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Tri-It — Fun with C-V-Cs (early phonics)

In the early stages of phonics training, children will benefit from making lots and lots of C-V-Cs (consonant-vowel-consonant combinations). But there are only so many C-V-C words in English that will be meaningful to young non-native English speaking learners. One solution is simply to let them practice decoding random C-V-Cs without worrying about meaning. We might call this “Decoding first; semantics (meaning) later.” 

But if the child is not decoding for meaning, what will be their motivation for bothering to do it? 

Aye, there’s the rub. 

If only … If only there were some way to make decoding interesting, without the extra burden of making semantic connections. If only pure decoding could be fun—if only there were a way to make it “Some antics first; semantics later.” If only … 

Hey, wait a minute!—I know! Let’s make a game of it! And let’s call this game … 




Before I continue, let me assure you that I understand that some of you may not agree with making C-V-Cs that are detached from meaning. Though I may not agree with it, I understand the argument for using only real words. So if you think having your young students practice decoding random C-V-Cs is not the best use of your classroom time, that’s OK. You and I can still be friends. 

But the kids really like Tri-It. So you might still want to … try it.  (Heh.) 


Tri-It is a game that gives lots of fun practice making random C-V-Cs (consonant-vowel-consonant combinations). Yippee! 


• A Tri-It board 

• 31 Tri-It tiles (hexagonal cells) — 24 consonant tiles and 7 vowel tiles 

optional: Markers to identify ‘captured’ C-V-Cs. This is a way of keeping score while also emphasizing the connectedness of the three tiles. (More on this later.) 


You can design your own Tri-It game, or print out and use my version from the link that I will give later in this blog post. 




The rules are simple. 

The tiles are laid face down on the table within everyone’s reach. Players take turns picking up a tile. If it’s a pink tile, it can go on any pink space on the board; if it’s blue, it can go on any blue space. (As you will quickly see, the pink tiles are vowels, the blue are consonants.) 

TIP: If pink and the blue tiles look the same on the backs, when they are face-down, players cannot tell which ones are vowels and which are consonants. This means a greater element of random chance in the game. 

When the corners of three tiles meet to make a C-V-C, the player reads the ‘captured’ C-V-C. In this example, the player can read cat and/or tac: 



By the way, in case it’s not obvious, the meeting of the three corners to unify three letters is one of the reasons the game is called Tri-It. (I’m so clever, huh?) 

I said that the player who lays down the tile reads the C-V-C, but actually, I usually have all the players read the C-V-C together. This has three benefits: 

1) It increases the amount of decoding practice each student gets. 

2) It helps keep the players stay focused on and involved in the game, even during other players’ turns. 

3) It fosters team spirit. 

As you play, you will notice that there are times when more than one C-V-C is formed with the addition of a single tile. In such cases, the players get to read all the C-V-Cs formed, and, if playing with teams, the one who laid the tile down wins the points for all the resulting C-V-Cs for their team. 


If you are using markers: 

In my classes, to mark C-V-Cs as they are captured, we use tiddlywinks—the small, round disks (the actual term for the disks is ‘winks’) that are sometimes used as Bingo markers. (See the second image above.) 

When possible, I usually prefer to make a game cooperative rather than competitive. However, playing this game in teams provides a good opportunity at the end to count out loud together up into the twenties in English. So in my classes, we sometimes divide the players into two teams, with circular seating alternating between players from Team A and Team B. 

With this seating arrangement, by simply going around the circle,
it is easy to keep track of whose turn it is while also ensuring that play alternates between teams.


We use one color of winks for one team, another color for another team. This makes it very easy to count up team scores at the end of the game. 

Of course if you are playing cooperatively, the color of the winks doesn’t matter. 

The center space: 

The center hex on the board can also be used as a vowel space. You may elect to begin the game by putting a vowel there before play begins, or just let a player put one there whenever they want to, as with the other vowel spaces. 

Troublesome letters: 

One sticking point in this game is that some consonants (h, q, r, w, y) don’t work well at the ends of C-V-Cs, and x doesn’t work well at the beginning. You might just let the children struggle with this, and let them figure things out for themselves. I personally choose to step in here and help. In the example below, I would have them read rin but skip nir, and read nix but not xin.  



The game board: 

– If using a disposable paper Tri-It board, instead of cell pieces to be played, the children could simply write the letter drawn from a deck of letter cards. They still get to choose what cell to write it in. 

Incorporating writing: 

One teacher who tried this game suggested writing the C-V-Cs the whiteboard or blackboard as they are created and read. They kept score this way, and if the children do the writing, they get writing practice as well. (“Thanks” and a tip of the hat to Conrad.) 


As promised earlier, here is a link to a printable (A4 size) PDF of my version of Tri-It: 

PDF of Tri-It playing board and game tiles 

You are welcome to respond to this blog entry with any questions or comments you may have about the PDF or the game. 

And here is a link to a YouTube video showing the game being played. Feel free to leave questions and comments there too! 

One more! Click here for a YouTube video showing how I make game tiles.

Alan Miesch

Alan Miesch

After years as a ‘professional dabbler’, Alan Miesch found himself drawn into teaching English to non-native English learners. He has experience in a wide range of milieus, both in the United States and Japan, teaching young children, teens, and adults. He is now the proprietor and sole teacher at a private English classroom in Numazu, Japan.
Alan Miesch

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