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Sensory Phonics

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

My first teacher at primary school in the 1970's was a very kind but strict lady!

Everyday the class would recite the alphabet parrot fashion until it was ingrained in our brains!

By the time we left her class that summer we could all recite the alphabet backwards!

Thankfully things have moved on!

In this blog I am going to explore how to teach phonics in a fun and engaging way through the senses.

For the purposes of this blog I will focus on the letter 'S' using the Letters & Sounds model.

Phonics Sensory Bag

Place a variety of items starting with the letter(s) you wish to teach into a non-see through bag or a pillowcase.

When choosing items think of engaging all the senses: Add items that stimulate the vision, tactile items that feel nice to the touch, items to smell and taste.

The student selects items (one at a time) from the bag then uses their sense of smell, touch and taste to guess what the item is.

(If the student is unsure then provide plenty of clues.)

Letter S items












Sunflower Seeds






(Look through a toy chest for items: snail, spaceman, spinner, spider etc)

Build functional language skills.

Ask the student to tell you or show you what you might do with the item and where you might find it.

(If the student is unsure, model what to do with the item and encourage them to copy your action.)

Keep language simple.

Focus on phrases such as 'Choose' or 'Take one' when presenting the bag to the student.

Focus on the name of the object e.g., 'starfish', 'sponge', 'snake' and two-word phrases e.g. 'long snake', 'yellow sponge'.

Click Here to learn more about Sensory Bags.

Sensory Bins

A sensory bin is a container filled with themed items that provide a calming activity and the opportunity to learn whilst Engaging the Senses and Meeting Sensory Needs.

Sensory bins provide the opportunity for the individual to Explore their Likes Dislikes & Sensory Preferences. You can use this information to identify motivators or to calm an individual when stressed, or to identify triggers, some you may seek to avoid, others to gradually desensitise in a safe and therapeutic environment.

This sensory play Promotes Fine Motor Skills as the sensory explorer manipulates the objects, Problem Solving Through Experimentation, Creativity & Imagination Through Exploration and Promotes Language & Communication Skills

How to make a Letter 'S' Sensory Bin

Find a Container

A basket, box, bucket, cardboard Box, cement mixing/Tuff Tray, plastic storage Box or lay a sheet on the floor.

Create a Base Layer

Add sand, straw, sawdust, soil, spaghetti, soil, spinach leaves, sunflower seeds.

Scatter Items Starting with the Letter 'S'

Satsuma, (toy) snake, (a bar of) soap, strawberries, sticks, sponges, (raw) sprouts.

Add Items to Promote Fine Motor Skill

Salad spinner, safety scissors, salt-shaker, saucepan, scoops, scrubber, sieves, spatula, spoons

Add Items to Encourage Scientific Investigation

Torch, magnifying glass, magnets, pen/paper, egg carton/ice cube/cake baking tray for sorting items, a notepad and camera for taking notes and recording.

Model mark-making the letter 'S' using your fingers or tools.

Click Here to learn more about Sensory Bins

Phonics Listening Game

Listening games teach sound discrimination, promoting the development of language, communication and comprehension skills and increasing attention span.

A quick search on the internet will provide you with access to a library of free audio clips and sound effects that can be played via your phone, iPad or via your Interactive Whiteboard.

If you have a budget, then consider investing in a set of single switch communication devices. These are single button voice recorders e.g., Talking Tile, Talk-Time Recordable Postcard, Talking Wrist Recorder or a BIGMack that record and playback speech, music or sound effects. Some have a removable clear lid that allows you to insert pictures, symbols, numbers, words or letters to match your recordings. They present the listener with great opportunities to explore cause and effect, practice listening skills, record and listen to their voice, enhance the sound effects in a story.

The BBC have made available 16,000 BBC Sound Effects in WAV format to download for use under the terms of the RemArc Licence. The Sound Effects are BBC copyright, but they may be used for personal, educational or research purposes, as detailed in the license.

There are also free sound effect apps to download to a phone/iPad.

Can the listener imitate the sound using their voice? Offer the use of an echo mic or a single switch communication device.

Can the listener correctly identify the sound?

(Provide plenty of clues!)

Letter S Sounds














Click Here to learn more about Sound Effects

Get Crafty!

Reinforce learning with craft activities:

Stuffed Sensory Sock Snakes

This is an excellent activity for encouraging hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and gives you the opportunity to model language as well as providing a wonderful sensory experience.

You will need:

  • Old Socks or Tights

  • A Filler: Straw/Sponges/Sand/Sawdust/Soil/Spaghetti (dried)

  1. Stuff the socks with items starting with the letter 'S', sand will add weight, sage will engage the sense of smell, sticks will add texture and so on.

  2. Tie a knot in the end of the sock to secure.

  3. Allow supervised free exploration of the snakes, they will differ in weight, length, smell and texture.

(Tip! Adding a few drops of essential oil to the fillers will enrich the experience)

Building learning

Explore the letters 's' 'a' t' 'p' individually then progress onto mixing the letters together adding props starting with all those letters into your bag.

Tip! Check understanding my add an item to the bag that does NOT begin with the letters 's' 'a' 't' 'p'

Teach the words












Use a range of letter resources.

I like to teach using tactile props, it is fun and allows the learner to manipulate and explore the letters and make words without having to write them down.

Here are a few ideas:

Wooden letter tiles

(I bought these from ebay approx £.2.30)

Scrabble Board and tiles

(I bought mine secondhand from a charity shop)

Magnetic Letters on a baking tray.

Paint pebbles and write letters on them.

Use stickers with letters on.

Write in chalks on the patio/fence.

Write letters on recycled plastic milk bottle tops.

Mould letters using clay/plasticine or Play-Doh

Treasure Hunt

Look around the house for items starting with the letter you are learning.

Give plenty of clues!

Get in Touch!

Your questions, queries, comments & feedback are always welcome!

Twitter: @RhymingStories

Pinterest: Rhyming Multisensory Stories

Visit the Story Library for more free resources

Visit the Rhyming Multisensory Stories Blog for all the latest news, views and a monthly teaching calendar full of ideas and inspiration.

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(email: rhymingmultisensorystories


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Health & Safety Advice & Disclaimer

Please Read Before Engaging in any of the Activities

  • ​The author has used their best efforts in preparing the information on this website and makes no representation or warranties with respect to the accuracy, applicability, fitness or completeness to the contents.

  • The information is for pleasure purposes only.

  • If you wish to apply any ideas and activities contained in this blog, on the website or in any of the multisensory stories or resources, you are wholly responsible and take full responsibility for your actions.

  • ​The activities are designed to be led and supervised by a responsible adult at all times.

​​A Note on Allergies/Intolerances

  • ​If you have any doubts regarding any activity or prop used, then seek advice before starting.​

  • ​Be aware of potential choking hazards.

  • Check the ingredients in any items you may be using for any potential food or skin allergies or respiratory reactions. If you see any signs of redness, swelling or other symptoms of a suspected reaction seek immediate medical advice.

  • The interactions should be led by the sensory explorer who should be allowed to participate without expectation.

  • ​Never force stimuli and stop the activity if the story explorer shows signs that they are not enjoying the session.

Your questions, queries, comments and feedback are always welcome!

Contact me via email

or send me a message via social media:)

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Thanks for your comments 🙂 I agree with you that students love having the tiles to move around, it gives the opportunity to experiment with the spelling of a word. I like the sensory bags as they promote communication skills.


I use wooden tiles with my fourth graders and they love having something to move about. We give our students SO much white paper, it all blends together; the papers, the learning, the EVERYTHING! I love the idea of the sensory bins for younger students or preschool children-great ideas for parents too!

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