Imagine being a beginning reader. Letters on the page are just scribbles, as if someone were doodling. Mom picks up a book and starts reading aloud, and you are amazed that these scribbles are a code. You want to know the code. It seems magical. These scribbles tell stories.
Mom reads effortlessly, seemingly as fast as she speaks. You’re hopeful that this code will be easy to break. Yet, when you start learning letter sounds, you make many errors and you confuse letters that look similar like “b” and “d.” Why are letter sounds so hard to learn?
Many children struggle to identify the shapes of letters and the corresponding sound. The idea that a letter cannot be turned or re-oriented is a completely novel concept to a beginning reader. A tree is a tree from all angles. But “u” is “n” upside down.
Some activities can help children master letter shapes, even when they haven’t developed the fine motor skills to write. The following activities can help a student who struggles with identifying letter sounds and shapes. Be sure to avoid common letter sound teaching mistakes.
As the student outlines the letter, encourage him to say the letter sound. Here’s an example of an effective interaction:
Teacher: [point to letter] Sound?
Teacher: Yes, “sssss” as in “snake,” “sssss” as in “snail.”
Student: or “ssss” as in “sand”
Teacher stays quiet to let student focus on the shape of the letter. Complete the activity until all letters are traced with cereal. Lastly, randomly point to letters and encourage the student to say the sounds.
Set out rice (or a fine grain like cornmeal) on a sheet of wax paper. Have lower case letter flashcards prepared. Since letter sounds are the foundation of reading, be sure to say the letter SOUND, not the letter name.
Teacher; [show student letter flashcard, like “t”] Sound?
Student: /t/ [Student says /t/ without adding an “uh”]
Teacher: Write /t/ [Still, do not say letter name]
Let student trace letter. As the student focuses on the letter shape, be sure to hide the flashcard. If the student makes an error, bring the flashcard back out. Show the student and let him correct his shape error. Lastly, encourage the student to say the letter sound. Repeat activity with different letters.
PIPE CLEANER LETTERS
Teacher: Make /p/
The student makes “p.” If the student doesn’t know the letter “p” shape, write “p” for him on a sheet of paper. Let him copy the shape. As the student works, be sure to encourage him to say the letter sound throughout the activity.
Use the pipe cleaners to practice letter reversals. Turn the “d” shape to make a “b” and “p.” As you turn the shape, have the student identify each sound.