Auditory Discrimination Activities

Play one or two of the games described below to help develop children’s listening skills.*

Auditory Discrimination: 

The listening skills that help children succeed in blending and segmenting

Auditory discrimination is the ability to tell the difference between different sounds. When children are able to hear individual sounds in words – then they can blend and read words independently.  Auditory Discrimination activities like the ones described below support this process, particularly for younger children.

Auditory discrimination activities can be a fun, easy way to keep children active while developing important skills that will support their reading skill development. These activities can be done as warm-ups, or in the middle of the lesson to keep the children awake, or to conclude a lesson.

There are several steps children must take in learning to hear sounds in words. These are as follows:

Level 1 – Discriminating sounds in the environment

The most basic level of auditory discrimination is hearing the difference between sounds in our environment e.g. being able to identify the sound of a car passing, the noise of a fan turning, etc. The children should progress to being able to identify more closely linked sounds e.g. different people’s voices or the difference between a car and a moto.

Level 2 – Discriminating between different words in speech

Once children can identify sounds in their environment, they are ready to move on to the next level of auditory discrimination. Children become aware that speech is made up of individual words. They develop this skill through rhyme and rhythm activities when they clap, tap and stamp the rhythm of various rhymes. These first two levels should be developed in KG, but can also be addressed in Lower Primary. Many activities you can do to develop these skills are quick, fun and active to keep the children motivated and alert.

Level 3 – Discriminating syllables in words

Children first become aware that a sentence is made up of individual words:  

The children listen to their teacher quietly.

There are seven words that make up this sentence.

The chil-dren list-en to their tea-cher qui-et-ly.

The sentence is now segmented into the twelve individual syllables. The word teacher has two syllables: tea-cher. The word quietly has three syllables: qui-et-ly.

Level 4 – Discriminating rhyming words

The skill of hearing rhyming words is a crucial step towards being able to blend words. The child should be able to give words that rhyme e.g. for cat, give sat, mat, hat, rat etc. If you give them a list of words like sun, run, hat, fun they should be able to spot the odd one out (hat). When teaching about rhyme you can include playing with non-words e.g. lat, dat, gat as rhymes for cat.

Developing a sense of rhyme is an essential part of teaching phonics that must be practised for the children to be able to blend.

Level 5 – Discriminating individual sounds in words

We want the children to be able to identify individual sounds in words. Then the child can read words through blending and segmenting. The child could identify that bag is made up of three individual sounds –

/b/ /a/ /g/ –

blended together.

Children progress naturally through the early stages. For instance, parents rarely intentionally teach their children the sound made by a car or a fan – they learn it from being exposed to sounds. But some children do need guidance from their teacher to reach the higher levels of auditory discrimination.



Auditory Discrimination Games and Activities

Listening walks: This listening activity can take place indoors or outdoors.
Remind the children about the things that good listeners do (e.g. keep quiet, have ears and eyes ready). Invite the children to show you how good they are at listening, and talk about why listening carefully is important. Encourage the children to listen attentively to the sounds around them. Talk about the different sounds they can hear. After they have enjoyed a listening walk indoors or outdoors, make a list of all the sounds they can remember. The list can be in words or pictures, and prompted by replaying sounds recorded on the walk.

A listening moment: This is another activity that can take place indoors or outdoors. Remind the children how to be good listeners. Invite them to show how good they are at listening by remembering all the sounds they hear when they listen for a moment. Ask them what made each sound and encourage them to try to make the sound themselves.

Drum outdoors: Give each child a beater or make drumsticks, for example from short pieces of dowel. Encourage the children to explore the outdoor area and discover how different sounds are made by tapping or stroking with their beaters: a wooden door, a wire fence, a metal slide, and a few items such as pipes and upturned pots you have ‘planted’. Ask each child to demonstrate their favourite sound. The whole group can join in and copy. Ask each child to take up position ready to make their favourite sound. An adult or a child acts as conductor and raises a beater high in the air to signal to the children to play loudl,y and lowers it to signal playing softly.

Teddy is lost in the jungle: One child (the rescuer) is taken aside while a teddy bear is hidden somewhere in the room. Tell the other children they are going to guide the rescuer to the teddy by singing louder as the rescuer gets closer to, or quietly as the rescuer moves further away from the teddy. Alternatively lead the children in singing a familiar song, rhyme or jingle, speeding up and slowing down to guide the rescuer.

Mrs Browning has a box: Turn a box on its side with the opening facing away from the children. One by one, place between four and six familiar noisy items (e.g. a set of keys, biscuit packet, squeaky toy) into the box, pausing to name them and demonstrate the sound each one makes. Sing to the tune of ‘Old MacDonald’ but using your own name or one of the children’s:

Mrs…has a box ee i ee i o

And in that box she has a…

Stop. Gesture and ask the children to listen.

Handle one of the objects in the box, out of sight, to make a noise. The children take it in turns to guess what is making the sound. Continue the song but imitating the sound using your voice.

With a zzz zzz here and a zzz zzz there…

Allow the children to take a turn at making a noise from inside the box and use their names as you sing.

Favourite sounds: Ask the children to think about sounds that they do and do not like (e.g. stormy weather, barking dogs, car horns, crying babies) and to say why.

New words to old songs: Take a song or rhyme the children know well and invent new words to suit the purpose and the children’s interests. Use percussion instruments to accompany the new lyrics.

Adjust the volume: Two children sit opposite each other with identical instruments. Ask them to copy each other making loud sounds and quiet sounds. It may be necessary to demonstrate with two adults copying each other first. Then try the activity with an adult with one child.

Roly poly: Rehearse the rhyme with the actions (rotating hand over hand as in the song ‘Wind the bobbin up’).
Ro … ly … po … ly … ever … so … slowly                      Ro … ly … poly faster.

(Increase the speed of the action as you increase the speed of the rhyme.)

Now add in new verses, such as:

Stamp … your … feet … ever … so … slowly              Stamp … your feet faster.

Ask the children to suggest sounds and movements to be incorporated into the song.

Say hello ever so quietly                Say HELLO LOUDER!

Listen to the beat: Play different rhythms. Remind the children to use their listening ears and to move in time to the beat – fast, slow, skipping, marching, etc. Keep the beat simple at first (e.g. suitable for marching) then move on to more complex rhythms for the children to skip or gallop to.

I know a word: Throughout the course of daily activities, encourage the children to think about and play with rhyming words. The adult begins with the prompt: I know a word that rhymes with cat, you need to put one on your head and the word is…hat. This can be used for all sorts of situations and also with some children’s names: I know a girl whose dress is neater, she is sitting next to Gifty and her name is… Rita. As children become familiar with rhyme, they will supply the missing word themselves.

I spy names: With a small group of children sitting in a circle, start the game by saying I spy someone whose name begins with… and give the sound of the first letter, for example /s/. Then ask: Who can it be? Satish stands up, everyone says his name and he carries on the game, saying I spy someone whose name begins with… and so on. If any children call out the name before the child with that name stands up, still let the child whose name it is take the next turn.

Name play: Call out a child’s name and make up a fun sentence starting with the name (e.g. Ben has a big, bouncy ball, Kulvinder keeps a kettle in the kitchen, Tim has ten, tickly toes, Fiona found a fine, fat frog). Ask the children to think up similar sentences for their own names to share with others.

Voice sounds: Show children how they can make sounds with their voices, for example: Make your voice go down a slide – wheee! Make your voice bounce like a ball – boing, boing. Sound really disappointed – oh.    Hiss like a snake – ssssss. Keep everyone quiet – shshshsh. Gently moo like a cow – mmmoooo. Look astonished – oooooo! Be a train – chchchchch. Buzz like a bumble bee – zzzzzzz. Be a clock – tick tock. This can be extended by joining single speech sounds into pairs (e.g. ee-aw  like a donkey).

Target sounds: Give each child a target sound to put into a story when they hear a particular word or character (e.g. make a ‘ch’ sound when they hear the word ‘train’). Start with a single sound that the small group of children can make together when they hear a target word. Be prepared to prompt initially and leave pauses in your reading to make it obvious where the sounds are required.

Whose voice?: Ask children to close their eyes. Choose one child to say something (e.g. by touching them lightly on the shoulder). The children then open their eyes and have to guess who spoke.

Clapping sounds: Think of words using the letters ‘s, a, t, p, i, n’ (e.g. sat, pin, nip, pat, tap, pit, tip) and sound them out, clapping each phoneme with the children in unison, /s/ /a/ /t/ then blend the phonemes to make the whole word orally. As children’s confidence develops, ask individuals to demonstrate this activity to others.

I s-p-y: I spy for younger children; rather than just giving the initial sound, sound out the whole word e.g. I spy a ch-air, I spy a b-e-n-ch, I spy J-oh-n.

Clapping rhythms: Clap a simple rhythm and ask the children to clap it back to you. Vary the rhythm that you clap. Once the children are used to this activity, invite a child to clap the rhythm for others to copy.

Rhyming your name: Choose a child’s name and make nonsense rhymes with it using the initial letters in order of the alphabet, pointing to the alphabet frieze as you go e.g. Aan, Ban, Can, Dan, E-an, Fan, Gan … for Dan.

*Created by Ellie Barrett VSO Teacher Support Officer, Jirapa. Updated September 2013. Materials used in developing the programme include: ‘Phonics for Reading; A starter guide for schools’ by Ruth Heery and Jenny Horrocks (VSO) ‘Letters and Sounds: Principles and Practice of High Quality Phonics’from the UK Primary National Strategy.