Children don’t learn letter sounds, also known as phonemes ( the smallest unit of speech sounds), in one go. Children start learning letter sounds the first time they hear someone speak to them. So if we really want to get technical about how to teach letter sounds, the first thing is to talk to your babies. That is why when I was a director of a childcare center way back, it drove me bananas when the infant teachers were silent much of the day. Yes, a calm, quiet environment is important for babies, but so is a language-rich one. It’s important for preschoolers too! However, if you are here because you googled “How do I teach letter sounds to preschoolers?” you aren’t interested in babies. So let’s skip a few steps… if you are a preschool or kindergarten teacher eager to start explicit teaching, here are some great ideas.
Do I Have To Do Letter Of The Week To Teach Letters?
Absolutely not. When we talk about the letter of the week in research, what we are talking about is spending all week focused only on that letter instead of seeing how that letter works with other letters. That isn’t beneficial for children who are starting the process of formal literacy learning. That said, when it became popular to trash letter of the week, we threw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. When children are ready to start learning letter sounds explicitly, that’s exactly what we need to do be explicit and systematic. We don’t need to subscribe to an outdated letter of the week, but we do need to spend a small amount of time introducing each letter by itself. In PreK, I see my role as the opening act, and I don’t expect my students to leave my class with a mastery of all 44 phonemes. I expect they will leave knowing some, and more importantly, being familiar and confident that letters make specific sounds so when they are reintroduced to them in kindergarten, they have some prior knowledge to attach this to.
Letter Sounds Activities for PreK and Kindergarten
This is a wonderful way of introducing letter sounds. When I am introducing a new letter sound, I start with this. I put multiple items that start with that letter sound into a mystery box . I invite one or two students up at a time to pull an item and say what it is. Let’s say I pulled a ball out because we are learning the sound b makes. After we all day what it is, I repeat the sound. ” /b/ ball ! Everyone together /b/ ball!” remember to keep the sounds quick, b doesn’t make a BUUUHHH sound. The sound added on is called a “shwa,” and we want to try hard to avoid it because it’s more than just the phoneme. So don’t draw them out. This is not easy to do, and I found this video to be incredibly helpful for me to practice before teaching.
After the mystery box, I will usually follow it up with sound sorting. This helps reinforce what we learned, and after doing this activity as a group, I will also put it out at free choice. See more details on how to do this here.
Letter Sharing aka Show n’ Tell
My students LOVE this activity, and I wish I could take credit for it, but my preschool has been doing it for decades. In the next class, after introducing the letter sound, students are invited to bring in an item from home that starts with that sound. I try to stress that it’s the SOUND, not the letter, but sometimes we get a knife for k, which becomes a teachable moment.
Small Group Letter Sound Activities
These letter-sound matching blocks are a favorite in my class and can be used in so many ways to teach preschoolers letter sounds.
I would have a lineup of students waiting to play this game, and can you blame them? It’s fun to hit things!
This printable game was great for the end of the year when my students were all familiar with these letter sounds.
This was another letter sounds activity that I ended up with a lineup of students eager to play. I didn’t start using this one until at least mid-way through the yea,r but this idea is easy to adapt.
Free Choice Phonics Activities
These phonics clip cards are an easy independent activity for your literacy center once your students have a good grasp on letter sounds.
This lock and key letter sound activity is self-correcting, so it’s perfect for free choice.
The basics: phonological awareness
Looking for more basic ways of teaching letter sounds. Check out these simple activities. If your students aren’t ready for this yet, don’t push it. Stay focused on more basic phonological awareness activities. Need ideas? Check out this post all about phonological awareness in preschool.
If your students aren’t ready for this yet, don’t push it. Stay focused on more basic phonological awareness activities. Need ideas? Check out this post all about phonological awareness in preschool.
I love the sorting tray idea! I can’t wait to try it in my class!