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Letter Sound Instruction Made Easy

Hello! I’m Mary Printz co-founder of Early Readers Academy, where we help teachers, parents, and homeschoolers systematize reading instruction so they can see their children accelerate achievement.

Today I am here with a response to one of our reader’s questions regarding letter-sound instruction. Many of you have been following us from our '5 Day Reading Challenge' learning about one of our 7 strategies called ‘Swap It.’ This strategy can have a really powerful impact when learning to read. It helps with:

  • the concept of the alphabetic principle - that there are systematic and predictable relationships between written letters and spoken sounds

  • letter/sound knowledge;

  • short vowels and consonants;

  • phonemic segmentation, blending and

  • phonemic manipulation.

And it really lays the foundation for strong decoding and excellent spelling, so it encompasses a lot.

A question posed by a kindergarten teacher, who was excited to hear about our Bright Futures Reading System, but also has kids who come in not having a lot of letter-sound knowledge so she wasn’t sure when to begin. I wanted to answer her question and share it with you.

This is an answer to this kindergarten teacher’s question about her instruction and the use of our Bright Futures Reading System.

She writes:

“Our four and five-year-old kindergarten students, in their first year of school, often come to school with little or no sound knowledge. There is a great deal of focus on sound-letter development at the beginning of the year.”

“My question is, how early would you introduce ‘Swap it’? I assume the children need some sound knowledge, before using this strategy. I’m very interested to try something new with my Kinders this year and would appreciate your input.”

What a great question…

In the fall challenge–for those of you who joined us through our 5 Day Reading Challenge–we witnessed a preschooler who already knew all of her consonants, and she was pretty good with some of her short vowels.

When I moved her up, it seemed natural that she was doing an activity like 'Swap It', where there were a lot of letter sounds set out and she was moving letter sounds like from “hot” to “dot” to "dog" and that makes sense because she knew most letter sounds.

But on the other end of the scale, when you have a beginner or a real struggler who doesn’t know the letter sounds, what do you do?

Early Readers Academy strategies save you a ton of time compared to that of traditional practice which is really super inefficient.

At the beginning of the year, they’re going to focus on the /mmm/ sound, the letter “m,” so that’s the sound that they focus on for one week


And then, what’s next?

They’re going to teach short “a,” /a/; then the third week they’re going to teach the sound /s/; the fourth week, teach the sound /t/.

So we’re at the fourth week of school, a whole month has gone by, and a kindergarten child will have been exposed to four letter sounds.

Then this continues, week five is the letter “p” and week six is review, and then there’s another review at week twelve…Every week just adding in one new letter sound and by week 16, these kindergarten students would have only been exposed to 14 letter sounds.

A Simple Alternative to Letter of the Week

I have experienced this countless times from having taught kindergarten for 19 of my 30+ years, that there is a much easier and shorter way to go about this, and so I’ve designed the Bright Futures Reading System that simplifies and accelerates reading achievement.

Instead of thinking about doing one sound per week, I encourage you to do multiple sounds in one week within the context of a real word.

Thus, at the beginning of this reading system, these kids would be exposed to a lot of short vowels and consonants, all at once. Maybe A, S, M, B, T and P.

In the first week, they would build “mat,” “map,” and “sat” and they would build other words with a handful of letter sounds. We can start without the swapping part and focus on the letter-sound knowledge, phonemic segmenting, and blending using our activity “Build it!”

And they would pick the right sound, but if they didn’t know it, it’s ok, first you say, “well what sound do you hear when I say /ssss/ ‘sap?’” You get them to identify the sound, and then they would pick the right letter sound to go with it, and you go through the word like that, left to right.

It’s very similar to 'Swap It,' but you eliminate the challenge of manipulating the letter sounds and it is called ‘Build It.’ They learn those letter sounds in the context of 'Build It,' in the context of real words. As you can see it is a much more efficient way.

Instead of thinking about doing one letter sound on week one and another letter sound on week two and another letter sound on week three, you can start the very first week, giving them, three-letter sound words, and they play with those and make as many words as they can.

There is a lot of teacher instruction involved which I have taught individually and in both large classes and small groups.

And so what happens with kids taking our Bright Future reading System, is that they learn all the consonants and the short vowels in a matter of two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, five weeks, sometimes six weeks if they’re having trouble. We move them along ensuring they have a strong solid understanding of the letter sounds taught as we go.

That is a partial answer, to this teacher’s question.

She was wondering, “How do you do something like ‘Swap It’ with kids who don’t know the letter sounds?”

Well, you can reduce the number of letter sounds that you’re going to expose them to, and you take out the swapping part because that’s maybe too much for them right now, but just have them build one word at a time, so they would build “sap” and you could take those letter sounds away and the next one they build would be “fat” and then take those away, next one they would build would be “map”.

And you don’t always pick a rhyming word like “sat,” “mat,” “fat,” because that can tune their brain out and they won’t pay attention to how each sound lines up based on the sounds.

So ‘Build It’ is really the first activity that I recommend in the Bright Future Reading System for those kids who don’t know their letter sounds or who don’t really get segmenting or blending at all.

You can very quickly add in 'Swap It', as soon as your kids know four or five letter sounds, they can then learn more letter sounds with the 'Swap It' activity.

They can quickly figure out what the right sound is when they realize, I need to swap a sound to go from “sat” to “fat.” They know that there’s going to be a /f/ there, they may not know which letter representation or spelling is /f/, but they know it’s going to be different.

They figure it out with some trial and error and they learn the letter sounds much more quickly this way playing 'Swap It.'

So in the context of real words, using both the visual cues and discriminating the sounds in the words, all integrated together, creates an environment where your child can learn the letter sounds and how to read a lot more quickly because it’s meaningful and makes more sense to them, when they understand what these letter sounds represent and how they are used.

If they arrive in kindergarten and they don’t know any letter sounds, they probably haven’t been exposed to a lot of literacy instruction, so letter sounds in isolation can be confusing and it may not make much sense to them. Using the ‘Build It’ activity can quickly establish their letter-sound knowledge.

That’s a quick answer to the question from the kindergarten teacher. Thank you for sending in your question. I get many of those and I’d love to hear more from parents, homeschoolers and teachers. I love writing quick short answers to your actual concerns. I look forward to sharing more with you, so please let me know what you want to know!

An Invitation to the Early Readers Academy

I also want you to know today, that you are able to access our Bright Futures Reading System here with a 100% guarantee! You can get access to daily video instruction for you and your child where I teach you all these strategies like 'Build It', 'Swap It', 'Read It', 'Fit It', 'Finish It' and more! Learn how to use them all together in a system that works quickly and effectively for beginners or strugglers from Pre-k to Gr 6 and I’ve even worked with middle school, high school as well as adults.

It all works together to create a system that’s simple to follow and provides you with all the resources that you need so that there’s not much for you to do.

And it’s not a bunch of worksheets in the sense of busywork–there are engaging and dynamic activities like ‘Build It’ and ‘Swap It’, but when you need something for your child to read or to write, that is provided for you too, in a video format that is easy for them to follow.

So if you’ve been thinking about the Early Reader’s Academy Level 1 or Level 2, now is your opportunity for the next three days until January 6 to sign up and register.

If you get a friend to sign up with you, you will receive 30% off your registration. Just email me once one of you has registered.

Keep that in mind because I do believe that parents are way too isolated and then if you can work together with a friend, you will get a lot more benefit from it. And they will get to experience the system first hand right alongside you!

If you have any questions or comments please hit reply and let me know.

Here’s to great readers,

Miss Mary


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