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How to Teach Vowel Sounds so Kids Will Remember

by Sarah K Major February 04, 2016 7 Comments

How to Teach Vowel Sounds so Kids Will Remember

Short vowels and their sounds are often difficult for struggling readers. 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.

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How to teach vowels so kids will remember

1. Use Visuals

How To Teach Vowels So Kids Will Remember

The first thing to do for these kids is show them the visuals for the vowels and a shortened version of the story for each letter. For the visuals to be effective, the object has to match the shape of the letter. The visuals worked beautifully to help cement the sound of the vowel. Using visuals correctly will make all the difference for visual, right-brained, and kinesthetic learners!

Alphabet Teaching Cards include basic vowel and consonant sounds and provide a mini-lesson and activity on the reverse of each card. This alphabet teaches using visuals, hand motions, and stories. Hands-on activities accompany each letter.



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 essentials for tactile and kinesthetic learners!

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 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.




Right-Brained Alphabet

In Alphabet Tales, each letter in the alphabet is designed to match its shape - the 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 a hands-on activity of craft great for your kinesthetic & tactile learner.

Look inside Alphabet Tales.



Tactile activity for practicing vowel sounds

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! We played games together to practice listening for the vowel sound in words.

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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 
Download the word list here
Sand, tent, with, bus, off, Tom, bat, best, fresh, sun, punt, shop, west, nod, fun, fin, pen, pun, pan, pin, hop.
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, 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 his or her 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.

Helpful Hints

  • If the child is reading for you and mispronounces a word, just cue him with the hand motion for the vowel sound.
  • If you suspect your child is a kinesthetic learner, have him or her 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.

Sound Spelling Teaching Cards



With Sound Spelling Teaching Cards, you will be equipped to effectively teach 154 sound spellings, word structure, spelling, and to enhance reading comprehension.

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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.


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Sarah K Major
Sarah K Major


Sarah's absolute belief in every child’s ability to learn, and her passion to empower the child by supporting his/her own unique giftedness have fueled her life’s work and provided a new pathway for children to succeed academically.