Is there a low tech, inexpensive way to teach my children their letter sounds?

I’ve had success teaching reading to brand new readers by matching pictures to the correct letter using homemade flashcards.  Both native English speakers and ESL preschoolers have found this a fun way to learn letter sounds.  It can be done in five minutes here and there, making it a good way to teach children with short attention spans.

Child sorting picture flash cards to match with the letter B.

To enlarge the picture, click on it.

I suggest you try this method:

  • Cut some index cards in two, each about 3 by 2 ½ inches.  Or use the index cards whole if you prefer.
  • On ten or twelve blank cards, paste pictures of words which begin with the same consonant sound, such as the letter “b.”  Use pictures of a ball, a balloon, a bear, a banana, a ballerina and others until you have about ten to twelve cards with “b” pictures.
  • On another ten or twelve blank cards, paste pictures of words which begin with other letters, such as an apple, a cat, a dog, a kite and a piano until you have about the same number of cards as “b” cards.
  • On one blank card write or paste a capital B and a lower case b, “Bb.”
  • Lay the card labeled “Bb” on a table.  Shuffle all the picture cards, or let your child do that.  The more she can participate in the process, and eventually control it, the more likely she is to be eager to play the “game.”
  • Now taking one card at a time, have your child say the word of the picture.  Emphasize the “b” sound for her, and ask her if the card starts with a “b” sound.  If so, tell her to put the card next to the “Bb” card.  If not, tell her to put the card a little distance away.
  • Keep doing this until you have gone through all the cards and made two piles of picture cards.
  • With practice, your child will be able to match the words to the letter quickly.
  • After she has mastered “Bb,” make a set of cards using another consonant sound.  You can keep the same set of random cards or add to them.  Some of the random cards will eventually become the letter cards, so you need to add to that group of cards as you develop more letter cards.
  • Begin with the 16 consonants which almost always sound the same:  (Bb, Dd, Ff, Hh, Jj, Kk, Ll, Mm, Nn, Pp, Qq, Rr, Tt, Vv, Xx and Zz).  You don’t want to  do the ABC’s in order, starting with Aa.  Begin with any of the consonants I just listed.  If the child’s name is Tom, start with “Tt.”  If it is Hannah, start with “Hh.”
  • Try not to use pictures of words that start with blended sounds.  For example, don’t use “blue” or “braids” yet.  Later, after the child is sure of the single sound of a letter, you can start combining letter sounds.
  • Don’t start with a consonant that has multiple sounds, such as Gg, Ss or Cc.  For starts, choose letters and words that follow the rules of phonics.  Try to reduce confusion as much as possible.
  • Also, don’t start with vowels.  I teach vowels slightly differently.  I’ll tell you about that in my next blog.

Perhaps this sounds like too much work?  I use the cards over and over with new reading students, so for me the time it took to make the cards was well worth it.  If you have more than one child, you too can reuse the cards, and if you laminate them, they last forever.  (Laminating is expensive, but clear packing tape protects the cards well.)  And the cards are easy to make.  I made mine while watching TV.

In addition to being low tech, the cards are an inexpensive method to teach sounds.  A pack of index cards; old books, magazines or stickers to use for pictures; and tape together probably cost a few dollars and can be used to create many sets of cards.

How about you?  Were you taught your letter sounds by another low tech method?  How are you teaching your children their letter sounds?  Tell our readers by clicking the comment button.

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