How to Help a Child Sound Out Letters

by Freddie Silver, Demand Media
    Teach your youngster to sound out letters and soon he'll read to you.

    Teach your youngster to sound out letters and soon he'll read to you.

    Before your preschooler becomes a proficient reader, he must first learn the alphabet and the sounds associated with each letter. It's important to determine your little one's readiness before you embark on the mission of teaching him how to do this. If he can sit still for more than a minute and can recognize and name the letters, you have a pretty good chance of being successful in teaching him how to sound them out. And, if you have the patience to put up with his short attention span, then you are probably ready to be his teacher.

    Items you will need

    • Flash cards
    • Magnetic letters
    • Preschool storybooks

    Step 1

    Purchase or prepare flashcards with each letter of the alphabet printed on a card. Draw a picture or affix a sticker that shows an object starting with the sound the letter makes. For example, show an apple for the letter "A."

    Step 2

    Show him each card and ask him to name the letter for you. Then make the sound of the letter for him. First make the sound of the letter alone and then use the sound in the sample word. Do this several times and ask him to repeat the sound for you.

    Step 3

    Use humor during your lessons to keep your little one entertained while he learns. He'll have fun watching you make exaggerated facial expressions associated with each sound. He'll copy you and make faces of his own. For example, he'll pout his lips and blow fake kisses as he makes the "moo" sound of a cow that the letter "M" makes.

    Step 4

    Purchase a set of colorful magnetic letters to affix to the fridge. Invent a game where you ask him to find a letter in a particular color and name it. Then have him make the sound as he places it on the fridge. Once he masters this, have him find and sound out all the letters in his name.

    Step 5

    Point out letters and their sounds when you are reading books to him. Don't overdo it -- you don't want to diminish the joy he gets from storytime by turning it into a chore.

    Step 6

    Play a listening game with your little tyke. Read a list of words and let him give you a signal, such as clapping his hands together, each time you say a word that begins with the sound of the letter you choose to focus on. If, for example, you are working on the sound the letter "b" makes, slowly say the following words: "pot, hot, bat, ball, mother, brother, Batman, Robin." Pause after each word to give him time to respond. Most of the words should start with the chosen sound, so he will have the opportunity to actively participate and won't lose interest.

    Step 7

    Play another game, "What am I?" where your budding reader has to guess the word you're thinking of. All the answer words should begin with the same sound you are practicing. Give lots of clues to make it easy for your little one to guess correctly. For example, if the answer was, "ball", you might try saying, "I'm round; I bounce; You hit me with a bat; You kick me when you play soccer...."

    Step 8

    Pronounce clearly each word in the nursery rhymes or songs you recite to him to increase your little one's phonemic awareness -- the ability to hear and recognize the sounds we make in the words we speak. Play rhyming games with him. Give him a word like "box" and ask him to give you a rhyming word, or take turns adding rhyming words to the first word given.

    Step 9

    Check out the many online game sites that teach phonics, such as the Genki English site, or the Phonic Genius app for your smartphone. Your youngster will enjoy clicking on the different letters and hearing the sound each one makes. Sit next to him and play along.

    Step 10

    Teach your little Einstein that vowels have both long and short sounds, once he has mastered the sound of each consonant. Give him lots of examples of words that start with each type. Ask him repeatedly what letter the word begins with. For example, for the letter "a," say the word, "apple" and ask what letter the word starts with. Then say the word "apron" and repeat the question.

    Step 11

    Progress to the idea that sometimes two letters form a partnership and work together to make only one sound, after your child has grasped the concept of long and short vowels. Start with the easier examples of this, such as words that begin with "ch" and "sh," then move on to the more difficult ones such as, "th." Most preschoolers will find it too difficult to learn the combinations with vowels that make two different sounds such as, "ow" in the word "throw" or "owl." It's best to save those tough ones until you're sure he's ready. Remember, this process is meant to be fun.


    • If your little one loves being center stage, encourage him to perform for your guests. Bring out the flashcards and ask him to demonstrate the sounds he knows. Grandparents are usually the most appreciative audience for this kind of "entertainment."


    • Don't spend more than 10 minutes during any session with your youngster. If he thinks it's an enjoyable game and wants to do more, he'll be a more active participant than if you try to force him to pay attention after he's lost interest.

    About the Author

    Freddie Silver started writing newsletters for the Toronto District School Board in 1997. Her areas of expertise include staff management and professional development. She holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing her PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, focusing on emotions and professional relationships.

    Photo Credits

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