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Learn To Read: Playing With Sounds

Hearing and Manipulating Sounds

*Poor ability to hear and manipulate sounds is often a root cause of reading struggles*

Hearing and manipulating individual sounds (phonemic awareness) is critical to reading.  These are skills children often learn through playing with language and sound in many ways including nursery rhymes, Dr. Seuss and other books that play with language, and sing-song games.  Rhyming, and playing with words and sounds is the first step in this process.

Before children begin to read they need to be able to hear and distinguish the individual sounds that make up words. This is called phonemic awareness. At the most basic level, children need to be able to recognize sounds, take apart (segment) these sounds, blend them together.  By late second grade students need to be able manipulate sounds (see below for more on sound manipulation).  The following is designed to provide a brief introduction to teaching the most basic skills of blending, segmenting and rhyming.

Video on Phonemic Awareness from a previous training:

Working on rhyming, blending and segmenting are best done without actual alphabet letters.  The use of letters distracts from the actual sounds we are hearing.  (Of course when working on reading and spelling we are using phonemic awareness to help us figure out appropriate letters to use.) After a word is successfully blended, segmented, or rhymed, use or define the word if there is any question as to whether the learner understands it. Always emphasize that words have meaning.

* Using backslashes means the sound the letter makes, not the name.  For the sound t makes it will be written /t/. 

Rhyming   fun,  run,  sun,  spun,  begun

  • Introduce: “Do you hear the /at/ at the end of cat? Mat? Sis? Sat?”
  • Identify whether words rhyme or not: “Are these the same at the end?” Top, Mop. (yes) Dark, Bark.(yes)  Sam, Tim.  (no)
  • Match rhyming pictures.
  • Brainstorm words that rhyme with a word.  How many words can you think of that rhyme with stop?
  • Read Mother Goose, Dr. Seuss, Song lyrics etc., and play with rhymes.
  • Word Families: (after Alphabet has been learned)
    • Highlight the ‘at’ in a list of ‘at’ words, and then read list.
    • Cover the beginning of a word with different letters to make new words.  (ship, tip, trip, slip…)
    • Think of as many words that rhyme with ‘an’ (or whatever ending you choose) as possible.
    • Write words in a list with beginnings of words in one color, and the end rhyme in a second color.
  • Teaching/counting syllables.  Vowel sounds are what make our mouths open and this creates syllables.  Rest two fingers underneath your chin to feel when your chin lowers as you say a word.  In the word “table” your chin goes down twice, one time for each syllable /ta/ /ble/.  Count syllables in any words you think of.


Blending  /f/,  /u/,  /n/  = fun!

  • Blend picture to explain what blending is. Cut out a photo from a magazine and cut it into three pieces.  Start by showing one piece of the picture.  (“Now we see part of the cat, but not the whole cat – just like the c tells us part of the word, but not the whole word.”)
  • Beginning blending: Say words in parts and have student blend the parts to make a word. Start with two parts:  /sh/,   /ip/   then move to three and more sounds, going sound by sound.
  • Three sound blending pathway. Right hand starts at left shoulder for first sound, bounces to inside of left elbow for second sound, and then lands on left wrist for third sound. Slide hand down arm second time to blend sounds together.
  • Adding sounds: What would “in” say with /sk/ in front of it?


Segmenting   fun  =  /f/,  /u/,  /n/  

  • Counting sounds: “How many sounds in bat?” Student could lay a chip down for each sound or count on fingers.
  • Picture and tokens: Show a picture of a word with two, three or 4 sounds, (for example cat), have child say cat, then put one token down for each sound in the word cat.
  • Omitting parts of words: Can you say popcorn without the pop?
  • Identifying specific sound in word: What is the first/last sound of can?


Manipulating Sounds Advanced:


Adding Sounds

  • Adding parts of words: What word is this “super,”  “man” 
  • What would “in” say with /sk/ in front of it?
  • Say “pin”
    • Now say “pin” and add a /s/ to the beginning  (spin)


Omitting Sounds

  • Omitting parts of words: Can you say popcorn without the pop?
  • Omitting sounds. Use a chip for each sound in “bat.”  Then pull the first chip away and ask: “Can you say “bat” without the /b/?”  (at)
  • Say “stop”
    • Now say “stop” without the /s/  (top)


Substituting Sounds

  • Say “ship”
  • Now say “ship” but instead of /i/ say /o/  (shop)


Click for more in depth information and Phonological Awareness Example Activities

Click for a big practice packet for sound manipulation skills needed by end of grade 2

Click for Phonological Awareness (Playing With Sounds)Benchmarks for Kindergarten, First and Second grades.

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