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Teaching Letters and Sounds: 17 Strategies that Work

January 4, 2016 by Emily




In order to help our students learn their letters and sounds, it is important to have multiple strategies for teaching letters and sounds.  We also need to understand the misconceptions and the challenges students face when having to learn and remember their letters and sounds.

17 Strategies for Teaching Letters and Sounds

 

I would like to address a few things before we get into the core of what students need when it comes to this concept.  I understand the way we are teaching letters, sounds, and the alphabet may vary by state, district, school, and program.

However, one thing will remain the same.  Sounds are sounds.  Letters are letters.  The alphabet is the alphabet.  These are all different things that are all connected to each other.  Just because a child knows his/her alphabet, does not mean he/she knows the letters and sounds.  Just because a child knows a letter, doesn’t necessarily mean he/she knows its sound, and vice versa.

It is important to know the difference, because students will eventually need each separate skill for different things.  However you decide (or are required) to teach letters and sounds, here are some strategies for teaching them.

Teaching Letters and Sounds: 17 Strategies that Work


1.  Use repetition when assigning teaching letters and sounds during independent and partner practice.

At some point during your day, your students should have a chance to practice their letters and sounds in a way that is routine and repetitive.  This serves as a great instructional routine that does not take up much time.

The reason why you want to give students the repetitive practice, is because they know what to expect, they have a short time to practice what they’ve learned, and most students can complete the activity without much direction.

During this time, you can help your students who need the most intervention.  I created these Alphabet Printables so students have a variety of activities to practice when doing independent and partner practice.

1. Use repetition with independent and partner practice.


2.  Have multiple references and tools available in the classroom when teaching letters and sounds.

I cannot stress the value of having references and tools in the classroom enough.   As adults, when we want information, we can access the information through books and/or a simple internet search.

Students need the same resources we do when they need information.  Kids will use these resources if they are taught to use them before asking you or another teacher for information.

These can be posters on the wall, an informational page in their desk folder, or resource cards.  I have created these Alphabet Poster Cards for my students so they have access to this information when they need reminders for letters and sounds.


 

3.  Incorporate 21st century learning skills while learning the alphabet.

Teaching kids skills needed in the 21st century is vital to their success in their future studies and as adults.  Unfortunately, we don’t always have the resources needed to teach these skills.

I noticed my students didn’t get enough exposure to the QWERTY keyboard.  That is why I created these Alphabet Keyboard Practice Sheets.  They see the letters, (both lower and uppercase) and they can connect them to where they are on the keyboard.  This gives them that much more experience when they get their time on the computer.

10 Strategies for Teaching Letters and Sounds: 3. Incorporate 21st century learning skills while learning the alphabet.


4.   Be creative and provide novelty when practicing letters and sounds

It’s important to remember kids want to create.  They want to do things that are out of the ordinary.  So be creative with the activities you choose when introducing and practicing each letter and sound.

I have always had great success with Alphabet Crowns.  I have been known to be the “Best Teacher Ever” whenever I pull these out for practice.  There are so many other things though that you can try with your kids.  Be creative!  Use Pinterest, and find something to connect this content with your little ones.

4. Be creative and provide novelty when practicing letters and sounds


 5.  Build strong communication lines with parents and caregivers.

Hear me when I tell you there is nothing more important than making sure you communicate with parents.  You will get so much more bang for your buck if they know what is going on and you hold them accountable.  Every little bit helps.  Why are you busting your rear during the school day if the kids are going to go home and not practice?

I know what you are thinking… “But the parents of my students don’t/can’t help.”

My answer to that is: Not all of them.  Some can help.  And they will.

You just have to train them and hold them accountable.  One thing I have found very helpful, is to send each child home with an Alphabet Booklet with the letter/sound we learned for that day.  The more I can get the content right in front of their face, the less likely they will forget to practice with their child.  Plus the kids are so excited about it, they will end up showing anybody that will acknowledge it!  As an added BONUS, we have included a “Home Connection” in each booklet that offers suggestions on ways to practice phonics.


6.  Allow kids time to explore with hands-on and fine motor activities

Having students use their hands/body while they are learning is so very important to their brain development.  When kids use their muscles and brains at the same time, they are less likely to forget what they learned.  It’s just like riding a bike.  You can’t forget how to do that, because you used your body and your brain to learn.  It is also great to incorporate fine motor practice into the hands-on learning.  I created these Alphabet Play Dough Mats so that students would have a hands-on way to practice.

10 Strategies for Teaching Letters and Sounds. 6. Allow kids time to explore with hands-on and fine motor activities


 7.  Incorporate art into learning letters and sounds.

I always try to integrate art and play into academic content.  That is why I created these Alphabet Q-Tip Practice Sheets.  Students will get a little letter practice while using Q-Tips to paint letters, and then they can do a little art on their own by filling in the corresponding object to the right.  And it is great for building fine motor strength and coordination.

Whenever I have an opportunity to allow my students to express their creativity while they are learning, I embrace it.  I have found art activities like this also keep behavior problems to a minimum, when managed correctly.

10 Strategies for Teaching Letters and Sounds. 7. Incorporate art into learning

Want more ideas?

I asked the amazing and talented teachers in the Fearless First Grade Facebook Group for more strategies when teaching letters and sounds!


8. My kiddos love Swat-a-Sound. We use the giant swatters from Dollar Tree. I spread letters out on the carpet and give 2 kiddos (each) a swatter- then say, “Find the letter that makes the sound (insert here).” They hit it with the swatter and say its name and sound. Then two more friends go. We have played in whole and small group settings. They always ask to play!

-Jessica R.

SWATTING SIGHT WORDS


 

9.  We sing and dance to songs like this: Everybody dance now!A says /a/,/a/,/a/. And on and on…

-Vera from The Tutu Teacher


 

10.  Have Fun Teaching videos from YouTube! They are great. We listen to them every morning.

We also play memory match with abc flash cards. They love it! The Orton Gillingham 3 Drill pack is also very effective!
-Carmen B.

11.  “We use motions for each sound that match our abc poster picture. When we sing the “abc rap” (search that on YouTube) while we do each motion. Then in small group whenever we review we do that hand motion. We also use sand in small toaster oven trays. When we say the sound, we write the letter in the sand for the sensory aspect. It’s worked really well!
-Meredith from Creativity to the Core

12.  We use hand motions with our alphabet linking chart, as well as letters in sand/salt. Plus, my kiddos love the alphabet rubs from Lakeshore. Kaboom! is another one our favorite games, as is alphabet dominoes. I have a whole post about alphabet activities for small groups, if you want to check it out!
-Ashley Sharp from One Sharp Bunch

13.  Dictation at the student’s level and breaking words that they don’t know into its phonetic sounds. Soon students start to do this by themselves.
-Chris B

DIGITAL ALPHABET ACTIVITIES


14.  For letter sounds we use Jolly Phonics. It’s a great program that puts a story and an action to every letter. It also has some vowel teams and digraphs. For letter names we do an alphabet challenge: 5-6 weeks where parents, students and teachers work really hard to get students to learn their letters. When they learn all 26, they get an ice cream. This kind of lets us know which kids just have motivation issues and which kids might have some learning or memory problems because they weren’t able to learn their letters even with a lot of motivation and repetition.
-Kerri G.

15.  We do sign language for many of the phonograms. For example, for the short u sound, we do a sign language “u” to our chest. For a long “u” we make a “u” and extend our arms up. It’s been very successful for me!!
-Stacy H.

SIGHT WORD SIGN LANGUAGE


16.  One of the things I do that the children love is sing the song “If All Of The Raindrops Were Lemon drops and Gumdrops.” At the part where you sing: “I’d stand outside with my mouth open wide singing:” (hold up a letter) children sing the sound of the letter. I use large foam letters. Sometimes I will ask a child to stand and hold up the letter instead of me. Studies show that when children are moving, they retain information more easily, so I include actions to go with the song.
-Barbara R.

17.  I teach Kindergarten. As a part of the student engagement, I do a matching game with my students. Each student is given a letter card (uppercase or lowercase ). Students will use Kagan strategy Stand up, Hand up, Pair up and find their match. Students will begin when music plays and stop once music stops. I will call on a pair to share out their uppercase and lowercase letter, its sound, and a word that begins with the letter sound. Sometimes I will allow students to call on others or I’ll use popsicle sticks to call on others. In preparation I change cards weekly and I consider how many students I have present. Also, I participate if someone doesn’t have a partner.
-Angela R.

ALPHABET WRITE AND WIPE PUZZLES


Now that you have learned how to teach letters and sounds, you’re on your way to becoming a more efficient reading teacher! 

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17 Strategies for Teaching Letters and Sounds

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