Bowling for Phonics Activity

3.6 based on 9 ratings
Updated on Jul 2, 2013

"When two vowels go out walking, the first one does the talking." Remember that rule? There are exceptions, of course, but this rule can be helpful in the development of young readers in many cases. However, learning this only through worksheets can make kids restless. Instead, try this goofy game that turns old soda bottles into bowling pins, where your kids will "bowl" for vowel patterns they'll come across everyday. "Double-vowel" words can be very tricky for kids, but this game allows kids to stay active while building their reading vocabulary—and it can make for hours of fun as well!

What You Need:

  • 6 empty 2-liter soda bottles
  • Nontoxic spray paint for plastic
  • Sheet of clear plastic acetate (used for overhead projector slides and available at office supply stores)
  • Clear plastic packing tape
  • Index cards
  • Permanent marker

What You Do:


  1. Make sure that the soda bottles are empty and dry. Start by spray painting them with nontoxic paint, either in black or in a bright color. (Be sure to leave the caps on as you spray paint.) These will become your "bowling pins." If you plan to play indoors with a light "bowling" ball, you can leave the pins empty. Otherwise, use a heavier ball and add about 2 inches of sand to each bottle to keep it balanced and to make it a little harder to capsize instantly.
  2. Cut up the plastic acetate sheet into six 4" wide by 1-1/2" high pieces. Horizontally place one plastic acetate sheet on the side of each bottle, and tape the bottom and sides of the sheet to create a "pouch."
  3. Cut index cards in half, so that each one is 2 1/2" x 3", and divide them into "packs" of six. The word cards will be placed in the "pouch" on the soda bottles, and each "pack" will include a group of words using the "two vowels" rule.
  • Pack 1: ea: leaf, bean, lead, treat, peak, seal, real, deal, leap, cheap (pick any six)
  • Pack 2: ai: rain, pain, stain, gain, main, drain, train, main (pick any six)
  • Pack 3: ie: field, thief, chief, yield, grief, belief
  • Pack 4: oo: soon, moon, balloon, noon, raccoon, loon
  • Pack 5: ee: see, bee, tree, deep, peep, creep, need, keep, green, peel, reel, sleep (pick any six)
  • Pack 6: oa: boat, foam, goat, roam, float, throat, coat, moat (pick any six)

How to play!

  1. Start with the first pack, and place one index card inside each clear pouch so that the word shows clearly. Then line up the "bowling pin" soda bottles in a triangular formation with three in the back row, two in the middle row, and one in front. Give your child a ball (anything from a lightweight Nerf ball to a soccer ball, depending on whether you're indoors or outdoors and whether you've weighted your pins). Depending on the skill of your bowlers, you may also want to make an alleyway with spare boards or children's blocks.
  2. Have kids take turns "bowling" to knock down the pins. Once they've knocked some pins down, have them read each word in the pouch of the knocked over bottle. They will get one point for each word, so make sure to tell your kids they won't get a point unless they successfully read the word. Teammates can coach and provide support, but remember to hold the rule: no word, no point!
Julie Williams, M.A. Education, taught middle and high school History and English for seventeen years. Since then, she has volunteered in elementary classrooms while raising her two sons and earning a master's in school administration. She has also been a leader in her local PTA.