Teaching Alphabet Letter Sounds with Language Objects

Teach alphabet letter sounds using sound games.

3 Steps to Teach Alphabet Letter Sounds

Teaching the alphabet letter sounds is the first step to preparing your toddler or preschooler for later writing and reading.

If you're researching how to teach alphabet letter sounds, you probably already understand how hearing and isolating the sounds in words is an essential early literacy skill. It's an aspect of phonemic awareness and it's critical to being able to sound out words. 

Usually children who are around 2.5 to 3 years old are ready to start developing phonemic awareness. 

A child who has phonemic awareness can:

  • hear and identify the sounds in words
  • understand that words are made up of sounds in a row
  • blend sounds to make words
  • segment words into their sounds 

Playing sound games with language objects is an engaging way to draw your child's attention to the sounds in words. 

Keep reading to learn how to build a collection of language objects and how to say the sounds that the alphabet letters make. Then you'll get a step-by-step script for playing sound games with language objects. Your child can start developing phonemic awareness this week!

 

STEP 1: Start a collection of language objects.

You really only need about 10 language objects to get started with sound games this week, and you can start your collection using common household objects.  

Language objects to teach letter sounds.

Take a look around your home for small items such as a battery, bandaid, button, candle, clip, dime, floss, garlic, gauze, hook, key, lock, magnet, nickel, nail, pencil, pasta, plug, quarter, ruler, rope, sandpaper, screw, staples, toothpick, tweezers, whistle, yarn, and zipper.

Realistic-looking miniature animal figurines, small toy vehicles and game pieces can also be repurposed as language objects.

Later you can buy a set of language objects and save the time it takes to search for hard-to-find letter sounds such as i, e, j, q, u, v and z at the beginning of words.   

Language objects do pose a choking hazard due to small parts. Be sure to supervise your child when he or she is using them. Keep language objects out of reach when you are not playing sound games.

In terms of storage, you can keep it simple to start. A basket or box is good enough. As you build your collection, you may want to sort your language objects by beginning sound. It's quick and easy to find what you're looking for when your collection is all organized in individual spice jars, plastic crayon containers or plastic drawers of a small craft or hardware cabinet. But, it's not necessary at this stage, especially since the focus is just on exploring sounds.

STEP 2: Practice saying the alphabet letter sounds and the 16 key phonogram sounds.

You'll want to practice saying the sound that each alphabet letter makes so that you are modelling the correct letter sounds. 

All of the vowels are pronounced as short sounds (not long sounds as when we say their letter names) and you'll just introduce the hard consonant sounds at this stage.

You'll also want to get familiar with the 16 key phonogram sounds -- pairs of letters that make a new sound. 

When you say each sound, make it really short rather than drawing out the sound. You don't want to add any vowel sounds at the end of the sound!

 

  • The sound for the letter "a" is pronounced as in apple and asparagus.
  • The sound for the letter "b" is pronounced as in balloon and bun.
  • The sound for the letter "c" is pronounced as in cube and candy.
  • The sound for the letter "d" is pronounced as in domino and donut.
  • The sound for the letter "e" is pronounced as in egg and elephant.  
  • The sound for the letter "f" is pronounced as in fork and funnel.
  • The sound for the letter "g" is pronounced as in gift and gear.
  • The sound for the letter "h" is pronounced as in hinge and hamburger. 
  • The sound for the letter "i" is pronounced as in igloo and ink.
  • The sound for the letter "j" is pronounced as in jam and jug.
  • The sound for the letter "k" is pronounced as in kiwi and key.
  • The sound for the letter "l" is pronounced as in lace and leaf.
  • The sound for the letter "m" is pronounced as in mat and mug.
  • The sound for the letter "n" is pronounced as in nut and nest.
  • The sound for the letter "o" is pronounced as in octopus and otter.  
  • The sound for the letter "p" is pronounced as in pasta and puzzle.
  • The sound for the letter "q" is pronounced as in queen or quilt.
  • The sound for the letter "r" is pronounced as in raspberry and rose. 
  • The sound for the letter "s" is pronounced as in spring and scissors.
  • The sound for the letter "t" is pronounced as in tile and tray.
  • The sound for the letter "u" is pronounced as in umbrella and ultrasound.
  • The sound for the letter "v" is pronounced as in vase and violin.
  • The sound for the letter "w" is pronounced as in waffle and worm.
  • The sound for the letter "x" is pronounced as in box and axe.
  • The sound for the letter "y" is pronounced as in yarn and yoyo.  
  • The sound for the letter "z" is pronounced as in zipper and zero.

 

  • The sound for the phonogram "ai" is pronounced as in nail.
  • The sound for the phonogram "ar" is pronounced as in car.
  • The sound for the phonogram "au" is pronounced as in sausage.
  • The sound for the phonogram "ee" is pronounced as in tree.
  • The sound for the phonogram "er" is pronounced as in fern.
  • The sound for the phonogram "ie" is pronounced as in pie.
  • The sound for the phonogram "oa" is pronounced as in boat.
  • The sound for the phonogram "oo" is pronounced as in book.
  • The sound for the phonogram "or" is pronounced as in corn.
  • The sound for the phonogram "ou" is pronounced as in house.
  • The sound for the phonogram "oy" is pronounced as in boy.
  • The sound for the phonogram "ue" is pronounced as in glue.
  • The sound for the phonogram "ch" is pronounced as in chest.
  • The sound for the phonogram "sh" is pronounced as in ship.
  • The sound for the phonogram "th" is pronounced as in bath.
  • The sound for the phonogram "qu" is pronounced as in quilt.

Important! Take another look at the language objects you've collected. Do they represent words that start with the alphabet letter sounds you've just practiced?

If you have any objects for words starting with long vowel sounds or soft consonants (e.g., acorn, cent, emu, gem, ginger, giraffe, ice), then remove them from your collection. We're keeping it simple and teaching only one sound for each alphabet letter for now. 

STEP 3: Play sound games with language objects every day.

It takes only about 10 minutes to play sound games with language objects. The first in a series of sound games highlights the letter sound at the beginning of words. Eventually, sound games can be played with letter sounds and phonogram sounds at the beginning, middle and end of a word. 

How To Play Sound Games

  1. Invite your child to play together: “Let’s play a sound game!” Invite your child to carry the basket of language objects to the table or floor mat where you will be playing together. 
  2. Take three language objects out of the basket, naming each one as you place it on the table or floor mat. Start with three language objects that have very different beginning sounds such as apple, mug and teapot.
  3. Model how to isolate the beginning sound of an object. “I’m looking for something that begins with the sound /m/. [pause] Mmmug! Mug starts with mmm!” Repeat with the other two objects. Your child just listens as you model sound isolation.
  4. Repeat the game with opportunities for your child to respond. “I see something that begins with the sound /t/. Can you please pass it to me?” [Child responds.] “Yes! Teapot begins with the sound /t/. Can you say /t/?” If your child picks one of the other objects: “Mug begins with the sound /m/. I’m thinking of something that begins with the sound /t/.”Then invite your child to pass it to you OR you can say “I was thinking of teapot. /t/ for teapot.”

  5. If it is going well, increase the challenge by adding more language objects, naming each one as you place it on the table or mat.

  6. To assess understanding and elicit a verbal response during a sound game, ask “I see something that begins with the sound /t/. Do you know what I’m thinking about?” AND/OR point to one object and ask “What is this?” [Child responds.] Then ask “When you say _____, what sound do you hear at the beginning?” Observe how your child responds.

  7. Continue for as long as your child is interested. The next time you play, switch out the language objects in the basket to focus on different beginning sounds.

Expect it to take some time for your child to develop phonemic awareness.

Your child may not get it at first, and that's ok because it simply reflects where he or she is at developmentally. Initially your child may say "mmm...cat" and "mmm...ball". Your child may be unable to pronounce certain sounds or may choose not to say the sound and instead will just point to the object. Keep modelling and know that your child is taking it all in even if you aren't getting the verbal response you expect. Eventually it will click! 

Over time, you'll naturally cover the letter sounds, as well as the 16 key phonogram sounds, at the beginning, middle and end of words. 

There isn't a "correct" order to follow and you don't need to keep track of progress because the focus is on exploring sounds in words at this stage. 

It's most important to just get in the habit of playing sound games every day because phonemic awareness is critical to your child being able to write and read.

In the Playful Path to Reading preschool reading program, you'll learn some additional early literacy activities to develop phonemic awareness using language objects.

What's next?

Once it’s clear that your child understands that words are made up of sounds in a row and he or she can consistently identify the sounds in words, then it's time for the letter-sound association game. This game helps your child associate each letter sound with its alphabet letter and each of the 16 key phonogram sounds with its pair of letters. 

 

 

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About the Author

I'm Lisa, an AMI-trained Montessori teacher and the creator of The Playful Path to Reading. I help parents and early childhood educators use Montessori activities to make learning to read and write fun for preschoolers.