“Every Letter Makes a Sound…”

It seems like everywhere I turn in my home, I can hear this *lovely* song:  “B  says /b/, B says, /b/.  Every letter makes a sound…”  Oh, do I have you singing it now?  I’m so sorry. 🙂  Believe me, I know every verse; as I’m sure you do too, if you have little ones in the home.

Learning letter sounds.  While there’s probably not a “wrong” way to do it  (okay, I guess there could be), I believe there is a more developmentally appropriate way than starting with the /a/ sound and working your way through in order to the /z/ sound.  I like to introduce letter sounds in a different order, which can help to minimize confusion.

Much of the confusion over letter sounds occurs at the point of articulation.  Letter sounds are produced or articulated in different places of the mouth.  For example,  the /m/ sound is produced by placing both lips together (bilabial) while the /k/ sound is made at the back of the throat.  (Hang in there.  I do have  a point in all this jargon.)  Some sounds require the voice to be used /v/, while others do not /f/.  There are continuant sounds, meaning they can be elongated naturally /sssssss/, while there are other letter sounds that cannot be elongated (stops), like the /b/ sound.  Some letters are very similar in their articulation, such as /t/ and /d/.  And because they are so similar, they have the potential to confuse young children if introduced close together. Whew…now, take a deep breath. 

The interesting part about all the above info is that even though I studied a lot of this stuff when getting my M.Ed. in Reading, I initially learned most of it while getting my undergrad in music!  I was a voice major and we had to take five diction classes, learning the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), in order to know how to pronounce words in several different languages.  Little did I know that this information would serve me far beyond singing Clair de Lune!  I think it’s so cool how God prepared me to be a teacher before I even knew it was in His plan!

Here is the order in which I typically introduce consonant letter sounds: (I do not follow this exactly in every situation*)

m, s, r, b, t, g, n, p, c, h, f, d, l, k, j, w, y, z, v, x, & q- (both x and q produce two sounds /ks/ for x and /kw/ for q)

By introducing sounds in this approximate order, the letters that have similar articulation points are separated enough so that confusion is minimal.  And an added bonus: the letters that are similar in print features (b, d, p, & q) are also spaced further apart from each other.

*OTHER SITUATIONS

1. If you are introducing the letter sounds to a younger child (for example, NJoy is 2) or a child with speech delays, it may help to adapt the order a bit so that some of the “easier” sounds are introduced first.  Here are two links about articulation development, if you want to read them: Developmental Articulation Chart & full research article.   (Thank you, Tiffany!)

Here’s the main idea of these resources: The letter sounds that have the potential of being more difficult to articulate are generally: /f/, /l/, /r/, /s/, /v/, /y/ & /z/.  It may work best to postpone them, so the order may look more like:

m, b, t, g, n, p, c, h, d, k, w, j, f, y, s, v, z, l, r, x, & q

2. If you are introducing these sounds to an older child (let’s say a Kindergartner), I do not feel it is necessary to get through all 21 consonants before you introduce a short vowel sound (like short a).  If a short vowel is mixed in there, the child can begin working on simple word families and reading words sooner.  You can see how I started doing this with ALuv here.

3. Some reading philosophies (Montessori, for example) choose to teach letter sounds before letter names.  Because of this, the letter order must differ to facilitate reading words.  Here is a post that does a good job explaining this.  (I will post more on this topic at a later time.)

LETTER SOUNDS AND BEYOND…

One of the reasons that articulation interests me is that it helps to explain the interesting invented spellings of young children.  What seems like a random spelling begins to make sense.  Take for example, PK for pig.  From an articulation stand-point, k is a great substitution for g because they are both pronounced in a similar spot: a guttural sound in the back of the tongue and throat.  And if a child is stretching out the sounds in a classroom or in a setting where they need to do so quietly, /k/ is the sound that g makes when the voice is not used.  Pretty cool!

And just in case you are just dying for another round, here you go: “D says /d/, D says /d/…” Happy singing!

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Struggling Readers Need Encouragement

Struggling readers, especially those in the upper grades, tend to carry with them a low reading esteem.  They are aware that they just can’t do it and many times, they lack the motivation to read altogether.  It may even sound like: “I hate to read” or “Reading is boring”.  I know I’ve heard these phrases uttered by some of the upper elementary grade students I’ve tutored.

When I would type up the initial assessment report for the parents, the last thing I wanted to do was focus all my attention on their child’s reading weaknesses.  I always included a section on his/her reading strengths…and that was the part I liked to share with the student. 🙂

When looking through my reports, here are some of the actual comments I used for strengths (feel free to use these if they apply to your child or a child in your classroom):

  • She is skilled in word recognition and decoding (this applied to a 4th grader who could decode on a 6th grade level, but was only comprehending at a 2nd grade level)
  • He has mastered beginning and ending consonants and most short vowel words.
  • When given more than one second, he was able to figure out 4 more words on the word list (10 words long).
  • She went back and self-corrected her errors most of the time while reading the passage.
  • She was able to answer all of the explicit questions correctly on the passage.
  • He went back and re-read when something didn’t make sense in the passage; a sign that he understands that reading is supposed to make sense.

When I’m reading with students or doing word study, I tell students what I like about their reading or spelling.  Here are some things I say to them:

  • You made a very smart mistake because the word you said looks a whole lot like the word in the text.  (This happened just the other day with the words thought and though.)
  • I thought it was really cool how you went back and corrected your mistake when you realized it didn’t make sense.  I do that all the time!
  • You spelled the word exactly how it sounds.  Way to use your ear!
  • I like how you erased that part of the word and spelled it again.  It looked like you were trying to picture the word in your head.  And it paid off, because you spelled it correctly the second time.

By focusing on students’ strengths, it helps them to see specifically how they are growing as readers (aren’t we all??).  It also builds their motivation and reading esteem.  I firmly believe, through my experiences as a teacher, tutor and reading mama, that motivating kids is half the battle.  If a child believes he can’t, he won’t.  Oh, but the power of positive thinking.  If we can instill that into our young readers by being explicit about their reading strengths, then by all means, let’s spread some reading encouragement! 🙂

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