Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

I love a holiday! Any holiday is a reason to change up our reading games and reinvigorate them with a new theme. (It also gives me a reason to use my copious amounts of glitter.) What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day and literacy than to weave together love, candy, and letters!

This literacy activity lets children draw their own version of those ubiquitous candy conversation hearts and then try to create words with them. Children attempt to make as many words as they can with these hearts, practicing their reading skills. It’s a sweet, simple, and thematic way to teach the key skills of encoding and decoding.

Not feeling crafty? Print our free conversation hearts Valentine’s reading game template instead of drawing your own!

Conversation Heart 01

Materials Needed:

  • 3 paper bags or other containers
  • Craft foam (or construction paper)
  • A sheet of paper
  • Scissors
  • Markers


  • Clear packing tape

Step 1: First, cut out hearts from your craft foam or construction paper. I suggest around 30 hearts, about 10 for each container.

Conversation Heart 02

Step 2: On each heart, write a single letter. Make sure you include several copies of all five vowels, plus common consonants such as S, R, N, M, and T. When choosing your letters, keep in mind simple three-letter words children might be familiar with, such as mom, can, pig, dad, rat, and sun. (If your child or someone in your family has a three-letter name, include those letters too!)

Conversation Heart 03

Step 3: Using one of your hearts as a template, trace three hearts in a row across a sheet of paper. These hearts will be where your child places their letters to create words.

Optional: To protect the paper and keep it in one piece for multiple uses, cover both sides with packing tape, our favorite hack for a “lamination” finish.

Conversation Heart 04

Step 4: Divide the hearts equally among the 3 containers. I like to use gift bags to make them festive, but that’s entirely up to you. 

Step 5: Have your child reach into each container and pull out a heart. They can place their hearts on the paper you created in Step 3. 

Do those letters make a word? What happens when you move the letters around? Can you make a new word? Maybe they don’t make a word at all. That’s okay too! When your child has finished with those letters, draw three more. Keep going until all the letters are gone.

What’s important about this activity isn’t that your child makes real words; it’s that they practice sounding out letters in different combinations. Reinforcing awareness of the sounds that make up words can be silly and fun. It doesn’t need to feel high-pressure or as if they absolutely must know this word. Reading something silly like “opm” or “pom” instead of “mop” uses the same skills: letter recognition, reading left to right, and phonics. 

Valentine’s Day is a day for love, and hopefully, with a little help from this activity, your children are learning to love reading.

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Convo Hearts Reading