Tag Archives: flash cards

How to use spelling tests to reinforce CVC words

Years ago, I would cut  pictures of CVC words from various sources, paste them on index cards, sort them by vowel sound.  Then I would use them as spelling tests for beginning readers. (Now Mrs. A draws the pictures, including those below.)  This low-tech approach still works great with beginning readers and spellers.

Six drawings of short A CVC words

These drawings are samples of a packet of 12 pages of CVC drawings that can be downloaded for a small fee.  Click on the pictures for more information.  

Why use pictures for the spelling test instead of just dictating the words?

  • When the child is in charge of the pile of pictures, she can spell at her own pace, jotting down words she knows quickly and slowing down for words she is unsure of or for words she writes incorrectly and needs to repair.
  • Young children are people in motion, so the more parts of their bodies they can use to learn, the better. Taking off the rubber band, shuffling the cards, flipping them into a second pile as they are used and rubber-banding them again are fun.  Making learning fun is so important for children of any age, but especially for preschoolers.
  • Some children delight in erasing and will write a word incorrectly just so they can erase it. Spelling is a new experience for them, but it can take time, time when a tutor or mother might grow impatient. But since the child is working independently, the process can take as long as the child wants.
  • While the child is working independently, I can observe where she might need more help or prepare the next lesson, a better use of my time than dictating.
  • ESL students who might be shy about moving at a slow pace gain privacy by controlling the time it takes to complete the test.

One time I gave a preK student a short A test which he finished with pride—his first spelling test! When he found out I had more cards—more tests—he begged me to let him take the cards home and use them for the next week.  His mother later told me that  he took the spelling tests every day. What an eager learner!

What are Dolch words? Are they the same as sight words?

Yes, Dolch words are the same as sight words.  Many teachers expect beginning readers to recognize these words by the end of first grade.

Child looking at flash cards of two and three letter words.

Click on the picture to enlarge it.

The list of 220 Dolch words was compiled by Edward W. Dolch, Ph. D. in 1936 and published in his book Problems in Reading in 1948.  Dolch listed the most commonly used words in children’s books available in the 1930’s.  He then divided them into six parts:  pre-primer, primer, Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3 and nouns.

Dolch thought that if a child could read the words on his list, then that child could read fluently.  Even though many of the words on the list are pronounced according to the rules of phonics, some are not and do need to be memorized.  This is why the list is sometimes called sight words.  Many kindergarten and first grade classrooms have these words posted to the walls or have flash cards of these words.

Online you can find free copies of the list by searching for “Dolch words.”  You can also find flash cards, interactive sentences which pronounce the words for a child and spelling tests based on these words.

Few story books use just the Dolch words.  Dr. Seuss in writing The Cat in the Hat, tried but found it impossible.  However, he used just 236 words, many from the Dolch list.

How can I teach my child vowel sounds?

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.

Looking "over the shoulder" of a young girl sorting pictures of things that have a short A sound when spoken.

To enlarge, click on the picture.

  • 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.

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.

Can flashcards be used with preschoolers? If so, how?

I have worked successfully using flash cards with three and four-year-olds.  The children were learning the alphabet.  I used a deck of cards with all 26 letters printed on them, plus pictures of words which begin with each letter.  Here’s how you might use the cards:

Child holding a pile of flash cards that she's studied and now knows.

Click on the picture to enlarge.

  • Use flash cards to recognize the names of the A, B, C’s.  For very young children, start with just a few cards (such as the letters in family names, Mom and Dad).  Later increase the number of letters until all 26 could be identified.
  • Use flash cards to recognize the sounds of the A, B, C’s.  Start with a few cards whose sounds the child already knows and add more until all 26 letter sounds can be identified.
  • Use flash cards to pair letter names and sounds.  Once the child knows the names of the A, B, C’s and the sounds individual letters make, shuffle the cards and pull them one at a time for the child to identify both names and sounds.  Resist the urge to place all the cards face up on a table.  For some children, seeing all 26 cards at once is overwhelming even though they know the letters and sounds.  Showing one card at a time is not so intimidating.  Start small.
  • Use flash cards to order A, B, C’s.  Taking a handful of cards at a time (A to E, for example), place them face up in mixed order on a table.  Let the child arrange the cards in order.  Sing the ABC song slowly with the child if she hesitates.  Then add another set of cards (F to J, for example) until all the cards are in proper order.
  • Use flash cards to identify a letter and its sound with a word.  It’s important for the child to memorize a word which comes to mind immediately for each letter.  This will be useful when the child is beginning to sound out words.  When learning with vowels, choose words that begin with short vowel sounds.  For example, A is for apple, E is for egg, I is for igloo, O is for octopus and U is for umbrella.
  • Flash cards are also useful for learning sight words.  Not all tiny words follow the rules of phonics (the, as, of, is, was and they, for example).  Yet children need to be able to recognize these words to read.  In many kindergarten and first grade classrooms, teachers have lists of these words on the wall for students to use when writing.  Manufacturers sell boxed sets of commonly used sight words too.

How do I teach my child the names of letters?

Suppose your three-year-old is aware of letters and is ready to begin naming letters properly.  Where do you begin?  Since all children are self-centered, start with their names and the names of important people and pets.ABC Song

  • Begin with the child’s name.  Teach the child to name the letters in his or her name, and in family members’ names.
  • Point out letters from the child’s name on food items, and on the computer, and ask the child to name the letters.
  • Introduce letter names in small batches, three or four at a time.  26 capitals and 26 lower case letters—that’s a lot to learn all at once.
  • Explain that all letters can be written two ways, as capitals and as lower case letters.  Point out examples of both when you are naming letters.
  • Let the child be the detective.  Ask if the child can find the “t” on a box of oatmeal, or the “T” in the title, Ten Apples up on Top.
  • Cut out multiple copies of letters and glue them to a paper.  Let the child glue similar letters near the one on the paper.
  • With little children, the process is more important than the product.  Perfection can come later.
  • Even though today’s refrigerator masterpiece will be tossed out with next week’s recyclables, highlight today’s work so that the child sees you value his work as important.
  • Sing the ABC song with your child.  Don’t worry if she says “el-en-em-oh” for “L, M, N, O.”  You say it correctly and with time, she will too.
  • ABC flash cards can be great to help mastering letter names.  For starts, use just the letters the child knows, and gradually introduce more.  26 letters all at once can be intimidating.
  • Expect confusing with b and d, p and q, I and l, and M and W.  If the child is trying to say the letters, gently correct.  “Oops, that’s a backwards b.  What do we call a backwards b?”  It’s common for children to confuse some letters for several years, but eventually they will outgrow it.

Focus on letter names that are important to the child.  Don’t worry about the sounds that letters make.  That comes later.