How to Teach Vowel Sounds so Kids Will Remember
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 are weak on vowel sound discrimination, spelling tests are torture. 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.
Here's how to teach vowels memorably.
The first thing to do is to read Alphabet Tales. This book 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 faithfully 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!
Use Alphabet Teaching Cards as cue cards both for the student and for the instructor. 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.
Also 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 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. For I, use an upraised hand similar to the feathers on Ike’s head. 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.
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 Tales, you 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, move on to actually using 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
Step 2: Play Quick Draw
To practice listening for sounds in words, and especially for distinguishing between vowel sounds, I found playing Quick Draw was very helpful. Each child has a white board, or if you are as lucky as I was, you will have enough room on your big white board to accommodate all the kids in your group. Each child stands with their back to the white board, marker ready, and then listens while I say the word. Or give each child a personal white board.
- “The word is CLASS.”
- “Sound it with me.” The kids sound with me as I break apart the word for them, “C-L-A-SS.” I use the motion for A as we sound in order to give them a visual cue for the vowel. I am also using fingermapping (see how to fingermap here), which gives them an instant visual map for the structure of the word.
- “Sound and Write!” This is the cue for the children to quickly turn and write their 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.
- I do a quick visual check for accuracy and then move on to another word. If there is an error, I 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.
- 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 (bought), 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.
Hint: E and I are frequently taken for each other, as are O and U.
Your next step
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.
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.
Our mission is to inspire children to Love Learning. We accomplish this by designing unique learning resources that engage and stimulate the whole brain via elements such as images, body motions, and stories. These learning resources are effective for all learners, but make all the difference for visual, kinesthetic, and right-brained learners!
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. Child1st