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Master Sounding Out Words With These Pro Tips

Do you say to your child “just sound it out?” Here’s how you can show them.

Throughout the year I receive numerous emails from teachers, parents and homeschoolers asking how to teach their kids sound out words. Most often, it’s because they struggle to blend together the sounds in the word. For example, they may sound out the individual sounds in a word, like /f/ – /r/ – /o/- /g/ and then say something like, rod. Ugh. This can be very frustrating for both the listener and the reader.

So how can we teach kids sound out words consistently and accurately? Before we beat our heads against a wall, let’s explore some ideas together!

When your child/student struggles to sound out words, here are some pro tips that will make a difference. Remember to keep in mind that some children do take longer than others to learn to decode words. Having said that, learning the English code requires explicit instruction in the sounds that letters make individually and in combination with other letters in a systematic way. Decoding words, or sounding them out, is the ability to apply their existing letter-sound knowledge to correctly pronounce printed words.

Many children develop the ability to decode words when explicitly taught how to sound out the word and blend it together. Next they need to practice applying this knowledge consistently so that it becomes automatic. I use a combination of systematic based phonics, linguistics and specific strategies for blending and chunking words all of which are essential components when learning to read. I have found for most children they require explicit teaching of how to decode words by correlating specific sounds with either individual or combinations of different letters and then blending them all together to read the word.

Here are five pro tips you can use to help your child/student sound out words.

1. Explicit decoding instruction

When your child comes across an unknown word, show them how they can sound out the word themselves by breaking it up into smaller parts (e.g. /b/…/oa/…/t/). Help your child identify the individual units of sounds in words, for example, /n/…/ur/…/se/. Notice, two letters can make one sound as in /ur/ and /se/. We need to teach this to our children in incremental stages as they are learning to read. Learning the different letter combinations for the sounds is especially important when sounding out unknown words. Using a systematic reading program such as Early Readers Academy will ensure readers know and understand the many different letter representations for the sounds in the English language.

Some irregular spellings can make sounding out certain words difficult. For example, /ch/ in the words ‘machine’, ‘echo’ and ‘chair’ has three different pronunciations. Take time to help your child learn the pronunciation of every new word they come across along with its meaning. This will increase their vocabulary, give them strategies for future words and help them identify these words more easily each successive time they see it.

2. Blend the sounds

Here at Early Readers Academy, we teach blending right alongside learning the letter-sound combinations. Blending is a necessary step in becoming a fluent reader who can decode words quickly and easily. In short, blending is the ability to seamlessly combine individual sounds together in words in a smooth manner. For example, an early reader may read out each individual sound in the word ‘crust’ like /c/…/r/…/u/…/s/…/t/, while smooth blending would be sounding the word out as /cruusst/ (emphasis on the short u and s).

3. Spell it

Some important considerations I would encourage you to make when helping your child sound out words include:

1. Stretch out the word – say the word slowly while stretching out the sounds, imagine it’s an elastic band. This will allow you to accentuate each individual sound in the word. Vowel sounds stretch out easiest.

2. Use an ABC chart – as your child sounds out the letters, have them refer to an ABC chart to find the corresponding letter and the sound it makes as needed. Click here for the Primary Workmat that serves this purpose very successfully.

3. Tap out the sounds – Help your child tap out the sounds in the word to help them identify each sound and letter representation.

4. Spell It – Have them write each letter or combination of letters down right after identifying it. This will help them blend them together as the word unfolds. Writing each sound as you go will help your child remember the initial sounds in a word by the time they finish decoding the word.

4. Play Swap It

"Swap It" is an Early Readers Academy word game where we swap out letters to make an entire new word. Sometimes we continue swapping out letters for twenty or more words in a row! It's challenging and exciting as you discover what you can create. "Swap It" provides our children with skilfulness and practice interchanging letters, and blending while making new words. This is very effective in making our children confident, proficient decoders!

5. Practice

Set aside regular daily out loud reading time for 10-20 minutes for your child to practice their decoding skills. The five-finger rule is a quick and easy way for your child to check if a book is suitable for them. Before they start, ask them to turn to a random page in the book and read it. For every word that they don't know, they should hold up a finger. Five fingers up, means it is likely a good book to practice their decoding skills. Any more than that can get frustrating for them. Keep it enjoyable and fun as much as possible!

Teaching your child to decode words requires explicit instruction, training on how to blend the sounds together, spell the words out, Swap out letters to make new words and daily reading practice out loud to put all of their newly learned skills together and begin reading fluently. Some children will require an extra lesson on decoding instruction, others blending and others spelling. Every child is uniquely designed and if they require additional help in one or more areas give them permission to do so. If it continues on for a period of time contact me as there may be other things affecting their ability to read that we can explore.

Throughout the process be mindful that a relaxed child will retain the information and learn to read much more easily. So laugh and have fun while embarking on the reading journey!

Decoding words is just one of a handful of powerful reading activities that come with our complete reading system Level 1 and Level 2. Early Readers Academy integrates multiple reading skills for accelerated growth to achieve their highest learning potential!

Come along and experience reading success like never before!

Mary Printz aka Miss Mary is the co-founder of Early Readers Academy and Accelerated Potential Academy. She is a seasoned educational consultant, researcher, Reading Consultant and Developer and International speaker. You can contact her at

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