How to Teach the Letter Sounds at Home – Teaching Phonics
I recently wrote a post explaining what phonics is and how it has been scientifically proven to help children learn to read.
I know that this is the case, as I work in a primary school and teach it every day to reception/ kindergarten aged children.
It’s amazing to see kids go from having no idea what the funny squiggles in a book mean, to being able to sound out and blend words and read entire books.
Related: Throughout this post I will use some phonics related words that you may not have heard before. Fortunately (or maybe luck had nothing to do with it), I’ve written a guide to many of the words teachers use. It may be useful to have it open in another tab to check on any words you’re not sure of.
When should I start teaching the letter sounds at home?
That’s really up to you.
Most schools do a great job of teaching kids to read and if you don’t help them they will get there eventually.
However, I’ve written an article looking into the scientific research behind why it’s great if children learn to love reading from an early age, so you may want to begin before they start school.
It can give them a wonderful boost to their confidence if they already have a grasp of some of the letter sounds before they start school. If they’re able to put their hands up and answer questions correctly in class.
Teaching the letter sounds at home can also be a nice way to complement what they are learning at school as the more they do it the more it will sink in.
I will say however, that children need to play!
Through play, children learn so much – so please ensure that they have a lovely balance between structured learning time and play time. And don’t force them if they’re not ready or don’t want to do it.
Hopefully, if you read lots to them from a young age, they’ll already have a love of books and reading and will want to be able to read all by themselves!
Related: If you’d like to get amazing at reading to your child, check out this post with 8 brilliant, proven strategies to get better at reading aloud.
How to Teach the Letter Sounds at Home
What you’ll need:
These are only what I advise, you’ll be able to use this phonics lesson plan as a guide and tailor it to what you have available / are willing to buy.
Disclosure: Please bear in mind that as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you – this helps with running costs and makes this site possible.Thank you.
- Pen and paper
- White board and white board pens
- Alphabet printout (I’ve created a couple that you can download if you are part of the Nurtured Neurons family!)
- A fun pointer
- Giraffe puppet (you’ll find out why later)
- Objects that begin with the sound you are teaching that day (for example, if you were teaching ‘s’ you may get some socks, a scarf, a toy snake, etc.
- Some magnetic letters to go with the whiteboard
- Access to a computer, or smart TV, tablet etc. (for youtube videos and interactive games)
Learning the Letter Sounds at Home
I’ve based this lesson on the ones we teach in school (they’ve been developed by teachers who are much better at phonics than me!).
I’ve tweaked it and broken it down into small steps so it’s easier to teach at home. Depending on how long you take on each step will determine how long the entire lesson takes. I would suggest no longer than twenty minutes to half an hour in total though. If you have lots of energy and make it fun, hopefully they’ll be engaged for the entire time.
If you do realise they begin to lose interest after a while maybe split it into smaller chunks and break it up with some free play time.
We need to make sure your kids are happy and enjoying themselves we do not want to make it a chore which they dread!
I’d advise spending at least two lessons on each new sound and probably only do one lesson a day. Spend as long as your child needs though – there’s no rush!
Step one – Introduction and previous letter sounds recap
Start by singing the alphabet.
This is where it’s useful to have a printout of the alphabet as you can point to the letters as you go.
Starting with this every day is a great way to get them to attach the name of the letter to what the letter looks like written down. It also makes part of a nice routine and let’s them know it’s phonics time!
Encourage them to sing along with you and listen closely to make sure they are getting the letters right (especially at the dreaded LMNOP part).
After this you should recap any sounds you have previously learnt.
You can do this as a quick flashcard exercise where you hold up the letter and they have to say the sound as quickly as they can. You can then muddle up the order and see if they still know them.
Or write them on a white board then quickly rub them out and write the next one.
You can also do the same with any sight words they have learnt.
This can show you if there are any gaps in their knowledge that you may have to go back over and focus on.
Never worry if they’ve forgotten any sounds from the last few days – it all takes time and it’s natural that they’ll forget some.
Tip You could always time this section if your kids like challenging themselves.
Step 2 – Introduce the new letter sound
Introduce the sound you’ll be learning today.
Show them a picture of the sound or write it on the whiteboard and say the sound it makes. You can make this section more interesting by having the letter covered in a cloth and slowly unveiling it. Drum Rolls please.
It’s really good to create a hand action to go with the sound as physical movement can really help children to remember things. For example, for ‘s’ you could wave your hand like a snake whilst making the ‘sss’ sound. For ‘a’ you could do a creepy crawly action of an ant crawling on your arm and for ‘b’, you could pretend to be hitting a ball with a bat.
Then, get them to tell different things around your room what sound you are learning.
Tell the door what sound we’re learning today.
Tell the table.
Tell your teddy.
Gently correct them if they are saying it wrong.
It’s also nice to do a ‘my turn, your turn’ here where you say ‘my turn’ followed by the sound and then say ‘your turn’ and they have to repeat it back to you.
Get them to say it loudly, whisper it, say it like a baby, say it like a monster.
Phonics Tip There’s a specific order that the sounds are generally taught in phonics and that is:
Set one – s, a, t, p
Set two – i, n, m, d
Set three – g, o, c, k
Set four – ck, e, u, r
Set five – h, b, f, ff, l, ll, ss
Set six – j, v, w, x
Set seven – y, z, zz, qu
After these, they’ll move on to the digraphs:
Consonant digraphs – ch, sh, th, ng
Vowel digraphs and trigraphs – ai, ee, igh, oa, oo, ar, or, ur, ow, oi, ear, air, ure, er
The sounds are taught in this order as it slowly builds up the amount of words they are able to read.
There’s also books you can get which are suited to the different sets and get increasingly complex as they progress.
Step 3 – Play a phonics video
Now I’d play them a video if you’re able to. It’s good to start with a Jolly Phonics video. You can find them by going over to Youtube and searching for Jolly Phonics plus the sound you are learning. Or you can use the video below and fast forward to the relevant sound.
You should play it a couple times and encourage your children to sing along (I hope you’re singing too!).
After this, or on the next day I’d play a Geraldine the Giraffe video. These are great for learning how to make the letter sounds and learning words which begin with the sound.
Make sure you pause the video as you go and ask questions.
If you’ve got a giraffe puppet now would be a good time to get it on!
Where’s the ‘s’ in that word? Is it at the beginning, middle or end? Can you point it out to me?
What else could Geraldine find?
Can you see anything in this room that begins with…?
Step Four – Practise writing the letters
Now it’s time to put their writing skills to the test!
You want to be showing them how to write the letters correctly. We normally teach lower case letters to start with as these are the ones they will be writing (and reading) the most.
Tip You may want to find out the style of handwriting that your child’s school (or future school) uses so that you and the teachers aren’t teaching them different things (we don’t want to make this any harder for the little learners).
You can demonstrate how to write the letter either on a whiteboard or just pen and paper.
Write it nice and big and slowly whilst talking them through what you are doing.
Now it’s time for the magic finger!
Get your child to hold their index finger of their writing hand nice and high in front of them and explain that it’s their magic writing finger. Ask them what colour it is (a favourite at school is pink rainbow sparkles – I like it!)
Then get them to practise writing the shape in the air.
Get them to practise writing it on your back.
Make sure you are offering loads of encouragement as they do this!
Now they’re ready to have a go on the whiteboard. Give them the pen and make sure their holding it in a nice pencil grip and let them crack on. The benefit of a whiteboard over paper is that it’s reusable and they can easily rub out any mistakes they make and the pens are a bit chunkier and easier to hold.
The letters may not look anything like what they’re supposed to yet but that’s fine! They’re learning and this takes time. Just let them get used to writing and they will naturally get better with practise!
Spend a few minutes on this. As they get better you can get them to refine their writing. Make certain parts of the letters longer or shorter and get them to start on the line.
Step 5 – Activity time
Now would be a nice time to do an activity. A fun one which is easy to do is a letter hunt.
Set them free around the house to find as many objects they can which begin with the sound you’re learning.
So if they were learning ‘s’ they might find the sofa, a spoon, a scarf etc.
You could also do this with pages of their favourite picture books.
A variation on this is that you could hide various objects around a certain room. Let them know how many objects you’ve hidden and give them a time limit to try and find them all.
Another easy activity would be a sound sort. Collect together objects that start with the sound you’re learning as well as some that don’t. Mix them all up in a bag or basket and your child has to take only the ones that begin with the letter you’re learning.
If you want to get techy here you can check out this site for some great online phonics games.
If you want more activity ideas then you could also follow my Learning to Read Pinterest board which has loads of awesome ideas you can easily do at home.
As they get better at knowing their letter sounds, you’ll want to introduce blending. This is where they actually start to put together some of the sounds they’ve already learnt and actually start to READ!
This can be really tricky at first so start with simple words that have the sounds you have already taught. Words like ‘sat’, ‘tap’ and ‘pat’ are all good ones at the beginning.
When teaching blending you need to make sure you break down the word into its individual sounds.
This is where the magnetic letters and board can come in handy as you can easily separate the letters so they can sound out each one.
Counting on your fingers as you go can work as well. Hold up a new finger for each sound and get them to repeat them faster until they can hopefully hear the word.
If you haven’t heard of it before, Alphablocks is a cracking BBC TV show that can really help children with their sounds and blending.
Step 6 – Recap what they’ve learnt
This is an important last step as it helps cement what they have learnt today.
Make sure you go over the letter sounds you taught and double check they are saying it right.
This is also a good time to quickly go over any tricky words and letter sounds they have previously learnt.
See if they can remember any of the words that begin with the letter you were learning about today.
And that’s pretty much it, give them a round of applause and tell them how much better they’re getting at reading! They’ll be pros in no time!
Some tips for teaching the letter sounds
- Make sure you’re asking lots of questions and keep checking what sound they’re learning – this will keep them engaged and help the learning sink in.
- Keep it fun – make sure you are bringing lots of energy and expression. Learning’s so much better if it’s fun!
- Use their toys and other objects when you can – this will make it more personal and engaging for them.
- If they are getting tired or bored have a break or call it a day – you don’t want them to dread phonics time!
- Offer lots of encouragement as you go – this can help keep them motivated and boost their self esteem.
- Be patient – it may take your child lots of time to learn certain sounds or figure out how to hold a pencil correctly and form the letters, don’t worry that’s normal!
- Read lots with them and encourage them to read along with you – this will help them develop a love of books and also give them lots of fun practise!
A little on Sight / Tricky words
I mentioned sight words (also called tricky words) earlier, and these are words which are impossible to sound out when the children only know the basic letter sounds.
Examples would be to, go, so, no, the, etc.
The best way to learn these is just through practise. Make sure you have some pre-made, or write them down and show them to your children. Tell them the word and that this is what it looks like written down.
You can introduce these at about the same rate you introduce new letter sounds. Although, I’d hold off until they are at least confident with the set one letter sounds.
I’ve made some pretty snazzy tricky word bookmarks (and alphabet mats) which you can download by clicking on the picture below.
These are great as you can keep a copy with you for the lessons but they can also keep a copy in any books they are reading.
Final Thoughts on Teaching the Letter Sounds at Home
Quick recap of the order to teach letter sounds at home:
- Step 1- Sing the alphabet and go over any previous sounds
- Step 2 – Introduce a new letter sound
- Step 3 – Play a phonics video
- Step 4 – Have a go at writing the letter
- Step 5 – Play a phonics game or do a fun activity
- Step 6 – Recap what they have learnt today
If you use these steps as a guide you’ll be able to confidently teach the letter sounds to your little ones at home.
Remember, you can tweak any of these steps to use what you have available.
After a few lessons you’ll get a feel for how your child learns and can work out if they need shorter or longer lessons; more breaks; if they enjoy the writing part more; or if there’s a certain activity they respond really well to.
And keep it fun and read lots with them!
Below I’ve included a few books you may want to get which are designed to be used alongside teaching the letter sounds. These can be great as they have specifically created with phonics in mind and progress in difficulty as your child learns more sounds.
Make sure you read lots of other books with them as well though!
Well I hope you’ve found that useful and you get to give it a go at home. I’d love to hear how you get on and let me know if you have any activities you do at home which really work (if i like the sound of them I’ll update this post to include them!).
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Let’s nurture those neurons!