Reading Elephant started a YouTube channel. Please check out our first video on teaching alphabet sounds. Here’s the link:
There are a few principles you should follow when teaching alphabet sounds. Some kids really struggle to learn letter sounds. For struggling readers, following these principles becomes even more important.
1) Use flashcards. Mix them up.
When you’re teaching alphabet sounds, you should use flashcards. Write one letter on each card. Mix them up each time your student reviews them. That way, he does not memorize the order of the cards. Instead, he really masters the letter sounds.
2) Teach short vowels.
For the vowels a, e, i, o, u, teach your student the short vowel sounds. Here are the short vowel sounds:
a_ as in apple (ex. hat, sat)
e_ as in elephant (ex. hen, pet)
i_ as in igloo (ex. sit, pig)
o_ as in octopus (ex. dog, pop)
u_ as in umbrella (ex. cup, bug)
Short vowel sounds allow kids to read CVC words like hat, sit, pet… etc. CVC stands for consonant-vowel-consonant. Short vowels are important, because they allow kids to start reading CVC books like the following excerpt.
Reading Elephant offers printable short vowel stories in our shop.
3) Teach one sound per letter.
Letters can make multiple sounds. However, when you’re working with a beginning reader, teach one sound per letter. Here are the sounds you should focus on:
a as in apple
b as in bat
c as in cat
d as in dog
e as in elephant
f as in frog
g as in goat
h as in hat
i as in igloo
j as in jaguar
k as in kangaroo
l as in lion
m as in monkey
n as in nest
o as in octopus
p as in panda
q as in queen
r as in rhinoceros
s as in snow
t as in turtle
u as in umbrella
v as in violin
w as in wing
x as in fox
y as in yak
z as in zebra
Reading Elephant offers printable decodable books in our shop.
4) Say letter sounds only.
Letter sounds unlock words. Letter names do not. Unfortunately, most people focus on letter names too much. Beginning readers need to think of the sound right away when they see the letter symbol. Educators should not teach children to think of the letter name right way. This means lessons should almost entirely focus on letter sounds.
The fact that the letter name for “s” is “es,” the letter name for “a” is “ay” and the letter name for “m” is “em,” does not help kids when they try to read “Sam.” Letter names would cause a child to read “Sam” as “Esayem.” This is not helpful. Instead, focus on letter sounds. Only the letter sounds “SSS-aaa-mmm” can unlock the word “Sam.”
5) Use lower case letters.
Focus on lower case letters. As you can see in the short vowel book excerpt below, most of the text kids (and people in general) read is composed of lower case letters.
6) Clip stop sounds.
There are 2 types of alphabet sounds: stop sounds and continuous sounds.
Stop sounds are sounds that you cannot say for a long time without adding an “uh.” For example, try to say “d” for a long time and you’ll inevitably add an “uh.” Clip that “uh” off. Don’t say “uh” and make sure your student doesn’t say “uh” either. The correct pronunciation is just “d-.”
If you add an “uh” to stop sounds, your student will have trouble decoding. When she encounters a word like “dig,” she’ll say “duhiguh.” This might cause her to read “dig” as “dug” or “dog.”
Teach letter sounds correctly, clip that “uh” off stop sounds, and your student will begin decoding more accurately. Some other stop sounds include: b, c, d, g, j, k… etc.
7) Hold continuous sounds.
Continuous sounds are sounds you can say for a long time without any sound distortion. For example, you can hold “mmmmm” without changing or distorting the sound. Hold continuous sounds for 2-3 seconds and make sure your student also holds continuous sounds for 2-3 seconds (or longer).
Continuous sounds are helpful for beginning readers. They help beginners move fluidly from one sound to another without stopping. They can help beginners blend words. For example, the word “Sam” is composed entirely of continous sounds. This means, “Sam” is easier for beginning readers than “dig” (dig has stop sounds).
8) Lastly, teach 2-4 letter sounds at a time.
Teach 2-4 letter sounds at a time. Allow kids to master the alphabet sounds you’ve introduced before you teach more. In this way, kids can gradually build their alphabet sounds repertoire. We don’t learn things all at once. We learn things gradually. Allow your students to gradually acclimate to the letter sounds. Be sure to review old sounds too.