Sounds, sounds, sounds – Beginning reading and spelling


This is a follow-up post to last week’s post offering guidelines for teaching phonological awareness skills, starting with word and syllable awareness (Phonological Awareness – Words and Syllables)

Today, we move to the next phase which is sound awareness.

Begin with sound blending (also known as sound synthesis) tasks.  Synthesis requires the child to hear words broken into parts and internally blend those sounds to discover the word.  I initially practice this skill with a set of pictures from which the child can identify the spoken word.  At 80-90% accuracy, I fade the pictures and the task becomes auditory only.

The hierarchy of complexity begins with compound words and moves to multi-syllablic words to initial sound + remaining word to sounds in words to nonsense words.  Each part is spoken with a 1-2 second pause between parts.  Don’t use words with blends until blending of single sounds is established.  The sequence – which may take weeks or months to work through – looks like this:

pan – cake

rain – bow

ta – ble

so – fa

ba – na – na

pe – per – mint

c – ar

b – oy

b – ubble

u – p

c – a – t

p – e – p – er

sh – o – p – i – ng

s – k – y

g – r – a – s

b – i – f (nonsense word “bif”)

s – n – er – t (nonsense word “snert”)

The flip side of synthesis and blending is breaking words into individual sounds.  This skill is absolutely necessary for spelling  If a child cannot identify sounds within a word, he/she cannot spell words beyond those that have memorized for a spelling test.

I draw circles representing the sounds in the word and have the child fill in the letters.  If they don’t know the letter, that’s ok.  Have them identify the sound and you write in the letter.  Letter knowledge is phonics and will come with time.  It is important that your child have the phonological awareness skill established before layering in the alphabet and phonics.  Initially, inventive spelling is ok.  Once the auditory component is established and work in phonics begins you can teach the irregularities and special rules and make English challenging (for example, “cat” starts with a /c/, but “kite” starts with a /k/ and the word “eight” is not spelled at all like  you think it should be)

An activity might look like this:


Or, you can use blocks to count the sounds.  Like this:


A third activity requires the child to slide tokens or coins into designated spaces, each token representing a sound.


You can also do clapping, tapping, stomping, marching or bouncing to identify the sounds.  Use hula hoops or chalk squares drawn on a sidewalk and hop to the different sounds.  Often, using a multi-sensory technique (visual, auditory, touch, movement) is the best way to learn a new skill.

 I’ve had older children…10, 11 and 12 years old…who suddenly began having academic struggles as text became longer and they had to read for content.  The reason was because they didn’t have a firm grasp on the basic.  They had memorized words for sight reading and spelling, but didn’t have fundamental decoding skills.  I take those kids back to the basics with these activities and after a time they were back on track with increased reading fluency, comprehension and spelling.

Practice, practice, practice.  You cannot embed this skill too much.  I know I’m repeating myself, but the ability to identify the individual sounds in words (and then later represent those sounds with letters) is critical to becoming a fluent reader.  One sound at a time, One word at a time.



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