• Katelyn Robey

Daily Phonics Drill, part 2: Hear and Do

Updated: Jun 9

In this mini-series, I’ll be breaking down each component of a phonics review that I do almost daily with my students.

The Daily Phonics Drill has 4 components, 2 of which use phonics cards:

  1. Look and Say: Students look at a phonics card, and say it’s sound. I’ll describe this part in more detail below. No worries, it’s quite simple.

  2. Hear and Do: Students hear a sound, and “do” (or write) the sound in a way that piques student’s tactile memory. I choose sand, but there are other less messy options as well. More on this to come in another post.

  3. Segment and Blend: Phonics cards are set up as syllables for students to segment and blend together.

  4. Short Vowel Practice: Students practice hearing and isolating short vowel sounds by listening to a syllable and repeating the vowel sound

Look and Say

Hear and Do

HEAR AND DO: Details of the phonics routine

This is BY FAR the most fun for students of all ages, and is the part of the Phonics Drill that can never ever ever be skipped for any reason without groans from the students. First graders loved this part of the drill and my current fifth graders love this part of the drill. When using the sand, it seems more like play than learning, which is what makes it so highly motivating for students! A win-win for everyone!

WHO needs this phonics practice?

My suggestion for whole group review with The Daily Phonics Drill:

  1. Kindergarten – 4 or 5 times per week

  2. First Grade – 3 times per week, unless the class as a whole struggles with phonics and is still reviewing alphabetic concepts (like d says /d/, a says /a/, etc. as opposed to blends and long vowel patterns)

  3. Second Grade – 2 or 3 times per week, again depending on the class’s phonetic skills

  4. Third Grade – 1 or 2 times per week, probably at the beginning of the week to get brains up and running again after the weekend

  5. Forth Grade – 1 time per week, if that.

The Phonics Drill is perfect for use in intervention, and can be tailored to meet the specific needs of students. As an intervention tool, I would use it daily for K/1 students and at least 3 times per week for 2-4 grade students. Obviously, this is all completely dependent upon the needs of the group. Currently, I use this drill twice per week with my highest level (5th grade intervention) groups who are reading at a level T (Fountas and Pinnell levels), and daily for my lowest (4th grade intervention) groups who are reading at a level D.

WHY practice phonics every day?

The Hear and Do portion of the Phonics Drill is aimed at allowing students to hear a sound and associate that sound with the letter or letters that are used to spell that sound. While this drill benefits the reading skills of students, the main goal is for this drill to support students in gaining automaticity as they hear sounds to spell words.

A huge and very important aspect of Hear and Do is that it’s tactile, or kinesthetic, and is also the most obvious reason that The Phonics Drill as a whole is a multisensory instructional tool. Adding some type of sensory material (and NOT pencil/paper, ideally) helps students retain the information they’re practicing, amping up its effectiveness. I choose to use sand with students both whole group and small group for this portion of the drill because of the huge sensory impact it has, but it’s not the easiest or cleanest to manage.

For those that want to use the sand, which I recommend, a list of student rules is at the bottom of the post and organizational tips for the teacher are a few paragraphs down. With these rules and organization methods, I’ve not had any issues in my first grade classroom, fourth grade classrooms, or intervention groups of any age.

If sand isn’t going to work for you, there are PLENTY of sensory options to choose from that are still highly effective at helping kids retain and recall sound and letter associations. Keep reading (or scroll down a bit) for a list of ideas.

Hear and Do MATERIALS:

The teacher will need a sound chart for this Hear and Do drill. The sound chart helps keep track of the sounds that students have previously learned, but more importantly (especially once students start on more advanced concepts), it gives the teacher a quick idea of how many ways there are for students to “spell” the sound they hear. More on this in the HOW section below.

The sound chart that corresponds to the phonics curriculum I use, as well as the Phonics Cards I use is available for FREE by subscribing to this blog. Subscribing will simply alert you via email when I post something new, and will ensure you receive any (and all) free resources I have available. Not spammy, and will not clog up your inbox I promise.

Students will need whatever sensory materials they’re going to use for this activity. I have students use sand trays.

Organizational tips for sand trays:

  1. The sand and trays that I use came from The Dollar Tree, making them very affordable for whole class sets (the trays came in a pack of 2 or 3 and each bag of sand was enough for 3 trays).

  2. For whole group instruction, I kept each group’s set of trays together for one student from the table group to grab off the shelf. That student was then also in charge of stacking the sand trays back onto the large tray and carefully taking it to the designated sand shelf. Each table had a designated spot in the shelf for their sand trays so that nobody had to mess with counting out enough for their group. Doing it this way also ensured that only 5 or 6 students were walking around the room with sand rather than a whole class of them.

  3. For my small groups, we just stack the sand trays and keep them on a shelf near our table. Easy peasy.

This is the handy dandy cart that I take with me from room to room for whole-class instruction each day. Notice the sand trays at the bottom, stacked for each table group in the classrooms.

Other sensory options for students to use:

  1. white boards and dry erase markers

  2. shaving cream

  3. paint in a gallon sized freezer bag

  4. crayons on paper

  5. fingers on carpet or tabletop

  6. fingers on sandpaper

  7. embroidery screen under paper (use crayon or finger)

  8. salt tray

  9. Magnetic writing boards (with the slide eraser – you know, the things we played with as kids before tablets were invented)

  10. foam board (or thicker foam sheet) using finger or even some sort of “stick” (paintbrush, opposite end of or closed marker, etc.)

  11. ANYTHING that provides a new or different texture than pencil and paper

If you use sensory materials to teach and practice sight words, my suggestion is to use a different material for Hear and Do. Keeping the sensory input different for sight words and sounds helps the brain keep them separated as well, helping with more automatic recall of both. Brain science – so complicated and interesting.

HOW does Hear and Do work?

  1. Teacher circles or highlights the newly learned sound spelling on the Sound Chart.

  2. Teacher chooses a sound from the chart and reads just the sound out loud to students. See note 1 below for more information.

  3. Student listens to the sound (HEAR), names each letter as they spell (DO), then underlines that sound from left to right as they read the sound out loud (DO). For example, if the teacher’s sound is /sh/, students say, “S – H (while they write each letter) says /sh/ (as they underline the letters they wrote)”. See the video example of this lesson and note 2 below for more clarification.

  4. Students “shimmy shake” their sand (or clear their work space if needed) and listen for the next sound.

  5. Teacher chooses another sound from the Sound Chart, and continues with steps 2-5 until all sounds are spelled or until time runs out).

An example of one group’s Sound Chart. At a glance, I can easily see which sounds and spellings students know at this point. As we’re completing the Hear and Do part of the Phonics Drill, I can tell that students know 3 ways to spell /s/ and 1 way to spell /A/. As this group moves through the phonics skills in Set 2 of the Phonics Cards, they’ll learn a 3rd way to spell /A/, at which point I’ll highlight the a-e box in the chart.

In total, this should take about 5 minutes (with another minute on each end for passing out and cleaning up materials). For students just starting on their phonics adventure, all sounds should be able to be written in 5 minutes, after routines are mastered. For more advanced students, choose the most recently learned sounds, those that seem most difficult for students to master, and a few other sounds that haven’t been practiced in some time to fill the 5 minutes – this is what I do with the group whose Sound Chart is pictured above.


  1. If students know more than one way to spell the given sound, make sure to prep them with how many they know and need to write. For example, once students know that both c and k make the /k/ sound, the teacher would say, “You know 2 ways to spell this sound, /k/” and then once students learn that ck works together to also make the /k/ sound, the teacher would say, “You know 3 ways to spell this sound, /k/” and students would write all those way in the order given on the Sound Chart.

  2. The sounds are listed on the chart in order of frequency, which is how students should learn and practice them during this drill).

  3. The Sound Chart does seem unnecessary in the beginning of the phonics sequence, when all but a couple sounds require multiple spellings; however, it is NECESSARY to keep up with the Sound Chart once students get into more advanced concepts, especially with long vowel patterns.

  4. Students should complete the full process of naming the letters they write and underlining those letters while reading back the sound before moving onto the next spelling for sounds that have more than one spelling. For example, once students know 2 ways to spell /k/ they would say (and write), “c says /k/, k says /k/”.

  5. For the tactile and brain science stuff to work correctly, it is imperative that students remember to underline from left to right (to train the brain to see the letters in that way) after EACH different spelling, not at the end of spelling every way a sound is made.

  6. Use this as a practice for correct letter formation, and have students redo their spelling if letters aren’t formed as taught. This is assuming letter formation is a focus for your district, of course. I was strict about this for my first grade students but am not quite as strict with my older students.

  7. Make sure to enforce the routines and rules for this drill strictly to ensure students are working with the sand rather than playing with it. After routines are established, I take the sand away and students participate using their finger on the tabletop or floor if they don’t follow rules or don’t participate even one time. Students love this activity, so this works wonders to keep participation high.

  8. Use motions to help remind students of the letter/sound associations you’re practicing. As the teacher makes the sound, they could/should also make the motion they have chosen to associate with that sound, giving students an extra visual reminder of that sound. Examples of short vowel motions can be found in this free poster and in this (linked) post.

For a look at how my students do this drill, head over to my YouTube page and watch the short video How-To. This shows students practicing lower-level phonetic concepts as well as higher-level concepts. Hopefully it helps clear up any confusion you may still have!


This drill is really simple and FUN once the routines are mastered. To help with those routines, I strictly follow these rules:

  1. The tray NEVER leaves the tabletop.

  2. To clear the writing in the sand, shake the tray gently back and forth three times (I call this the shimmy shake). Don’t forget to follow rule #1 even while shimmy shaking the tray.

  3. Only 1 finger is allowed in the tray at a time, it should be the pointer finger on your writing hand. This is called your writing finger.

  4. Your writing finger can only touch the sand when it’s time to spell a sound. Once your finished spelling, that finger shouldn’t touch the sand.

  5. You must participate the whole time. That means you name every letter you write out loud, and you read each sound after you spell it while underlining it. This helps your brain learn and remember the sound correctly.

And there you have it, the Hear and Do portion of the Daily Phonics Drill. This is BY FAR the crowd favorite for every age of student I’ve worked with. Learning is more fun when it mimics playing, right?

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