In the Classroom: 10 Activities for Matching Sounds and Letters
By Elizabeth Olsson, M.S., CCC-SLP, Lexia Curriculum Specialist
You’re probably familiar with the phrase “cracking the code.” Applied to reading, this means learning to match the various speech sounds of oral language to their corresponding letters in written language. The ability to associate sounds with letters is an essential early phonics skill learned through explicit teaching and practice… lots of practice. Phonics knowledge is important for developing accurate—and, ultimately, automatic—word identification skills. How can teachers help students in building this early foundational reading skill? Here, we suggest 10 classroom activities to help students develop an understanding of how sounds map to print.
1. Missing letters with rhyming words
As necessary, teach or review consonants and their sounds. Display two pictures of rhyming consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words (e.g. dog, log) and the word ending (e.g. _og) or beginning (e.g. do_, lo_). Label the pictures, isolating and emphasizing the initial or final consonant sound. Show a letter and have students point to the picture that starts with (or ends with) the letter shown. Have students make the sound and write the letter to complete the word, air-write the letter, or trace the letter shape on a card. Repeat with additional pairs of rhyming CVC words.
2. Missing letters with non-rhyming words
Provide students with images of CVC non-rhyming words (e.g. cat, map, ten) with the initial or final consonant sound missing (e.g. _at/ca_, _ap/ma_, _en/te_). Have students say the initial or final consonant sound and write the letter in the blank.
3. Letter tiles
Present and read a word ending to students (e.g. _at). Then have students pull a letter tile form the bag, place it in the initial position, and read the word. Students earn a point for each read word created. For extra practice, have students write the words, saying each sound as they write each letter.
4. Letter dice
Create letter dice with one letter on each side. Distribute the dice, as well as picture cards of words, to pairs of students. For each turn, students should roll the die, name the letter and its sound, then find a picture that begins or ends with that sound. Continue until all cards have been collected. For added practice, use words from other lessons if possible, such as key vocabulary from your science unit.
5. CVC words bingo
Give each student a bingo board with consonant letters, then show a picture of a word to students and say the word. Students should place a chip on the letter that makes the initial sound in the word. Once they have earned bingo, they should name each letter covered, along with its sound.
6. Around the classroom
Label items (e.g. map, fan, pen, bag, rug) in the classroom with a consonant missing. Distribute letter cards to students and ask students to complete each word as they walk around the room.
7. Recess time
Extend learning of sound-symbol correspondence to the playground at recess time! Students can use chalk to write letters on the pavement in a hopscotch pattern. As they jump over each letter, they say the sound that matches.
8. Fun with shaving cream and sandpaper
Print out large letters on a piece of paper and hand these out to students, who will use shaving cream to trace over each letter while saying the sound that matches. Alternatively, instruct students to write a letter on a piece of sandpaper, then use their pointer finger to trace the letter while saying the sound.
9. Sound and letter art
To encourage generalization of skills, collaborate with the art instructor to use letters and sounds in an art project. For example, students draw or paint the first letter of their name using primary colors or what they’ve learned in art class about perspective. Then, students present their work to the class by showing their art piece and stating their name, the first letter of their name, and the sound.
10. Objects in a bag
Put various objects in a brown paper bag and have students take turns reaching in to pull out an object. Students label the item, say the beginning sound of the word, and write the first letter on the board.
As you can see, there are many ways to practice associating sounds with letters. With repeated practice, the “code” starts to become more automatic, and students are on their way to becoming successful readers!
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