Do you have a child in Kindergarten that needs to learn to blend sounds together? With just a few activities, you can teach your child to read short a words. Some children struggle tremendously with blending sounds. However, even kids that struggle with phonemic awareness (the ability to break apart, manipulate and blend sounds) can learn to crack the written code.
Teach the short a sound: a_ as in apple.
When beginning readers learn vowels, they should only learn short vowels:
a_ as in apple (ex. cap, man, Pam)
e_ as in elephant (ex. Ted, pet, red)
i_ as in igloo (ex. Tim, lit, win)
o_ as in octopus (ex. pop, mom, hop)
u_ as in up (ex. cup, fun, run)
Since the goal here is to get your child reading short a words, focus on teaching short a and a few letter sounds. To teach short a write a sentence on the board:
Tam has a rat.
Next, say something like, “There’s a new vowel sound in this sentence. I’m going to read the sentence slowly. You tell me what the letter a says.”
As you read the sentence out loud to your child, stretch out the aaaaa sound. Point to each sound as you read. Thus, you should read the sentence as follows:
Taaaam haaaas a raaaat.
Next, say, “Do you hear what letter a says? Yes, it says aaaa as in apple.”
Write a on a flashcard. Review the flashcard each lesson. Remember that a, in the beginning, says only a_ as in apple. Don’t teach your beginner exceptions to rules yet. Just say aaaa like in cat, bat, ran…etc.
Teach a few letter sounds and teach them properly.
Letter sounds seem simple because you know them and you’re an expert reader. Yet, most people teach letter sounds incorrectly. Here’s a few necessary changes you need to make to teach letter sounds in a way that actually helps an early reader unlock the code.
Don’t teach letter names to beginning readers who struggle.
Do not teach letter names. Sure, teaching letter names is harmless for most young readers. However, this site is dedicated to teaching the 30% of kids that are sensitive to instruction and absolutely need science-based methods. Letter names do not break the written code. We don’t say “dee–oh–gee” for dog. Nor do we say “see–ay–tee” for cat. If you have a kid who is struggling with blending, toss the letter names out of instruction.
Letter names cause confusion and slow down the acquisition of reading. With each word, your student is deciding between two options /c/ and see, /d/ and dee, /m/ and em… etc. In general, letter names are pretty useless, but that’s another topic. Teach letter sounds only. You want your student to have an initial instinct to say the sound of a letter, not the name. The sound unlocks the code.
Hold continuous sounds.
Continuous sounds are sounds you can hold for a long time without any sound distortion. For example, you can say /m/ for a long time: mmmmmmm. You did not add any additional sounds here. You just said mmmmmm. Continuous sounds are helpful for young readers, because as they hold them, they can unlock the next sound more fluidly: SSSSSaaaaammmmm. Teach your child to hold continuous sounds.
Clip stop sounds.
In contrast, teach your child to clip stop sounds. Stop sounds are sounds you cannot hold. If you try to hold a stop sound, you will distort or change the sound. For example, you cannot say /d/ for a long time. Inevitably, you will add an “uh” and say duh. To clip a sound means to say it quickly and avoid adding an uh. These distortions can make unlocking the code incredibly difficult for a beginner. Instead of “d-ooo-g,” a child that has not been taught to clip stop sounds will say “duh-ooo-guh.” She might think the word is dug instead of dog.
Start with just a few letter sounds.
If you want your student to start breaking the code, teach a handful of letter sounds like: m, t, s, n, f. With these letters, she can unlock quite a few words: fat, mat, man, fan, sat, tan. Write the letter sounds on flashcards. Put them in the same pile as the short a sound. Make sure your student reviews the flashcards each lesson.
Next, teach phonemic awareness.
Words are made up of multiple sounds. This is not new to you because you are literate. However, it turns out, that without literacy, we all would be totally unaware that words were made up of numerous discrete sounds. We would think words were one utterance, and therefore one sound. An awareness of sound units is helpful in a literate society, particularly one with an alphabetic code.
In contrast, Jose Morais, a researcher, conducted experiments in illiterate populations and found that phonemic awareness is not a natural, predestined state. Phonemic awareness must be taught. Adults in the communities Morais studied could not identify initial consonants, could not break sounds apart (ex. What are the sounds are in bat in order: b-aaa-t) and generally were not phonemically aware. What lessons were learned from his research? Phonemic awareness is not innate. Therefore, we must teach children that words are composed of discrete sounds.
How do you teach phonemic awareness?
In general, teach your child to play with sound. You can do phonemic awareness activities anywhere, because they don’t require text. Here are some sample activities:
USE SOUNDS ONLY, NOT LETTER NAMES.
What’s the first sound in win? w Rain? r Black? b Sam? s kite? k
Let’s say the sounds of the following words in order. Be sure to hold continuous sounds. [Point to something as your child says the sounds. For example, you can place three stickers in a row. Point to each sticker for each sound, left to right.] Man? mmm-aaa-nnn. Run? rrr-uuu-nnn. Dip? d-iii-p. Dog? d-ooo-g. Wet? www-eee-t.
There are a variety of phonemic awareness activities you can do, but these are simple and solid.
Now it is time for your child to read.
Now write some short a words down on a paper: Sam, fat, mat, man, fan, sat, tan. Write in lower case letters.
Have your child read the words sound-by-sound.
Can she read them? If not, do more phonemic awareness activities. Teach your child to breath out to blend sounds, as if she were a singer. For example, Sam is said in one exhale: Ssssaaammm. Tell her to pretend she’s singing and she cannot take a breath until the word is done.
Reading Elephant offers printable short vowel books. We have a systematic phonics library that teaches kids to break the code. Print them from your home!
Morais J. (1991) Phonological Awareness: A Bridge Between Language and Literacy. In: Sawyer D.J., Fox B.J. (eds) Phonological Awareness in Reading. Springer Series in Language and Communication, vol 28. Springer, New York, NY