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The Best Reading Manipulatives

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Whether you’re new to teaching reading or you’re a seasoned educator, you know that using manipulatives in your reading instruction is important. Reading manipulatives help students of all ages engage with the text, build fluency, and develop comprehension skills.

There are a lot of different reading manipulatives out there, so it can be tough to decide which ones are right for your students. To help you make the best choice for your classroom, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite reading manipulatives.

Manipulatives For Reading

Manipulatives refer to any type of physical object that can be used to help students learn. They can be used in a variety of ways, from helping students understand phonics to being used as rewards for good behavior.

Some of these manipulatives for reading are for students while others are for teachers. They all help reinforce reading skills and can be used if you want to incorporate more science of reading into your instruction.

I do want to say that I don’t think you need all of these. I am simply sharing my favorite options that students love and actually help increase reading skills. Choose from a few of these to add to your lessons to increase their effectiveness.

sound wall classroom manipulative for reading

1. Sound Wall

A sound wall is my number one pick for a manipulative you need to have in the classroom. It is a great way to help students learn phonics and build fluency.

A sound wall is a large chart that has all of the different sounds that letters make. Students can use the sound wall to sound out words and practice their phonics skills.

I find these to be much more effective than word walls. These can be used in all grades, as students can reference them for many years. My students always use it to help them spell or sound out words while they are working.

You can make your own sound wall or buy one online. Find out more about sound walls here: How To Use A Sound Wall In Your Classroom

sound wall bundle

orthographic mapping with rimes phonogram cards blending activity

2. Phonogram Cards

Phonogram cards are great manipulatives to use for teaching and practice. Phonogram cards are sound spelling cards that can be used to teach phonics and help students with spelling. Each card has a different combination of letters that represents one sound. Students can use the cards to practice sounding out words and spelling words.

Typically I use phonogram cards to introduce a grapheme. Then I use the cards for drills and blending activities. Learn more about phonogram cards here: How To Teach Graphemes

You can make your own phonogram cards or buy them online. You can find the ones pictured above in my TPT shop.

Phonogram Cards

3. Letter Tiles

Letter tiles are one of my most used reading manipulatives. Building words is an important reading activity and letter tiles make it more fun. Just make sure to buy the right kind of letter tiles.

Don’t buy the kind that displays one letter on a tile and don’t combine digraphs and trigraphs. You want letter tiles that are color-coded and have digraphs (and other multi-letter combinations) on one tile. This way students begin to understand and visualize that some sounds are made of more than one letter.

This set is the best I have seen, but it is often out of stock. This is another good option on Amazon.


digraphs decodable passage

4. Decodable Books/Text

Most classrooms have leveled readers, which are great for some reading activities or for fluent readers. But when you’re teaching specific phonics skills or if you have struggling readers, you need a good set of decodable texts and books to go along with your reading curriculum.

Not sure why or how to use decodable texts? Read this post all about how to use both decodables and leveled readers.

If your curriculum doesn’t have any decodable readers, you can find some from a variety of places. Read this post on finding decodable readers with a list of options.


st patricks day worksheets and activities
silicone bubble poppers for orthographic mapping

5. Silicone Bubble Poppers

Silicone bubble poppers are popular manipulatives that have so many uses. In reading, you can use them to segment words and students love to use them.

I have students segment words orally, as pictured above with the picture cards. Students say the word aloud then segment each sound by pushing one bubble for each sound.

Another activity is using it to segment while writing. Students listen to a word, segment the sounds using the bubble popper, then spell the word.


mini whiteboard reading manipulative

6. Mini Whiteboards

Mini whiteboards are a classic manipulative that every teacher usually has. They are basic but that makes them so easy to use.

I often have my students spell sounds or words, practice writing words, or use it to follow along while I am teaching. During whole class lessons I can stop and ask them to write something (a sound, word, symbol, etc.) to check for understanding. And there are many ways to use them in small groups to practice the target skill of the day.


dry erase markers manipulative for reading

7. Expo Markers

If you have whiteboards then you of course need dry erase markers. I like to give my students the thin tip Expos because they’re easier to write with and last the longest, but I have to teach them not to press so hard.

I also use them on printable templates and worksheets. To do this, print off a template and laminate it or place it in a sheet protector so students can use dry-erase markers on them.


cvc words with reading manipulatives
Elkonin boxes vowel team

8. Colored Chips or Linking Cubes

Colored chips and cubes are another manipulative many teachers have on hand. You can use colored chips for segmenting and blending activities, and for other phonics games. Since blending and segmenting are done almost daily, having these mainpulatives is really helpful.


word mapping activity

9. Blending & Segmenting Templates

If you’re going to be working on blending and segmenting, which you should, then you need some templates!

I have templates that incorporate both skills in my shop: Phoneme Grapheme Mapping Template and Editable Heart Words Practice. I also have free sound boxes templates that you can download in my freebies library.

word mapping phonological awareness

reading guide strip manipulative for reading

10. Reading Guide

Reading guides are a great reading manipulative for students who often get lost in the text. My dyslexic students often used these and they really helped them with tracking and staying focused.

You could also use a plain index card as a reading guide. Students just place the card right under the line they are reading and move it down as they read.


11. Small Handheld Mirrors

Small handheld mirrors are a great manipulative for teaching letter sounds. Students can check their mouth formation and tongue placement when working on tricky sounds. These are very useful for struggling readers that confuse similar sounds. Having them see the difference their mouth makes really helps them differentiate the sounds they’re mixing up.


12. Playdough

Playdough is a great literacy manipulative for early years classrooms. Students can use playdough to create letters and words. Phonics mats are common in the early years and playdough is great to use on them.

I like to get these smaller containers so not as much goes to waste when they dry out.


syllable division activity cutting syllables

13. Index Cards

Index cards are great for creating your own flashcards for letters and words. I love using them when working on splitting syllables because students can cut them to split the syllables.

I also like to use them for heart words and have students create reference cards for any words that are tricky for them.


sticky notes as a reading comprehension manipulative

14. Sticky Notes

Sticky notes are great to use when working on reading comprehension. You can stick one on the pages that students should stop to self-monitor. Students can then write notes on them when they reach that point. This really helps them practice self-monitoring skills on their own. Plus, sticky notes have so many other uses so you probably already have them on hand.


15. Colored Markers or Highlighters

I use colored markers and highlighters every day! Use them to trace target phonics patterns, highlight parts of a word, color code vowels and consonants, find words in a passage, and so much more. You’ll see I use felt tip markers and highlighters in many of the example photos throughout my blog.


Bottom Line

Not only do manipulatives make learning more fun, but they also help improve students’ reading skills. These reading manipulatives can help your students of all ages engage with the text, build fluency, and develop comprehension skills. You don’t need all of these, but adding a few to your literacy instruction can make a big difference.

Want to remember this? Save The Best Reading Manipulatives to your favorite Pinterest board!

the best reading manipulatives for every classroom

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