Playing with Phonemes-Part 1

The smallest unit of sound in the spoken language is a phoneme.  Once a child begins to isolate, blend, segment, and manipulate sounds at the phoneme level, her literacy world really begins to explode.  You’ll see how in these next posts.

Phonemic Isolation:

Developmentally speaking, the best way to introduce phonemic isolation is:

  1. initial sound in a word- “What sound do you hear at the beginning of the word?” 
  2. final sound-“What sound do you hear at the end of the word?”
  3. medial sound-“What sound do you hear in the middle of the word?”

When you examine kids’ spellings, this is the natural way they spell as they develop in their phonemic awareness.  They start by writing initial consonants; so bed may first be spelled B.  Then they may add the d to spell BD.  And finally, BAD or BED for bed.


Montessori inspired me with her sound tubs, so I created a set of my own for use when I taught public school.  ALuv used them (and we still do from time to time) and I plan on beginning some work on these with NJoy soon.

This is how I know that he is ready to try: at a little over 2 years of age, he knew his letter names-both upper and lower case (he pretty much taught himself)!  These days, you can hear him singing, “B says /b/” or “T says /t/” around the house or asking me, “Mommy, what’s that S  say?”;  so I can tell he’s ready for some work on letter sounds.  (Just a side note: NJoy is ahead of the game.  ALuv didn’t know all his letters until 3.5 years of age and still others do not until they are 4 or 5 years of age.  All of these ages are within the “normal” r ange.  Please do not compare your 2 year old to mine.)

Here are a couple of pictures of my sound tubs (nothing fancy):

I collected 6 objects for each letter of the alphabet.  I had a few extra containers left over, so I also have a tub for ch, sh and th.

Our Gg Tub

Some of my tubs, take for instance by G tub, have objects in which there are blends at the beginning of the word (like glasses or grasshopper); which is probably not ideal, but I’m not too concerned about this.

You can purchase your own set too, but I didn’t want to fork out the money.  It was way cheaper to put them together myself.  I collected objects from around the house and went shopping (craft stores, the $1 store & Goodwill worked very well for me!).


Initial Sound Play: To use these objects, I first start with one sound tub (let’s say B).  I pull out all the objects and say the name of each object like this “/b/, /b/, /b/  ball.”  We do this tub a few days in a row, doing the same thing each day-pull out the objects, naming each one.  I let the child chime in to help when he feels ready.  Once I see that my child feels comfortable with the B tub, I’ll pull out the S tub and do the same thing with it.

After I feel the child has a grasp on those object names and initial letter sounds, I pull out all the objects from both the B and S tub and I mix them up.  I lay out a mat (see picture below) and sort the objects by letter sound, remembering to over emphasize the first sound in the word.  The mat is made with construction paper and permanent marker.  (I “stole” this idea from a Montessori K class I observed.)

B tub-baby, ball, bell, bread, button, & bunny

S tub-snake, stop sign, seal, spider, & stool

I like the sound tubs because the same objects can be used to teach initial, final and middle sound.  I would caution that with the final and middle sounds, I’ve found it’s easier for a child to do when you pick an object that’s only 1 syllable (such as cat, bell, or sock)For example, I can go into my sound tubs and pull out these 6 objects that all end in the letter T and use them to work on sorting objects with the final /t/ sound.

Just recently, I noticed that Nicole @ The Activity Mom has a more efficient way to store her letter objects.  I wish I’d seen her idea 6 years ago!

If you don’t want to make your own sound tubs (I won’t lie…it took some work!), you can use picture cards.

  • I like the picture cards in the back of Words Their Way.  The supplement booklets (this one, too) for kids in this stage of spelling/reading also have pictures sorts already created for you!
  • Florida’s Center for Reading Research also has free activities and picture cards you can download, print off, and use.  Click here and here for those.
  • Here’s an idea I did with ALuv not too long ago with picture cards from Words Their Way in which we sorted pictures by middle sound.

And to keep prep time to zero, you can integrate phonemic isolation into everyday life as you live literacy together.  For example, while getting your child dressed, you can say things like, “/s/ /s/ /s/ sock.  That starts with the /s/ sound, just like your name /s/ /s/ /s/ Sam!”


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. christine
    Jun 03, 2011 @ 07:59:22

    At our Montessori School we call them sound buckets and I got ours from Target in the dollar section. Because our letters are blue and red (red for vowels) we did the same with the buckets. The only drawback we found was that we can’t find a way to actually label the bucket so we have a tongue depressor in each bucket with the letter written on it.
    I also used these when I was homeschooling.


    • This Reading Mama
      Jun 03, 2011 @ 08:18:03

      Yes, your sound buckets were a major inspiration for me! I remember you showing them to me at the preschool. So did Target actually sell the sound buckets or did you find most of your manipulatives in there?


  2. Trackback: “Doing School” with NJoy « This Reading Mama

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Please feel free to share with others by linking directly to my blog. All texts created by Becky are protected by Registered & Protected
%d bloggers like this: