Reading 101: A Guide for Parents

Phonics and Decoding: Activities for Your Second Grader

The goal of phonics instruction is to help children learn the alphabetic principle — the idea that letters represent the sounds of spoken language — and that there is an organized, logical, and predictable relationship between written letters and spoken sounds.


A child with strong decoding skills uses this knowledge of sound-letter correspondence to read familiar and unfamiliar words, and begin to read with ease. Decoding relies on the rules of phonics, so first graders need to memorize words that don’t follow those rules. 

In second grade, your child is building more sophisticated decoding skills and can do these things:

  • Identify an increasing number of words by sight.
  • Use letter-sound knowledge to sound out unknown words.
  • Accurately decode multisyllable words that sound like they are spelled ("orthographically regular") such as capital or Kalamazoo. Can also sound out orthographically regular nonsense words.
  • Accurately read many irregularly spelled words.

Decoding takes a lot of practice! You can help your child build phonics skills with some of the activities described here — and by offering lots of encouragement as your child gains confidence with this big step into becoming a reader. Beginning readers may read slowly. Give your child time to decode the words, and avoid jumping in too quickly.

What strong decoding looks like in second grade

Try these phonics activities at home

Extra, extra!

Ask your child to find and cut out all the words in a newspaper or magazine that she can read. Glue or tape them onto a piece of paper and practice reading them together.

The "H Brothers"

Explain to your child that sometimes two letters will stand together to create one new sound. The “H Brothers” join with other letters to make the sounds: sh, ch, th, wh and ph. Write down some example words and use multisensory props and gestures to help your child remember the new letter combination. He's a fun idea for telling the story of the H Brothers to reinforce the concept.


Prefixes are sets of letters that are added to the beginning of a word, and suffixes are added to the end. Give your child a simple action word, such as heat. Ask your child to think of variations of the word by adding a prefix or suffix. For example: reheat, heated, heater, heating.

Word ladders

On a sheet of paper, draw a ladder with two long sides and up to 10 rungs. Write a word at the bottom of the ladder. Challenge your child to come up with new words by just changing one letter at the beginning, middle, or end of the word. For example, if the bottom word is line, your word ladder could look like this:

  • tape
  • cape
  • cake
  • lake
  • like
  • live
  • dive
  • five
  • fine
  • line

Cereal box read aloud

Your breakfast table can offer some easy practice in sounding out words. Together look at the words on your child's cereal box, choose a variety of words from easy to "stretch" words, and see if your child can sound out the letters as you point to each. For longer unfamiliar words, you can break up the word into easier parts by covering up letters with your finger, and then encouraging your child to blend the parts into a whole word.

Grocery store literacy

Lots of grocery items come in different flavors. Ask your child to help you find a particular flavor by reading the labels. For example, can she find the low fat milk? The tuna fish packed in water? She'll be using her reading skills to find the right item. Put your child in charge of the grocery list. As you put items into the cart, say the word and ask your child to cross it off the list.

Words in the wild

Words are everywhere! When you're out for a walk or shopping together, look at signage and point out some simple words for your child to sound out. Then try more challenging words like "Hardware Store" or some of the words on a movie poster or a menu in a restaurant window. look at a movie poster together. Ask your child if they can sound out the words. Keep it fun and brisk as you walk together.

Listen, listen

Decoding is hard work! Try setting aside time each day to listen to your child read to you, and let him know how much you enjoy hearing him read and how proud you are. If your first grader has a preschool sibling, encourage him to read to his sister or brother (guaranteed to make you smile!).

When your child is stuck: should you tell them the word?

This video is from Home Reading Helper, a resource for parents to elevate children’s reading at home provided by Read Charlotte. Find more video, parent activities, printables, and other resources at Home Reading Helper.

Dig into decodable books

Children at this age should be exposed to a wide range of books that introduce them to rich vocabulary and story structure. But there is also a role for decodable books to help your child strengthen phonics skills. Decodable books contain a high percentage of words with predictable letter-sound relationships. You'll find a comprehensive list of these books here: Decodable Text Sources.

Change my word

Try this activity from the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR). The FCRR "At Home" series was developed especially for families! Watch the video and then download the activity: Change My Word. See all FCRR phonics activities here.

Short and long

Try this activity from the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR). The FCRR "At Home" series was developed especially for families! Watch the video and then download the activity: Short and Long. See all FCRR phonics activities here.

How do I explain the “ea” vowel combination?

Reading expert Linda Farrell explains that you begin with the most common pronunciation, and then teach the exceptions. (From our video series Reading SOS: Expert Answers to Family Questions About Reading.)

Sight words

Sight words are common words kids have to recognize instantly without sounding them out. Many sight words are tricky to read — they aren’t spelled the way they sound so they are difficult to decode. Children need to memorize them. Here's a list of common sight words for second grade.

Sight word spy

Tell your child that sight words are "hiding in plain sight" everywhere around us. Your child's "mission" is to spot the sight words out in the world (in the grocery store, on a sign, cereal box, or movie poster) and announce "aha, I found you! This silly game can get your child excited about recognizing words — as well as a boost of confidence from knowing how to read them.

Word crazy (high-frequency words)

Try this activity from the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR). The FCRR "At Home" series was developed especially for families! Watch the video and then download the activity: Word Crazy. See all FCRR phonics activities here.

Getting stuck on sight words

Many striving readers struggle with sight words. Reading expert Linda Farrell suggests this teaching sequence: first, be sure your child knows all the letter names, then all the letter sounds — and then you can introduce a few short high-frequency words such as was. Choose words that don't have regular phonetic spelling. (From our video series Reading SOS: Expert Answers to Family Questions About Reading.)

"What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person ..." —

Carl Sagan