. Reading Rods 

Reading rods are color-coded plastic or wooden rods that each represent a single phoneme. (Think snap cubes with graphemes on them).

To build words, students connect the rods together sound by sound.

For example, to make the word “train,” a student would grab the /t/ rod, attach the /r/ rod, the /ai/ rod, and finally, the /n/ rod. 

This kinesthetic, multisensory approach makes the abstract concept of blending phonemes tangible and concrete. Students can slowly release the rods to “separate” the sounds and reinforce segmenting skills.

An added bonus? Visual learners will benefit from the color coding, while hands-on learners thrive on physical manipulation. Reading rods are a fun, interactive way to turn the skills of blending and segmenting into an educational “word worker” multisensory phonics activity!

a close up of a students hands putting reading rods together to spell the word "chain"

5. Handheld Mirrors 

A simple handheld mirror can be a game changer when helping students become better readers.

They let students watch their mouths as they articulate different phonemes. This multisensory practice reinforces how speech sounds are produced.

Instead of hearing the sounds as they make them, students can visually observe the placement of their lips, tongues, and teeth to ensure accuracy. 

They’ll connect sounds to kinesthetic feelings as letters require voiced or unvoiced pronunciation. Self-reflection becomes a critical piece of truly mastering sound production.

a teacher working with a student to make sounds using a mirror

6. Stamps 

Stamps are an oldie- but a goodie. It’s just more fun to use stamps!

Rather than just writing out words on a worksheet, stamping adds a kinesthetic, artistic element as students imprint each letter. The physical act of stamping words reinforces those crucial sound-spelling mappings as both visual and muscle memory kick in.

alphabet phonics manipulatives

7. Sound Wall 

It’s time to let go of your word wall if you haven’t done so already. A sound wall is what you need in your classroom and in your life.

A sound wall takes the concept of an alphabet strip and transforms it into an interactive, multisensory reference for phonics instruction. More than just static letters, a sound wall purposefully connects graphemes (letters or letter combinations) to their corresponding phonemes (speech sounds).

Regularly referencing and interacting with the sound wall helps solidify those vital sound-letter associations. As students physically engage with the wall’s components, they cement the phonics skills needed for fluent decoding and encoding.

Read more about sound walls here.

a colorful sound wall

8. Dry Erase Boards & Markers 

Putting dry erase boards and markers into your students hands is an easy (yet powerful) way to make your phonics instruction more engaging and effective.

Instead of just responding orally during encoding activities, kids can write out each letter or word as they sound out and blend the phonemes. Seeing their work gets them actively involved in a multisensory way.

It also allows you to scan around the room and quickly check for understanding—did students apply the sound-spelling skills correctly as they encoded the word in writing? By having students wipe and reattempt, you can address errors in a low-stakes, no-pressure environment.

The kinesthetic act of writing each letter in sequence as they pronounce the sounds creates another valuable association. The physical motion, combined with auditory processing and visual feedback, reinforces those phonics patterns.

a student preparing to write on a dry erase board with a dry erase marker

9. Pointer Wands

So I know you’ve seen these in the Target dollar spot or the dollar store and just thought of them as silly crappy toys for kids. Buuut- they can actually provide valuable literacy support!

Beginning readers can use toys like witch fingers to track print- which helps them actively reinforce print awareness and fluency skills engagingly.

The playfulness of using a themed character pointer or silly “witch finger” wand makes word tracking feel like a game rather than a chore. So, students stay focused and motivated as they practice sliding the wand smoothly under each word, building habits for fluent reading. 

The kinesthetic motion paired with visual tracking helps cement these foundational behaviors into muscle memory. With consistent use, pointer wands become simple yet powerful literacy tools for developing expert reading skills.

a student using wiggly eyes reading pointer

Reading Success with These Science of Reading Literacy Centers

I know you’re busy. And you might not have time to find multisensory phonics activities that will work well with these hands on materials. 

You need something now that will give your students meaningful multisensory practice.

And I have it ready for you.

You need these Science of Reading Literacy Centers in your life.

a huge collection of Science of Reading Literacy centers with multisensory activities

These resources have all the hands-on games, multisensory activities, and printables you need to teach a ton of sounds and skills in a super engaging way. It includes resources that follow brain-friendly methods that turn those abstract phonics concepts into something kids can actually touch and interact with.

You’ll find literacy centers designed to help students master skills like blending, segmenting, and connecting sounds to letters. The activities are perfect for using with phonics manipulatives like magnetic letters, phonics tiles, and reading rods to engage those senses. 

Don’t have all the phonics tools yet? No worries! 

I’ve included printable grapheme tiles you can laminate and cut apart to make things hands-on.

a multisensory activity for mapping, graphing, and writing words with short a

Even the paper-based activities avoid boring worksheets. The cut-and-paste ones have kids physically moving and building words while reinforcing those phonics patterns. It’s a kinesthetic way to solidify the skills!

Here’s my favorite part – all the centers follow the same routine and format. Once kids get the hang of an activity type, they can work independently on new sounds. Just explain the focus, and they’re set! No re-teaching procedures every time.

With over 30 sounds and spelling patterns included, this set streamlines your prep while still providing that dynamic, multisensory phonics practice all year long. 

From short vowels to blends to vowel teams – you’ve got engaging, hands-on phonics tools to cement every key concept.

Use these in small groups, literacy centers, or even whole-class lessons to let students actively explore phonics in concrete ways. Get ready for some serious reading level-up!

Seamlessly Integrate Phonics Manipulatives into Your Daily Routine

Okay, you’ve got all the must-have literacy tools. How do you actually implement multisensory phonics practice? Here are a few tips:

  • Start small by introducing one manipulative at a time during explicit instruction or centers.
  • Give your kids an unstructured chance to “play” with the phonics tools before expecting them to use them properly (let them get it out of their system!)
  • Rotate and switch up the activities to keep things novel and engaging.
a multisensory literacy activity for graphing and writing words

Your Students NEED This Multisensory Magic

Whether your students are crushing it with phonics or really struggling, multisensory activities provide tools to cement those letter-sound connections finally. 

You’ll watch kids joyfully construct words with magnetic letters, segment sounds into physical boxes, or connect colored rods to build word families. (We all love a good lightbulb moment).

It’s time to ditch the old-school worksheets that fail to entertain kids today. 

Instead, engage your students’ minds, hands, eyes, and ears through immersive, multisensory phonics interactions. 

a child sits on the floor using alphabet phonics tools while a teacher works with another student at a table in the background

When learning is concrete and hands-on, those skills become solidly rooted.

Use the links above to stock your classroom with essential phonics manipulatives. Be sure to explore the Science of Reading Phonics Centers in my TPT store—these resources will upgrade your instruction through fun, multisensory methods.

Your students need a brains-on approach to crack the phonics code. Grab these materials, and get ready to be amazed by their reading growth. The journey to literacy mastery is about to begin!

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Melissa Glenn

I’m a teacher, a certified Reading Specialist, and the author behind "Real Life in the Classroom". I love to create classroom resources and share ideas to help real teachers in real classrooms easily plan and implement instruction that they can feel great about.

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Hi, I'm Melissa!

I’m Melissa Glenn of Real Life in the Classroom. I live in New Jersey with my husband, Tom, our two children, and our dog, Klaus. I taught first grade for 12 years and I also have a certificate in Reading Specialization. I love spending time with my family, all things tech, [online] shopping, and new books!