Around 3 years old, I wanted to show Benny that words mean something. He knew the ABCs pretty well from apps and cartoons, but didn't understand that they represent phonics and that they combine into words.
Exercise 1 (age 3): I made several flashcards with a word on one side and a picture on the other. The pictures were things that Benny really cared about at the time - palm trees, fire trucks, Mama, Benny, cracker, cookie, etc. By using things he really cared about, I could get his attention.
Results: Great! Benny seemed to get the idea that the words represented the objects, although he didn't yet get that the letters made sounds.
Exercise 2 (age 3-5): Wonster Words, Endless Reader, and Kids Learn to Read.
Results: Pretty good. He liked one at a time and each seemed to help cement the idea that letters combine to form words that had meaning. He would get frustrated with not having some of the words he wanted (as with all the freemium apps) so I'd buy premium versions (really good deal in the grand scheme of things). He got sick of each app after a while.
Exercise 3 (age 4): I spelled the word cookie. When Benny listened to me spell it, I gave him a piece of cookie. Then, I encouraged him to say the letters with me and gave him more pieces of cookie. Then I offered him pieces of cookie to spell the word.
Results: Awesome! He's never forgotten how to spell the word cookie. And I use it in other exercises now.
Exercise 4 (age 4): I wrote two words on paper cups. Inside each cup was a contents related to the words, such as a toy or a peanut or a cookie (he knew how to spell cookie at this point so this was a great one). Then I asked Benny which cup he wants and told him what the words spelled after he chose.
Results: Great. This really increased his interest in words and he really liked this game.
Exercise 5 (age 4): Benny loves Lego sets at age 4. So I printed pictures of Lego sets that he wanted and covered them with stickies of each word that he wanted. I started off with cheap sets with only two stickies and worked up from there. I asked Benny what the words were and removed them as he identified the words. I used words that Benny was reading or that he really liked.
Results: Awesome (eventually). At first, he got really frustrated and even cried a little. He really wanted the toy but didn't know the words. I would help him find the words in Waterford Upstart or in the books his mama was reading to him so that he could identify what the words were. Eventually, he started loving this game. Sometimes, he puts the stickies on a picture of a toy he already has just to play this game.