TRT Podcast#15: Quick tips for teaching letter sounds
Do you have learners who struggle to remember letter sounds?
- Discover two daily activities that will make the biggest impact.
- Get ideas for teaching letter sounds in small groups.
- Learn how to teach letter sounds with resources you already have.
- Check out my brand new (free!) intervention tool to help kids learn letter sounds.
Full episode transcript
You are listening to Episode 15: Quick Tips for Teaching Letter Sounds. This is part two in an eight-part series about teaching struggling readers. Today we're going to focus on what to do when you have learners in late pre-K or kindergarten who are struggling to remember letter sounds.
The first thing to do is to find a song that's catchy and repeat it often. Bonus points if the song includes actions. As I was looking for videos to share with you, I found a wonderful example on YouTube. It has a young teacher with his adorable class, and they're very into this song. He starts it by saying that he loves the alphabet so much he likes to eat it. Together, they sing the Eating the Alphabet song, which they've clearly sung before, because they were very good at it.
It goes something like this: "I've got the A, /a/ /a/, in my mouth. I've got the B, /b/ /b/, in my mouth. I've got the C, /k/ /k/, in my mouth, and I'm learning to read." And then, you just repeat it with every set of three letters. It's adorable. You've totally got to check that out. I will provide a link to that in the show notes, or maybe I might just embed the video in the blog post.
That's not the only option. There are many different alphabet songs in all different musical genres. You might choose a YouTube video that you watch every day with the kids actively out of their seats, singing along and doing the actions. You'll find some ideas for these in A Teachable Teacher's blog post, which I'm going to link to in the show notes.
The next idea is from Alison of Learning at the Primary Pond, and she suggests having your students chant an alphabet chart with you every day. I'm sure you've seen alphabet charts. It's a printable page, usually with about five letters per row arranged in a table format. And each little box has the letter in uppercase, lowercase, and then a picture.
Every day, you could pull that out, and the kids use their own alphabet chart, they move their finger along the rows, and they chant the chart with you. "A, apple, /a/. B, ball, /b/," and so on. After you chant it, you can play games with the chart. You could say cover the letter that says /m/, or cover the letter above the letter that says /s/.
Our third idea is to make sure you do even more multi-sensory activities. Getting out of their seats, singing, and moving with a song, that's definitely multi-sensory. Something else you can do is have kids look at letter cards, and then trace the letter in a container of salt or sand, and as they trace it with their finger, they're making the shape in the sand, they say the name of the letter and the sound. So, "N, nnn". And you teach them how to do that; practice that with them so that they can do that on their own.
Something else you can do is to modify alphabet games to focus on letter sounds. Take the alphabet games you already have, and just alter them a little bit. Instead of kids naming the letter, have them name the sound. For example, on my blog, I have four in a row where kids name the letter and put a chip or color it. And then, whoever has four in a row first wins. You could change it, so that instead of saying the name, they say the letter sound.
In my Alphabet Games and Activities Bundle, which is on my blog in my shop, you can use the Name the Letter game, but have kids say the sound instead. That's a really great game for this purpose, because it only focuses on a few letters per game. And since the game is editable, you can just type in the letters whose sounds your students need to practice. I've also included an editable bingo game in that bundle. You could use the game that only includes nine letters, and you could put the letters in there whose sounds kids are working on -- always, of course, including a good number of letters whose sounds they already know, because you want to mix up what they don't know with what they already do know so the game isn't too overwhelming. And then, when you're calling letters for them to cover on the board, instead of saying the letter's name, you say its sound.
Our next tip is to do letter and sound recognition activities in small groups. You can certainly do that YouTube video with the whole class every day, you can certainly chant the alphabet chart together every day, because those don't take a lot of time, but you don't want to do a ton of letter sound activities with the whole class, because everyone doesn't need to work on the exact same sounds.
It's better to do an assessment to find out which sounds particular children know, or perhaps how many they know. So, you might have a group of kids who know all their letters and all their sounds, and you may have a group of students who know only three or four, and then maybe a group that knows none of them. In those small groups, you can do an activity like one that I saw on DeeDee Wills' site, which is called Mrs. Wills' Kindergarten. You use magnetic letters, that's really important, so kids can feel the shape of the letters. And you could take a cookie sheet that you get from the dollar store and write all the capital letters on it in permanent marker. And then, kids match the lowercase, magnetic letters to the uppercase letters on the board, saying the letters' sounds as they do so. They might each have their own cookie sheet with a bag of letters and you slowly add more letters to their bag. You don't give them all at once. So, if a child knows three letters, you always include those three letters in the bag and you add maybe two letters every time you meet or until they've mastered them. And then, you add two more. And with that, kids are practicing what they know and adding more letters. So, they'd pull letter out of the bag, say its name and its sound, and then match it to the uppercase letter on the board.
My last tip for you is very one-on-one. This is to use a letter sound intervention book with individual students. This is something I just recently created, and I'm going to explain it to you so you can picture what it looks like. Imagine a piece of paper landscape, so you're holding it the long way. And imagine it divided into three equal sections going across. So, three long strips of paper. Each of those strips is the length of the book. And you're going to have a total of 26 pages, one for each letter, stapled together. And each page, each of those strips, is going to feature an uppercase letter, lowercase letter, and two pictures of a mouth about to say that letter's sound. So, if it's for B, you would see big B, little B, two mouths with the lips together, because that's where we are when we're about to say /b/, and then a space for a picture. And you would have a bag of pictures, one for each letter sound.
What you would first do is look at the book with each individual child and glue down all the pictures if the child already knows the letter sound. And so that way the child can read the book, only reading the pages that have the pictures. So, if a child knows the B and the B sound, they would read that page like this, "B, B, /b/, /b/, ball."
There are little black dots under all the parts of the page. So, they would point to the dots under the big B, the little B, the first mouth, the second mouth, and the place where they glued the picture. And what you would do is you would slowly add more pictures as you teach more letter sounds. And every day, the child is going to read through that little intervention book, just reading the pages that have the pictures. And eventually, the whole thing will be full and they'll know all their letter sounds. So, this letter sound intervention book is free on my blog. You can find it in the show notes.
Let's review the tips that I've talked about today for helping kids who struggle to learn letter sounds. The first thing to do is to find a catchy song that you like, that you know is going to work for your students, and repeat it often, hopefully every day. And in the show notes, I will provide a link to some possibilities.
The next idea is to print an alphabet chart for every child and chant that chart every day with your students. They look at the picture and the letter and they say, "A, Apple, /a/," and they go all the way through the chart every day.
The next tip is to make sure you're doing lots of multi-sensory activities.
Next, we talked about modifying the alphabet games you already have, so that instead of saying the letter name, kids say the letter sound.
I recommended doing letter and sound activities in small groups like that cookie sheet game, where they match the small letters to the uppercase while saying the letter name and sound.
And I talked to you about using a letter sounds intervention book with individual students, which I'm going to link to in the show notes.
One more thing you can do to help kids who are struggling to learn letter sounds is to strengthen phonemic awareness skills. That's a really big topic though. And we're going to talk about that in next week's episode. You can find all of the resources I talked about today in the show notes at themeasuredmom.com/episode15. Thanks for listening, and I'll talk to you again soon.
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Resources and links mentioned in this episode
- Other recommended alphabet songs (A Teachable Teacher)
- When letter sounds just won’t stick (Learning at the Primary Pond)
- Free four-in-a-row letter game
- Letter recognition activities (Mrs. Wills’ Kindergarten)
- Alphabet games and activities bundle
- Free letter sounds intervention book (pictured above)
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