How to Teach Vowel Sounds
Aug 08, 2023

How to Teach Vowel Sounds

Short vowels and their sounds are often difficult for children. For students who are weak on vowel sound discrimination, spelling tests are torture. It follows that reading is hard for them as well.
Sarah Major

Sarah Major, M.Ed. is passionate about working in harmony with a child's immaculate design to support their learning strengths. As a Title 1 Program Director and Designer, Sarah earned awards for creating her own multisensory educational resources that have now been sold in all 50 states and over 150 countries. By design, Sarah’s materials use visuals, hand motions, stories, and games to strengthen your child’s vowel sound discrimination.  

Short vowels and their sounds are often difficult for children. For students who struggle with vowel sound discrimination, spelling tests are trying. It follows that reading is hard for them as well. Often, when it comes to reading struggles, children have the same problems across all grade levels, and if a child has not mastered vowel sounds in Kindergarten, just getting older is not going to solve the problem of learning to read.


Alphabet Tales introduces each letter inside a visual with a story that emphasizes the shape and the sound each letter makes. Child1st's alphabet resources are effective because the object in the picture matches the shape of the letter and cements the sound of the vowel in the child’s mind. Using visuals correctly will make all the difference for visual, right-brained, and kinesthetic learners!

Alphabet Teaching Cards complement Alphabet Tales. The front of the cards will quickly refresh the child’s memory of letter and sound, while the reverse acts as a cue card for the teacher or parent, reminding them of the hand motion, the instructions for writing the letter, and the accompanying tactile activity that reinforces the vowel shape and sound.


Teach hand motions for each vowel. For some children, even as old as middle school, the hand motions are what help them figure out a word they don't know. Kids will come to associate the body motion with the shape of the letter and also the sound they hear themselves saying. Over time, they no longer need to make the hand motion - sounds will become automatic. Hand motions are essential for tactile and kinesthetic learners!

Alphabet Tales makes a connection between stories and hand motions for children to easily understand. For A, we make an anthill with our fingers and then touch our thumbs to make the tunnel Abner made as he tunneled through the anthill. For E, the kids will make a fist with their left hand and find the lowercase E their fingers made. The I is Thin Man, the O is Oscar’s wide open mouth, and the U is Uncle Ule’s upside-down umbrella. Stories are great for beginners and for visual, right-brained, and kinesthetic learners.



Right-Brained Alphabet

In Alphabet Tales, each letter in the alphabet is designed to match its shape. F is a FLAG, M is MOUNTAINS, for example. The tie to a known object links shape of letter to its sound. Images make it easy for children to learn sounds as they are learning a letter. Each story repeats the sound being learned throughout (example: Abner, ants, apple, anthill). The images and stories make it impossible for the child to forget the letter and its sound - one of the most fundamental and necessary skills needed for learning to read! In the back of Alphabet Talesyou will find hands-on activities and crafts that are perfect for your kinesthetic & tactile learner.


Having introduced the vowel sounds and their letters, and having established our hand motions for those vowels, it's time to use these newly-acquired tools! Play games together to practice listening for the vowel sound in words. Playing games will increase their vowel comprehension and recognition. 

Step 1: Listen for the Vowel

Say one word at a time. Students will do the hand motion for the vowel they hear. This activity will attach a movement essential for kinesthetic learners and will also allow you to do a quick visual check to see if every child correctly identified the vowel.

Sample Word List

Vowel Sounds Sample Word List
If you need a formal assessment for your students’ knowledge of vowel sounds, just have them number a paper, listen to each word, and write the vowel they heard inside each word.

Step 2: Play Quick Draw

To practice listening for sounds in words, and especially for distinguishing between vowel sounds, playing Quick Draw is very helpful. Each child will need a white board, paper and pencil, or allow them to use the class white board. Follow the steps below:

  • “The word is CLASS.”

  • “Sound it with me.” The kids sound with you as you break apart the word for them, “C-L-A-SS.” Use the motion for A as you sound in order to give them a visual for the vowel. I am also using fingermapping (see how to fingermap here), which gives them an instant visual map of the structure of the word.

Fingermapping Class
  • “Sound and Write!” This is the cue for the children to write the word as they say each sound. This part is critical. They need to say the sounds out loud and hear themselves saying the sounds, at the same time they are seeing their hand write the sounds.
  • Do a quick visual check for accuracy and then move on to another word. If there is an error, do not say the name of the missed letter, rather we SOUND OUT the word as the child is looking at the word they wrote so they can identify the missing sound and make the correction.

Helpful Hints
  • If the child is reading for you and mispronounces a word, just cue them with the hand motion for the vowel sound.
  • If you suspect your child is a kinesthetic learner, have them make the hand motion for the vowel sound as often as possible.
  • Play Word Morph: start with one word, and then change a sound with each new word: EX: BAT, BIT, BUT, BOT, BUT. Mix the words up so they are not in a predictable order and have the child give you the hand signal for the vowel again.

  • You may also use word pairs for quick vowel sound practice: CUT/KIT, GNAT/NET, BET/BIT, COT/CUFF, NIT/NET.


What's Next

In addition to short vowel sounds, words in our language are chock full of advanced vowel spellings just waiting to trip up struggling readers! (Example: ough, igh, ai, ou, etc.) The most effective way to teach children to easily decode words is to teach them how to spell the sounds they hear in words. For example, long A is spelled 8 different ways. The best way to teach visual, right-brained, and kinesthetic learners is to show them all the ways you can spell that sound and then practice with real words. Sound Spelling Teaching Cards make it easy for you to teach and easier for your students to learn. 

After your students have learned basic alphabet sounds, use Sound Spelling Teaching Cards to successfully teach the 154 sound spellings, word structure, word families, spelling, and to enhance reading comprehension. Struggling readers will understand the building blocks of words and will be equipped to figure out new, unknown words. 


Child1st Sound Spelling Teaching Cards example


Help your students master vowel sounds with our multisensory resources. Try this fun, engaging, and effective approach today. If you have any questions, please contact us. We are here for you!


Since its inception in 2006, Child1st has emerged as the leader in providing resources that parents and teachers alike can pick up and use. By their very design, Child1st resources meet the needs of children without the teacher-adult having to receive special training.  We exist so that every child has the opportunity to learn in their own learning language.


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