Let’s talk about PHONICS!! We are all familiar with having to teach the names of letters and their corresponding sounds to our young learners. It usually is the core part of our reading program in preschool and kindergarten.
Identification of letters and sounds must be mastered before decoding unknown words can begin, which then leads to the blending of sounds and finally – reading. YAY!!
Most of us have a sequence in which we introduce letters, so a few of these tips won’t apply to you, but the rest of our tips are just some engagement strategies you can add to your toolbox to strengthen and/or change up your phonics instruction.
10 Ways to Freshen Up the Way You Teach Phonics
1. My Biggest Pet Peeve!!! (Adding /uh/ to Consonant Sounds)
It makes me cringe when I ask a student to tell me the sound b, t, p, or k makes and their response is /buh/, /tuh/, /puh, or /kuh/.
Please, please, please do NOT add /uh/ to the end of a consonant sound when teaching your littles letter sounds. It makes blending sounds together later on extremely difficult.
Think about the word CAT… we want our students to be able to say each letter sound and then blend them back together to read the word. Like this… /k/ /a/ /t/ = “cat”; if a student has been taught by adding /uh/ to the end of consonants, we get this… /kuh/ /a/ /tuh/ = “cuatuh”. Definitely not the word we are listening/looking for. LOL
2. Link Actions with Letters/Sounds (Total Physical Response)
Whenever I can, I try to link physical actions with learning. Identifying letters and sounds are no different. I have a daily chant that my students do as a warm up to begin reading block.
It begins AA /a/ /a/, BB /b/ /b/, CC /k/ /k/, etc. With certain letters and sounds, the students have hand movements to do while saying the letter and sound. For example, when we say MM /m/ /m/, we rub our tummies as if saying “/m/ /m/ good”.
3. Continuous Sounds are Much Easier to Isolate
Continuous sounds are those that you can say for awhile when pronouncing. (/a/ /e/ /f/ /i/ /l/ /m/ /n/ /o/ /r/ /s/ /u/ /v/ /z/)
They are the easy ones to start with when you are isolating beginning or ending sounds in words, because as a teacher, you can stress and hold them longer for the students to key into that particular sound. (example – “tell me the beginning sound of ‘mop’: /mmmmmmm/ /o/ /p/) The student is able to realize that the /m/ is important.
My students know these as “stretchy” sounds and sometimes I like to include silly putty into my sound lessons. When they are shown a letter card with a “stretch” sound on it, they get to stretch out their putty while saying the sound.
4. Stop Sounds
The opposite of continuous sounds are stop sounds. They are quickly said when pronouncing (/b/ /k/ /d/ /g/ /h/ /j/ /k/ /p/ /qu/ /t/ /w/ /ks/ /y/).
These are also the ones to watch for if students try adding /uh/ after them. (Eek!!)
In my classroom, we call these “quick sounds” and the students will tap on the table or their legs when saying them.
A fun game we like to play in small groups when practicing letter sounds is to flip over a letter card and the students either say it and tap (quick sound) or stretch their silly putty (stretchy sound). Again, we are adding a movement to the sound for physical response.
5. Segmenting Words into Phonemes (Elkonin Boxes)
Once students are able to isolate sounds in words (beginning, ending, middle), they are ready to segment words into phonemes, or individual sounds.
I like to use Elkonin boxes to help students visually see how many sounds are in a word. They place a counter in each box for every sound they say. If you want to link this phonemic awareness task with phonics, you can have them write the letters of each sound they say in the boxes.
I may also include physical response activities with phoneme segmenting. We can stretch our arm out and touch our shoulder, elbow, and hand for beginning, middle, and ending sounds.
I may also have them stand up and touch their head, stomach, and toes for beginning, middle, and ending sounds. With our young learners, getting them moving helps to get those wiggles out and stay on task with learning.
6. Slinkies Make Fun Blending Buddies
My students love using slinkies to help them blend segmented words together.
I like to start with two sound words when first teaching my students how to blend. If the word is “up”, we will start by looking at each sound separately /u/ /p/. As they say each individual sound, they stretch the slinky apart. They put it back together when blending the sounds /u/ /p/ – “up”.
Once they have mastered two letter words, we move onto short vowel CVC words (consonant, vowel, consonant). The same actions apply, if the word is “sun”, we stretch out the slinky as we say each individual sound /s/ /u/ /n/, and then spring it back together when the sounds are blended “sun”.
7. Teach CVC Words in Word Families
When students are ready to work on blending 3-letter words (preferably CVC words), I always teach them as word families. That way, students are able to strengthen the rime (last two letters in the word) as the change each onset (beginning sound).
Word Sliders are a great way for students to practice reading word family CVC words. The rime (-at) stays the same, as students slide the onset (b-, c-, f-, h-, m-, p-, r-, s-) and read each word they create.
It is also important for your students to be able to distinguish between word families that share the same short vowel. A Word Families sort, where multiple word families are represented in a group and the students have to classify them is a great way for students to practice this skill.
For example, working in the short vowel ‘a’ category might be -am, -ap, -an, -at, and -ag words. Students would have to sort the pictures under the appropriate word family heading (bag and tag under -ag, map and cap under -ap, etc.)
8. Blend Buddies
Blends are one of the easier two-letter sound combinations to teach young learners, because both letters still say their individual sound. When first mastering blends, most students will say each individual sound and blend them together. (Example: /c/ /l/ /i/ /p/ becomes “clip”)
Over time, we want our students to consider those two letters as one sound, which will help them blend words faster when reading. /b/ /l/ becomes /bl/ and /g/ /r/ becomes /gr/, etc.
I like to practice blend words with an engagement chart I call “Blend Flowers”. Each set of flowers is a blend family, with a petal being each individual blend. I laminate the chart and then attach each petal with velcro, so it can be moved.
The “soil” is where we build/create words by using the blend petals and letters that I write on the line. Instead of saying the individual sounds of the blend, the students are encouraged to say that petal as one sound.
9. Include Short stories that Incorporate Phonics-Based Fluency
For example, the “H” Squad consists of “th”, “ch”, “sh”, “wh”, and “ph”. I have fun short stories that we use to identify the sounds these 5 letter pairs make. We practice the stories and identify which words contain those given sounds.
I also teach them to remember certain information when learning these sounds, such as to “stick your tongue out and blow” for TH, “sound like a train” for CH, “tell me to be shush” for SH and that “wh” is like /w/ and “ph” is like /f/.
The “H” Squad story chart is pictured below.
The “ing” Brothers follow the same teaching pattern as the “H” Squad. We identify words in the short story that have the “ing” sound in them and practice that sound over and over.
10. Last But Not Least, Long Vowels
Once the short vowel CVC words have been mastered by your students, they are ready to start working on long vowel words ending with “e”. (CVCe) I have heard many teachers call it “bossy e”, “silent e”, and “magic e”.
I call it “magic e” in my classroom, because we practice with interactive charts or sentence strips and star wands with an “e” on them. The star wands are easy to make, just a star cut out on a popsicle stick with the letter “e” written on the star.
Students are encouraged to read the short vowel CVC word first, then they place the star wand at the end of the word and reread it changing the vowel sound from short to long. It’s a fun activity for students to practice with as they build phonics skills and word reading fluency.
Once your students are able to segment and blend words with phonics skills and identify and spell sight words, they can move on to strengthening their writing skills. Check back next week for our Wonderful Writing Process for Young Learners segment.
-Written by Janessa Fletcher
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