Are you struggling to get the most out of reading instruction time with your kids?

Maybe you’ve got 20 minutes or less to work on their phonemic segmentation and phonemic manipulation skills, but you’re crunched for time?

I know the feeling!

It can be so frustrating when you’re only halfway through the lesson, and the school bell interrupts reading instruction time!

Unfortunately, you can’t stop the bell from ringing (trust me, I’ve tried!). But, you CAN save a lot of time in your small group reading instruction with just one activity – Switch It.

If you’ve been a part of the Reading Simplified family for a while now, chances are, you’ll know all about Switch It. But if you’ve never heard of it, I’m going to teach you how it’s done and give you some great tips to make this simple activity even more efficient.

So, if you want to know how you can get as much instructional reading done as possible in a short period (and accelerate your kids’ reading achievement) keep reading! Or if you'd prefer to watch me talk you through Switch It - hit play on the video below:

What is Switch It?

Switch It is one of the main activities we teach here at Reading Simplified.

It’s straightforward to teach, and kids love it too!

The activity works by asking students to switch singular sounds in and out of words with a focus on sound-symbol correspondence.

The student begins with a word such as “SLED,” and the teacher calls out a switch which goes something like this…

Switch SLED to SLID

…then the student makes the switch!

When SLED becomes SLID, the student has to segment each sound in the word to create the new word.

SLID would then become SLIT, SPIT, and SPOT, etc.

As each position of the word changes, the student works on their phonemic segmentation and phonemic manipulation skills. On top of this, they’re also practicing short vowel letter-sound knowledge and so much more.

Shortcuts for Switch It

When it comes to reading instruction, every minute counts.

Switch It is key for squeezing the juice out of every second you have of small-group reading instruction. It’s a dynamic activity, which means you can integrate a lot in a single setting including:

  • Left to right processing
  • Concept of print
  • Phonemic segmentation
  • Phonemic manipulation
  • Consonant letter-sound knowledge
  • Short-vowel letter-sound knowledge
  • Decoding and spelling

With Switch It, you can forgo isolated activities and teach students all of these pre-reading skills at the same time.

If your students are in kindergarten or even younger than that, they can rely on Build It. Build It is a predecessor to Switch It and perfect for younger readers. If you want to learn more about the Build It activity, visit

Want to find out how you can get the most out of your reading instruction time with the Switch It activity?

Here’s a collection of shortcut tips for Switch It:

Prep your word list and letter-cards ahead of time

Don’t waste time prepping your word list at the beginning of your reading instruction time. Prepare your word list before the students gather at your table. Make sure to select words that address their most pressing need. So, if they have problems with short vowel letter-sound knowledge, choose words that will help develop that skill.

Reading Instruction Shortcuts for Switch It

Stop using letter-cards (after a few weeks)

Once your students get more practice with letter-sounds and they “get the code,” it’s time to say goodbye to letter-cards! Instead, try using a dry erase board. This will save you a lot of time because the students can erase and replace letters as they go.

Have students cover their board 

When working with a small group, you might notice some kids trying to peek at their neighbor’s board. If they’re copying the answers, they aren’t learning anything for themselves, and they become dependent on the other students to help them work it out. So, encourage students to cover their boards to rule out any copying!

If a child struggles more than others, work with them one to one

It’s normal for one or two kids to fall behind the rest of the group. Don’t panic! Just pull that student to the side for five minutes for a one-on-one session. Work on the Switch It activity like this for five days or a few weeks until the kid is back up to the same level as the rest of the group.

Give everyone the same list of words 

In small-group reading instruction, it’s better to give every student the same list of words at the same time. It’s too confusing to make multiple lists for multiple students. Keep it simple.

Add new letter-sounds EVERY day

Traditional reading programs usually want you to add new letter-sounds at a much slower pace, but our kids can handle a lot more than that. Accelerate reading achievement by introducing new letter-sounds every day. If your kids are confident, you could even add several new letter-sounds each day!

Reading Instruction Shortcuts for Switch It

Increase phonemic difficulty regularly

Switch It doesn’t force kids to stay on the same CVC words forever. It moves things forward and increases phonemic difficulty much faster than most reading programs. Most students can get to CCVCC words in less than two weeks – so don’t be afraid to move onto more phonemically challenging words such as STOMP and STRAND.

Bump up a level during a lesson where possible

Remember -  we want our kids to make mistakes. If they aren’t making any mistakes, the level isn’t hard or challenging enough for them. So, if you think your students are flying through the levels, don’t hesitate to bump them up!

Watch their eyes and have them rotate seats 

Since you’re doing the Switch It activity, why not switch things up a bit? Have your kids rotate seats to help refresh their minds. Keep an eye on their eyes – are they focused on their own boards or do they look confused? If you notice a student looking everywhere BUT their board, that’s a clear sign they might need some extra help!

Put the letter-cards away yourself

It may be tempting to ask the kids to clean up their letter-cards before the bell rings, but this only takes up valuable reading time! Make the most out of each second you have with your students and clean up the cards yourself once the lesson has ended.

Don’t let vocabulary meanings eclipse decoding instruction

On the one hand, a good teacher is casually teaching about word meanings all day long. Practically with every breath, s/he should define words that may be unusual or elaborate on a word in a new sentence. Most of us probably need to do this more! On the other hand, when students are in a period of learning how to crack the code, vocabulary instruction during decoding Word Work time should be present, but not dominating.

What do I mean?

Unless you have ELL students, don't let vocabulary instruction--in this context--take up more time than the actual Switching. Yes, it’s super important to define or elaborate on each word, so each word has a connection to real meaning. However, it's also a slippery's so easy to spend 1 minute on vocabulary instruction for every 20 seconds of switching of sounds.

The words in our Switch It lists were selected for their utility in teaching phonological decoding sub-skills--they're not high-impact vocabulary words. SO, routines of deep instruction in vocabulary should, for the most part, take place during other lessons, such as interactive read alouds and vocabulary meaning word study. 

And there you have it; now you can save a ton of time and accelerate your kids’ reading achievement with one activity – Switch It!

Which of these tips have you tried? Any new ones you want to add to your toolkit?