I have followed a low tech system somewhat similar to teaching consonant sounds, but a system that is a little different too. This phonetic approach works well with ESL students, young native English speakers getting ready to read and even adults because it makes learning fun.
- I make a set of a dozen or more picture cards for ă: apple, astronaut, alligator and ax (which begin with ă sound), and other CVC words using ă such as hat, man, dad and bag.
- I also make one card with ă written on it.
- At the same time, I make picture (flash) cards with pictures for the other short vowels, and I take some of those cards and temporarily add them to the ă deck.
- Knowing that discerning vowel sounds is hard, I put the apple card next to the ă card and say the word apple many times, focusing on the vowel sound. Slowly I help the child say the words in the deck of cards and place the cards near the ă card or in a discard area.
- When the ă sound is learned (usually this takes several sessions), I take ĕ, ĭ, ŏ and ŭ words, and one short vowel at a time, go through the process with each sound. Because ĕ and ĭ are hard to distinguish, I do them after ă, ŏ and ŭ, and spend more time on them.
- Then I start mixing up two of the sounds, such as ă and ŏ. I put both the ă and ŏ cards on the table, and take the picture cards for only those two sounds, shuffle them, and go through them with the child. Once the child can distinguish those sounds, I gradually add ŭ to the mix and have the child sort ă, ŏ and ŭ.
- I leave ĕ and ĭ to last and do those two letters together before I include them with the other short vowel sounds. It takes many weeks of practice to distinguish ĕ and ĭ sounds. When the child has mastered them, I add the other three vowels to the deck and the child sorts all five short vowel sounds.
- When the child has mastered all five short vowel sounds, I go through the same process with ā, ē, ī, ō and ū. The process for the long vowels goes quicker than for the short vowels.
- As I move on teaching the child other sounds, I review the vowel sounds if I notice the child is forgetting some of the sounds or mixing up any of them. This happens with every child I have taught.
Preschoolers and primary school children like this method of learning because they are learning through a game. They like the control they have—holding the cards and placing them. They like working one on one with an adult tutor who is paying special attention to them. Sometimes I do one card and the child does one card to emphasize the fun of learning. No worksheets, no writing—just fun. Yet children learn their letter sounds.