Category Archives: letter sounds

Is it important for beginning reader to know the ABC’s in order?

No.  Knowing the ABC’s in order isn’t important until a child learns alphabetical order.child making letter T with his body

What is important is for a beginning reader to hear and say the 42 sounds of English, and to be able to associate each of those sounds with a letter or pair of letters.

Some reading specialists recommend not showing a child letters until the child can repeat the sounds.  In English, sounds come first.  Sounds are paired with one or more symbols (letters) so we can show sounds visually.Child sitting with legs outstretched, forming the letter L

When I teach children sound-letter pairings, I start with the consonants since most consonants, like “b” and “k,” are always pronounced the same.  Then I move on to short vowel sounds, saving “e” and “i” until “a,” “o.” and “u” are learned since “e” and “i” sound similar.  That still leaves more than a dozen sounds to match with letters or letter groups.

However, many teachers drill the ABC’s by singing the ABC song.  They might test beginning readers on the order of the ABC’s, making allowances for the “L, M. N, O” section which is almost always the last part learned.

Find out what your child’s teacher expects.  But to answer your question, no, knowing the order of the ABC’s is not important for beginning readers.

How to teach a child to read with little cost

If you are attempting to teach your child to read, and you go to Amazon or your local book store and find literally hundreds of instruction books, dozens of video games, and all kinds of apps and CDs, and boxes of flash cards, where do you begin?  Is all that “stuff” really necessary?

I suggest a method which includes spending time with your child but not much money.

Start with the sounds of English. There are about 42 in most parts of the US.  Say the sounds aloud, one at a time.  Let your child listen and repeat the sounds aloud.  If he can’t say one or two of the sounds, work on those sounds for a few minutes each day until he can hear and repeat all the sounds.  (Supplies you will need:  a list of the 42 sounds, available free on this website and online.)

Next, explain that we associate letters with those sounds.  Start with consonants and teach the child to match each sound with a letter.  Move on to vowels and explain that some sounds share the same letter.  (At this point, don’t try to teach digraphs or exceptions.)  Say a particular sound and ask your child what letter goes with that sound.  Show a handful of letters to choose from and add more options as the child gains accuracy.  (Supplies you will need:  a set of the ABC’s on cards, on letter tiles or written by hand on index cards.)

Once the child can associate sounds with letters accurately, form CVC (consonant—vowel—consonant) words, such as “c a t.” From years of experience I have found that letter tiles work best at this.  (I use Scrabble game tiles, but there are other kinds.)  Set the three letters an inch apart.  Say the letter sounds one by one.  Move the letter tiles together slowly and then more rapidly, saying the letter sounds so that they eventually slur together.  Help the child learn that when we put letter sounds together, we form words.  (Supplies you will need:  lists of CVC words available free online.)

At this point, your child can read many of the words in some books, such as The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and  Hop on Pop.   Encourage the child to read the words she can and you read the other words.  If you own the books and don’t mind marking them, you can underline the words your child knows as she reads–a visible proof to the child that she can read.  (Supplies you will need:  a few early reading books available free online or for less than a dollar each at most resale stores.)

CVCC twin consonantsNext you need a plan to sequence the teaching of various types of words.   You can find plenty online.  Most plans start with two- or three-letter short vowel words like “cat” and “ax.”  Then they move on to blends, first at the beginnings of short vowel words (“blot”) and when those are understood, at the ends of such words (“blotch.”)  Adding “s” to form plurals is considered such a blend.  Then teach digraphs and sight (Dolch) words.  (Supplies you will need:  Lists of sight or Dolch words available free online.)

Some authorities suggest teaching two- and three-syllable short vowel words at this point, such as “catnip” and “tunnel.” Others suggest tackling one-syllable long vowel words beginning with words ending with a silent “e” such as “bake” and “tune” and then moving on to other long vowel combinations such as “ee” and “oa.”  There is no right or wrong sequence.  It is important to keep reviewing words the student already learned and mixing them up while you are teaching new kinds of words.  (Supplies you will need:  Lists of such words available free online.)

boy choosing right root for a prefixAt this point, you might teach prefixes and suffixes, or words which don’t follow rules such as two-syllable words with one consonant between the two vowels. Does the consonant go with the first syllable (“robin”) or with the second syllable (“robust”)?  (Supplies you will need:  Lists of such words available free  online.)

Three- and four-syllable words follow the same rules as one- and two-syllable words, but the problem is where to put the inflection so that they are pronounced correctly.  Help the child pronounce such words all possible ways until she hears the correct way.  You and your child might read books you own or library books, and when you come to long words, stop, and figure them out together.  (Supplies you will need:  Picture books, and lists of multi-syllable words available free online.)

By now your child is reading.  She might need help occasionally pronouncing a particular word, or more likely, understanding the meaning of an unfamiliar word.  But learning the sounds of English (phonemes) and linking those sounds to form words (phonics) is largely done.

Is my child on schedule to read?

The US Department of Education has put together a list of accomplishments* relating to talking and reading for children from birth to six years old.  This list shows the growth of typical children developing normally, but variations exist.  By seven years old, most children are reading.

From birth to age 3, most babies and toddlers become able to

  • Make sounds that imitate the tones and rhythms that adults use when talking.
  • Respond to gestures and facial expressions.
  • Begin to associate words they hear frequently with what the words mean.
  • Make cooing, babbling sounds in the crib, which gives way to enjoying rhyming and nonsense word games with a parent or caregiver.
  • Play along in games such as “peek-a-boo” and “pat-a-cake.”
  • Handle objects such as board books and alphabet blocks in their play.
  • Recognize certain books by their covers.
  • Pretend to read books.
  • Understand how books should be handled.
  • Share books with an adult as a routine part of life.
  • Name some objects in a book.
  • Talk about characters in books.
  • Look at pictures in books and realize they are symbols of real things.
  • Listen to stories.
  • Ask or demand that adults read or write with them.
  • Begin to pay attention to specific print such as the first letters of their names.
  • Scribble with a purpose (trying to write or draw something).
  • Produce some letter-like forms and scribbles that resemble, in some way, writing.

From ages 3-4, most preschoolers become able to

  • Enjoy listening to and talking about storybooks.
  • Understand that print carries a message.
  • Make attempts to read and write.
  • Identify familiar signs and labels.
  • Participate in rhyming games.
  • Identify some letters and make some letter-sound matches.
  • Use known letters (or their best attempt to write the letters) to represent written language especially for meaningful words like their names or phrases such as “I love you.”

At age 5, most kindergartners become able to

mother works with child reading story book

  • Sound as if they are reading when they pretend to read.
  • Enjoy being read to.
  • Retell simple stories.
  • Use descriptive language to explain or to ask questions.
  • Recognize letters and letter-sound matches.
  • Show familiarity with rhyming and beginning sounds.
  • Understand that print is read left-to-right and top-to-bottom.
  • Begin to match spoken words with written ones.
  • Begin to write letters of the alphabet and some words they use and hear often.
  • Begin to write stories with some readable parts.

At age 6, most first-graders can

Young child writing C-A-T.

  • Read and retell familiar stories.
  • Use a variety of ways to help with reading a story such as rereading, predicting what will happen, asking questions, or using visual cues or pictures.
  • Decide on their own to use reading and writing for different purposes;
  • Read some things aloud with ease.
  • Identify new words by using letter-sound matches, parts of words and their understanding of the rest of a story or printed item.
  • Identify an increasing number of words by sight.
  • Sound out and represent major sounds in a word when trying to spell.
  • Write about topics that mean a lot to them.
  • Try to use some punctuation marks and capitalization.

*Based on information from Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, a report of the National Research Council, by the Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children, 1998; and from the Joint Position Statement of the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), 1998.

Facing dyslexia in a preschooler

So you suspect your preschooler has dyslexia.  What can you do?

  • Realize that the younger a child is when identified as dyslexic, the sooner help can begin. If possible, you want to identify the situation before the child becomes frustrated and discouraged, and before the child is labeled as “different.”child making letter T with his body
  • Ask your school district to test the child. Because of the child’s age, the district might balk, and say he will be tested when in kindergarten, or first grade, or later.  Sometimes the district will become involved if you have some “proof” that the child is dyslexic.  This might require private testing at your expense by some recognized expert.
  • From the school district, find out what services your child will receive and when.baby reading a book
  • If the school district “officially” won’t help, make an appointment with your elementary school’s reading specialist. She will probably have ideas you can start with, and she might be able to lend you materials or at least identify materials that will help.
  • Consider hiring a reading tutor, one with experience teaching children with dyslexia. A good tutor will use many strategies, particularly game-like, hands-on approaches that will appeal to a preschooler.boy sees a T in STOP
  • If someone else in the immediate family has dyslexia, there’s a good chance your child has the same kind of reading problem and can be helped the same way. What worked for your other relative?
  • Check out ideas on the internet. Use keywords such as dyslexia, preschooler, reading and learning strategies.
  • Begin working with your child yourself. Focus on the sounds of the language first, and make sure your child can hear them and pronounce them properly.  Only then match sounds with letters.mother works with child reading story book
  • Is letter recognition difficult? Buy an ABC puzzle or letter tiles or a Scrabble game.  Use the letters to play games forcing the child to identify letters.  Unfortunately, most sources for letters use only capital letters, and it is generally lower case letters which cause problems.
  • Work on printing letters properly. If fine motor coordination is difficult, use a computer keyboard instead.  But again, most keyboards identify the keys with capital letters.Mother shows child spelling of her name Kelly
  • Use music. Teach your child the ABC song.  Sing songs together which rhyme or read nursery rhymes.
  • Teach directions. Up, down. Left, right.  Inside, outside.
  • You may find it takes longer for your dyslexic child to master certain skills when compared to a child without reading difficulties. Be patient.  If a younger sibling is catching on faster than the dyslexic child, work with each child independently and out of earshot from one another.  If at all possible, conceal from your child that he is having reading difficulties.  Find ways for him to succeed at learning.A teacher says the first part of a rhyme, and the child says the rest of it.

How about pulling your child out of preschool, or stopping all reading instruction for a year or until the child is seven or until the child reaches first grade?  These are not good solutions.  In pre-K students are expected to know their letter sounds and to match them with ABC’s.  In kindergarten children are expected to read CVC words, high frequency words, and some two-syllable words.  A child who can’t keep up with his classmates develops low self-esteem which can intensify reading problems.

Be proactive.  If you think your three or four-yer-old shows signs of reading difficulty, act as soon as possible for the best outcome.

Are digraphs the same as blends?

Blends are combinations of two or three consonant sounds in which the original sounds are clearly heard.  For example, in the word “friend,” the “f” and the “r” are pronounced the usual way and sound as they normally do.  Blends are also called consonant clusters.

child musing about confusion over so many letters

Digraphs are combinations of two or three consonant sounds too, but the original letter sounds change.  For example, in the word “thin,” the “t” and the “h” are not pronounced in the usual way.  When together in a word, they are pronounced in a new way, to create a new sound.

Digraphs can also be combinations of two or three vowel sounds which create a new sound.  For example, when “o” and “i” are together, as in the word “void,” the vowel sound created is neither an “o” sound nor an “i” sound.  Vowel digraphs include ai, au, aw, ay, ea, ee, ei, eu, ew, ey, ie, oi, oo, ou, ow, and oy.  Vowel digraphs are rarely called by that term; instead they are called diphthongs if they are called anything at all.

In the US, almost always a digraph refers to a consonant digraph.

When I was in school, my teachers didn’t use the word “digraph.”  Instead, they called all consonant letter combinations ”blends.”  And they didn’t use the word ”diphthongs” either.  But today American children are expected to know those words, and more importantly, how to pronounce digraphs and diphthongs.

Turn car rides into educational opportunities

Spring break is almost here.  For many kids, that means road trips to Disney World, the Grand Canyon or maybe to Grandma’s house.

cars in travvic

Those long hours in the car might mean movie time, video game time or time playing on the phone.  But they also offer great learning opportunities.

  • For preschoolers learning their letters or numbers, make a game of finding a particular letter on a billboard, license plate or directional sign.
  • Say a letter sound (not a letter name) and let your child identify which letter matches that sound.
  • If it’s dark, you can say two words and ask the child which word begins with a particular letter. Stick to letters the child knows so she can feel successful.
  • For kids learning rhymes (sometimes called word families), suggest a word which the child can then rhyme once, twice or three times. Or go back and forth, first you, then the child, then you, then the child, until no one can think of another word.  The last one to think of a word could decide what the first word of the next round is.
  • For kids learning how to put letter sounds together to form words, sound out a CVC word and ask the child to identify it.  Then let the child sound out a word and see if you can identify it.
  • Another rhyming game is for the adult to say a nursery rhyme and ask the child to name the words which rhyme. (Hickory, dickory dock, the mouse climbed up the clock.)
  • Sequencing is a skill kindergarteners work on. You could say three activities—not in time order—and the child could put the events in the correct order.  (Mom filled the car with gas.  Dad put the suitcases in the car.  Billy packed his suitcase.)
  • Cause and effect is a skill third graders work on. You could name both a cause and an effect, and the child could identify which is which.  (Sleeping Beauty slept for 100 years.  Sleeping beauty pricked her finger.)
  • Categorizing words is an elementary school-aged skill. For example, you could say blue jay, cardinal and bird.  The child needs to find out which one in the category word.
  • Comparisons are another easy word game. You say that the answers are bigger than, smaller than or the same size.  Then you say, “An elephant is something than a mouse.”  The child tells the correct relationship.  You could use longer than and shorter than, heavier and lighter and older and younger.
  • Working memory is a skill children need to extend. Start with two words (or numbers or letters) which the child needs to repeat.  Let the child add another word and you repeat all three words.  Then let the child repeat all three words and add a fourth.  For some children this skill is incredibly difficult, so for them you might want to cap the list at four words.  For other children, seven or ten words might be possible.
  • This is a great time to review math facts. If your third grader has just learned multiplication, review the facts.
  • For older children or children learning English as a second language, car time can be vocabulary review time. You give the definition and the child gives the word.  Or let your child throw out a word meaning, and you have to identify it.  Children love stumping their parents.
  • Older children encounter idioms all the time, but they don’t always understand them.  Throw out an idiom–Jason is blue–and let your child explain what it means.

Of course these educational moments could also happen on your long flight to India or Taiwan.  They could just as easily happen on the way to school in the morning or on the way to soccer practice in the afternoon.  There are so many times you can exploit one-on-one education with your child.

Numbers, numbers

2-3      Between 2 and 3 years old, toddlers learn a new word every day.

3rd      Third grade is long past the time to intervene for a struggling reader.

3-4      3 to 4 letters/spaces to the left and 14-15 letters/spaces to the right of where we fix our eyes is where we pick up meaning from what we read .

4          There are 4 ways to pronounce the letter A using standard American English.

4-5      Children should be speaking in complete sentences by 4 or 5 years old.

6-12    Between 6 and 12 months old, infants should start babbling.

10-15   A typical student needs to interact with a word 10 to 15 times in order to learn it.

12-18   Children usually say their first words between 12 to 18 months, but not always.

18-24   Children usually say their first tiny sentences between 18 and 24 months.

20        If a child can count to 20, that is a sign he might be ready for kindergarten.

20-30 Kindergarten children should read or be read to 20 to 30 minutes daily.

24th    US students scored 24th out of 65 countries taking the latest Program for International Assessment tests.

30       First graders should read or be read to 30 minutes daily.

42-44 The number of letter sounds in standard American English is 42 to 44, depending where you live.

220     There are 220 Dolch words, better known as sight words.

300    Children from professional families hear 300 more spoken English words in an hour than children of parents on welfare.

1,000 Parents should read to their children 1,000 books before kindergarten, according to the 1,000 Books Foundation.

2,000 A student learns about 2,000 new words a year.

88,500 An incoming high school freshman should know 88,500 word families.

2,250,000 A student reading an hour a day will read 2.25 million words in a year.

32,000,000 Children from professional families hear about 32 million more words—including repeated words—than children from poorly educated families.