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How to Teach Letter Sounds to Preschoolers

written by: Marlene Gundlach • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 2/8/2012

Once a preschooler has learned to recognize letters, moving to letter sounds is the next step to reading readiness.

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    What do They Know?

    Just as you would evaluate what letters students recognize, you should check and see which letter sounds they know. Make a chart of all the letters, in random order, and ask students to name each sound. When you check the vowels, be sure to ask for both sounds the letter makes. On your own copy of the letter chart, circle any letters that the students did not know the sound for. Then, as you move on through the year, you can check their progress.

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    Group Activities for Letter Sound Recogntion

    As a Pre-K teacher, I provided my students with several fun activities to complete on a daily basis to help develop pre-reading skills. Once your class has mastered letter recognition, then you can move on and work on teaching letter sounds.

    We had a fun song that we would sing every morning and it taught letter sounds. We would add a letter every day or so and wouldchildren reading eventually get through the entire alphabet. This did focus on the short-vowel sounds, but those are often harder to grasp than the long-vowel sound. By including easy actions, you are reinforcing the sound.

    We also made a word wall and added to it daily. Using note cards, we went through the alphabet and added words beginning with each letter. Because the students helped to come up with the words, we were reinforcing the sound each time they chose a new word. By leaving the word wall up all year round, it was a constant visual reminder of what they had learned.

    Using the letter cards you made for the letter recognition circle activity, you can also put them out to help learn letter sounds. Place them in a circle, start the music, and when you stop the music, each student can name the letter sound and even give you one word that begins with that letter.

    Working with rhyming words and word families is a perfect activity for reinforcing letter sounds. You can either make your own set of words with note cards or purchase a set at a local teacher store. By introducing the patterns in rhyming words, you can quickly expand a child's list of sight words. For example, show students the - at family:

    • rat
    • mat
    • cat
    • hat
    • sat
    • bat
    • pat

    Demonstrate how you sound out a word, and isolate the - at ending. Then, explain how changing just the first letter forms a new word. Once we reviewed this, I would then pass out the cards on subsequent days and ask for certain words. The students had to read their card and know when to bring it up. Using a pocket chart, the students would bring their card up and place it in the chart. They loved this extremely simple activity. Continue to add other word families, and you will continue to expand their list of recognizable sight words.

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    Individual Activities

    Once students have learned their letter sounds, you can begin to test that knowledge. My students each had their own notebooks, and we would combine their beginning sound practice with writing. We may ask them to write two or three - at words, and draw a picture of each. Using "nonsense" words is another great tool to test beginning letter sounds. Write a list of nonsense - at words in their notebook such as:

    • zat
    • jat
    • lat
    • wat

    Ask the student to read the words to you. When students truly know their letter sounds, they can sound out these nonsense words. This is the perfect test to see if they can apply what they have learned. If you only give recognizable sight words, you may only be testing their memorization skills.

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    Reading Readiness

    Reading readiness is one of the most exciting things to teach as a preschool teacher. Teaching letter sounds and helping your students progress from pre-reading to becoming beginning readers is an amazing opportunity to help them get a strong start as they prepare for Kindergarten!