Teaching Letter Sounds

Tactics for Teaching Letter Sounds

When teaching letter sounds to young students it is most effective to choose a letter of the week as your focus as well as providing them with rich literacy experiences exposing them to all the letters on a daily basis

Children and adults learning to read, write and spell often become confused with letter sounds. Playing with letters and sounds should be introduced early and become part of everyday learning. Encourage the learner to hear, say, write, and talk about each sound. Knowing that most letters make more than one sound gives the learner knowledge of when to use the letter, increasing their word recognition, and in turn their ability to write and spell. Instead of teaching just short and long sounds include all the sounds of that letter. e.g.: e says ‘e’ as in egg; ‘e’ as in me; ‘i’ as in pretty; and ‘ear’ as in zero.

Teaching Letter Sounds

As students get older we turn our focus to helping them decode blends, digraphs, and inflected endings as well as teaching them how to differentiate between onsets and rimes. Just as with the individual letters. It is best to expose students to many sounds each week, but their weekly spelling words should be chosen to help them identify patterns in words.

Each student in our classroom has a specific learning style, so we must use many different strategies when teaching letter sounds in order to reach the most children. The ideas below can be used with younger children as they learn their ABC’s or with older children as they practice their spelling words.

Pictorial Representation  - Picture This!

When teaching letter sounds pictorial representations of letters and words can help students remember them. That is why letter flashcards will have a tiger eating a tangerine and leaning against a tree! Expose your students to the imagery first and eventually the letter in isolation. For example, the letter ‘t’ might be drawn first as a tree, and then gradually turned into a t. This can be especially helpful for letters students commonly mix up like ‘b’ and ‘d’.

  • Combine visual symbols with each letter of your classroom alphabet.
  • When writing words on a classroom word wall write the phonemes and rimes in two different colors.
  • Allow students to form their own pictures using the letter of the week.
  • Instruct older students to draw pictures to help them remember their vocabulary words.

Physical Representation - Move it!

Get your students up and moving when teaching letter sounds! Linking each sound to specific body movement helps children to commit them to memory. These Physical cues might be whole body like buzzing and flying around like a bee to represent the letter ‘b’.

These cues may also focus on how the lips, mouth, and tongue are placed while making the sound.

  • Have students build letters or words using a variety of material they can shape with their hands like Wiki Styx, clay or PlayDoh.
  • Allow students to trace letters while making their sounds. Use a variety of mediums like pudding, shaving cream, and sand.
  • Turn off the lights and allow students to write their letters or words with a flashlight.
  • Have students jump rope, walk on a balance beam, or bounce a ball while making a letter sounds or spelling a word.

Movement - Feel the Rhythm!

Turn up the music! Letters represent sounds just like the notes on a piece of sheet music. Our brain actually recognizes music and language with both the left and the right side of the brain. When we purpose to link the two in our classrooms we provide powerful connections for our students.

This helps our younger students learn to differentiate between phonemes and older students learn to spell words.

  • Allow students to sing or create songs that reinforce the 44 phonemes that make up the English language.
  • Older students may tap out syllables using drumsticks or practice spelling them with rhythmic background music in the background.
  • Give students the opportunities to hear or read text with rhythm like Mother Goose Rhymes, silly tongue twisters, poetry, and chants.

It is important to remember that every student sitting in our rooms has the ability to learn their letter sounds, but sometimes traditional modes of teaching will simply not work for them.

The effective teacher will know that when teaching letter sounds allowing students to practice their letter sounds in a variety of ways you can help to open the wonderful world of literacy to them.

Teach children to form their letters as they learn their letter sounds

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Heather Collins

Heather Collins is an Early Childhood and Special Education Teacher who makes developmentally appropriate resources for teachers and parents to use with their children. She is author and co-author of poetry books and children’s books. She is a passionate collagist and has crafted beautiful finger puppets and story aprons suitable for early childhood education.

Her resources can be purchased on this website or she can be contacted at Create-Ed by emailing heathercreated@gmail.com. You can order an original apron for any favourite storybook.

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