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How to use

All learners should work with Playing With Sounds: Kids need to be able to hear each sound in a word, blend sounds together to make a word, pull the sounds apart to map them to the letters that represent the sounds, rhyme words, and change sounds in words. This is a critical skill for reading and is often a root cause of reading difficulty. While this is not the focus of this website, we have a section on “Playing With Sounds” in the Teach Along the Way section. There are also many places to find help by Googling phonemic awareness if these activities are difficult for your learner.

If the learner needs to learn the letter sounds, go to letter sounds.

Go through the Big Sounds Pack and Sight Words along with the Steps:
Use the Big Sounds Pack to practice known sounds and add new ones as you go through all of the steps.
– Go through unknown Sight Words as you work through the steps.

Begin with step 1 and move quickly until your learner no longer reads the words automatically or Use our Phonics Quick Check to see which steps have already been mastered.

Go through the Steps in the order presented, but skip around as interest dictates! Schwa in particular may be taught at any time, and is quick to learn (it is presented in step 7).

Watch the video to introduce and teach each skill first.

Pick and choose from the many practice options (lists, games, sorts, little books) to practice each skill, but include spelling every time. Reading and spelling go hand in hand. If the learner is struggling, start with the simplest lists, games etc. located in the Bundles. If the learner can read and spell the mixed skill lists and small books quickly and smoothly move on!

Check the Unique Letter Combinations and Situations (under the “Teach Along The Way” section, in the left sidebar) for help with questions that come up as learners notice unknown letter combinations (“What is the deal with tch in catch?”) and ask questions like “why is there an “e” at the end of nerve?

*We learn quickest (and learning is more permanent) when we are 90-95% correct, and only 5-10% of what we are doing is new, so go for automaticity and speed with known skills while introducing new ones. A huge benefit to this site are the opportunities to practice target skills to automaticity through controlled activities where the learner can be 90-95% correct, master the skill quickly, and move on to the next. Click here for other effective study practices backed by scientific evidence.

In the learning steps you will find:

*Everything underlined is a link!

*If formatting is an issue, download what you are using.

Teaching icon Teach Teaching icon 2

This is where the skills for each step is taught and explained.


Here you will find definitions for key words or abbreviations.

Teaching Videos and Written Stories

Teaching Videos
Use these first to introduce the skill through story, visuals and some practice! The purpose of the stories is to provide a visual, emotional and sometimes physical hook to help remember the skills. These were first designed to teach teachers to introduce the skills themselves, but it turns out they also work well for the learner to watch directly!

Written Stories
The written versions of the story are included so teachers and parents can adapt and tell the stories themselves. While the phonic rule part of the story needs to stay, the content around that can and should be altered to appeal to, and be relevant to, the interests and world of the specific learner(s). For example when introducing the vowels, the name of the creature, AE, needs to stay, as does the ending “AE, I O U a …!” AE responding with “Y?” also needs to stay. All the other pieces, the descriptions, circumstances, what is owed, all can and should change to be most memorable and fun for the specific audience.
*If you make up a great alternate story for a skill we would love to see it! We would love to add an alternate story versions section to this site!

Posters/Visuals Poster with short vowels

These include posters, a cover sheets that summarize the syllable types and other visuals designed to help memory. Put one or more up in a place the learner often occupies. (With my own daughters I put some up in the kitchen so we could do a little practice during mealtimes.) This Six Syllable Cheat Sheet visual will help keep the syllable types in mind and organized as you go. The Sound to Symbol Chart is a good reference also.

PowerPoints PowerPoints for teaching short vowel words CVC

Once open, click FILE, then DOWNLOAD, and download in Microsoft PowerPoint for the formatting to be correct.

Here you will find the PowerPoints used in the videos, as well as PowerPoints to practice skills with. For the formatting to be correct, download from Google Slides and open it in PowerPoint.

Teach Along the Way Teach along the way with short vowels

Highlighted in green, this section explains and links to some important extra skills that go along with the main skill of the step. There are many letter combinations and other skills we need to learn along with the syllables.

Detour! Detour

Some steps have a detour, a link to another page with materials for a smaller skill to teach during the step.

Tips Tips

Highlighted in blue, here you will find more information about the skill being worked on and tips to teaching the skill. Most of the steps also have the “Map Sounds To Letters” below the blue box as this is important for all the steps! (See “Map Sounds to Letters” below.)

Map Sounds to Letters

First map the sounds in the word to the letter(s) representing the sounds, even if it is not a letter combination that has been taught yet. Only an unusual sound/letter combination needs to be remembered “by heart.” Mapping the sounds to the letters is how we remember what words look like. See example below:

Map Sounds To Letters examples

Be sure to reinforce what you know and are learning about words, for example:
Schwa Sound: Any vowel might say /ŭ/. Point out that this happens in many common words like: the, of, was, some, from…

Key and Directions for Materials Key

This block is always the same:

Blue Heart: Beginning, grades K-1K-1 Beginning
Green Star: Growing, Grades 1-21-2 Growing
Pink Plus: intervention, challengeIntervention/Challenge

Bundle: Additional various activities to practice a specific skill
Pack: Additional multiple versions of a specific activity to practice a specific skill

Directions for everything else:

More on the Directions Page

Practice Reading Practice Practice Reading

Practice in a variety of ways. Practice until the stories or mixed lists and games feel quick, comfortable and, fluent, then move to the next step!

Beginning Reader Word Family BUNDLES and PACKS! Bundle



These are bundles of multiple materials (games, activities, stories…) and packs of multiple pieced of the same type of material, for example a pack of books. Everything below are individual materials, and many more challenging than the materials in the Bundles and Packs.

Word and Phrase Lists Lists icon

See Highlighting Word Lists.

It is important for learners to become automatic with the skills they are learning. Word chunk (part of a word), word, phrase and sentence lists for a specific skill are a great way to start becoming automatic. See Highlighting Word Lists and Timing Students for further ideas on how to use lists.

Flashcards Flashcard icon

There are two very different uses for flashcards:
Flashcards for practicing skills are a great way to practice while changing word order, playing games, building speed, or doing a quick practice. One great strategy to help students move from sounding out letter by letter to reading words is the Flashing Words Strategy.
Flashcards for memorizing uses a very specific strategy, and for our purposes are used for the Big Sounds Pack and for Common Cheater Words. Learn about working on new words or sounds with flashcards here.

Fluency Pyramids Fluency Pyramid

Fluency Pyramids are a favorite for beginning readers. Readers read each line of the pyramid, which adds one word at a time. This builds fluency, works on moving repeated words into long term memory and feels successful.

Games Games Icon

Game Directions

Games often come with instructions, and of course you can always make up your own! I often make mistakes when playing with students and award them extra points or spaces if they are able to catch my mistake and fix it. This encourages them to listen very carefully to my answers! When playing this way I also move ahead a space if I catch their mistake. They become careful with their answers! Instructions for many of the games are in the following links: Directions for Games with Picture Cards, Directions for Games without Picture Cards, Directions for Bang!, Directions for Bingo.

    Spelling Lists icon

    Practice with words from the lists, games etc., or use the lists below.
    * Having learners spell with word chains where the coach says “change one sound in (chop) to spell (chip), now change one sound in (chip) to spell (sip)” is a powerful way to draw student’s attention to individual sounds in the words!

    Spelling (Click link for more on spelling)
    1. Learners should be practicing spelling the skills each step of the way. Writing the words from the lists, games etc. that follow the patterns the learner is working with strengthens learning. Learners are using what they know about letters and sounds to create written words. This is a figuring out task, not a memorization one. We want learners to learn spelling. Physically writing the letters, sounds and words is important to build motor memory. Learners often feel less stress about their writing when using impermanent things like whiteboards, but writing on anything works as long as the learner is creating words.

    2. There is also a much smaller place for memorizing how to spell common words they want to write often. A word or two can be chosen by the learner that they want to be consistent with (like the word said or they). Look at the word and pay attention to the sounds that are spelled as expected, and any sounds that are not spelled as expected. Only the sound that is not spelled as expected needs to be memorized. Then practice this word or two by making a mental image of it, and writing it at different times throughout each day for many days until it is automatic.

    For both 1 and 2 see Mapping sounds to Letters below

    3. Bonus: Eventually learners need to move into to studying the meanings and spellings of morphemes, (the smallest meaningful units) and how they are put together to make words. In the beginning we are teaching students to spell based on the most common way(s) to spell the sounds they hear. However, English spelling is based on the meanings of the morphemes and etymology (the history of words). For example the word ‘sign’ comes from the Latin word signum, which meant “mark, sign.” We know to spell sign with a ‘gn’ since it is related to signal, signify, and even designate. When the morpheme ‘sign’ is not the last syllable, the g is pronounced.

    Map Sounds to Letters

    First map the sounds in the word to the letter(s) representing the sounds, even if it is not a letter combination that has been taught yet. Only an unusual sound/letter combination needs to be remembered “by heart.” Mapping the sounds to the letters is how we remember what words look like. See example below:

    Map Sounds To Letters examples

    Be sure to reinforce what you know and are learning about words:
    Schwa Sound: Any vowel might say /u/. Point out this happens in many common words like: the, of, was, some, from…

    Syllable Sorts Syllable Sort Icon

    Syllable Sort Directions
    Syllable Sort Headings
    Breaking up words strategy page

    Once we are working on multiple syllable words, it is helpful to spend a little time practicing breaking words into it’s syllables.

    Small Books Small Books icon

    Small Book assembly directions, 4 Pager folding directions, OR use horizontal format for reading on screen in distance learning.

    These are fun, silly little stories focusing on the skill being worked on. A great strategy with these is for the learner to re-read the small book again and again until they can read it with over-the-top expression like a teacher reading to the class. *Rereading text is the most effective way to build fluency. Here are the Small Book Assembly Directions.
    *Challenge: Can the learner write their own silly story using mostly words with the skill/pattern being learned?

    Full Page Stories with Lists Full Page Stories with Lists

    See Highlighting Word Lists

    Full Page Stories with Lists
    Practice the list on the side, then read the silly story that contains words from that list! There are video examples of Chris Jaglo doing this with distance learning on the Step 1: Short Vowels and Step 2: 4h Brothers and Blends pages.


    1. Heather Heather

      I feel like I hit the jackpot! What an amazing resource! Thanks for sharing your gems!

      • admin admin

        So glad this is helpful!

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