How to Teach Kids to Sound Out Three Letter Words (CVC Words)

Parent conferences are finally OVER and done with, (hooray!) and the holiday season has begun!  My class has begun learning the songs for our Gingerbread Man musical play that we love to do, and even though we have been working on it for only one week, the children already sound like experts on most of the songs!  I have started prepping some of my holiday projects, and even have started thinking about what I might give as gifts to my parent volunteers!  But I'll tell you more about that next week.

For now, I want to tell you about a new way to give a lesson that seems to be working out very well for my class, at least in the area of sounding out CVC words.

How to Teach Kids to Sound Out Three Letter Words (CVC Words)
Match CVC Words and Pictures

1.  How to Teach Kids to Sound Out CVC Words

In my district, the teachers have all been sent to trainings on writing “Brain Compatible Direct Instruction Lesson Plans.”  The name of the company that is giving us these inservices is RISE, which recently split off from another company that was known as TESS.  Although sitting through these inservices is time consuming and can feel tedious, the good thing that they make you do is focus on creating a task analysis for each lesson.  That is, the format forces you to concentrate on breaking down each skill into the tiniest of steps for the children and teach it to them one step at a time.  And this is a good thing!  Although I do not think that every Kindergarten skill can be taught using this lesson plan format, I think that many of them can, and that it is always a good idea to think about breaking each skill down into the smallest steps possible and teaching them in a methodical manner with visual aids and a solid lesson plan in mind.  The number of steps should be kept to a minimum for Kindergartners, and should ideally be no more than five steps total.

That being said, I thought I would share with you today the lesson that I created to teach children how to sound out words!  I thought that it went very well, and my students are actually getting very proficient at it!  I am really quite proud of them, since a large number of them appear to really be catching on quite well to this new skill with very little trouble.

How to Teach Kids to Sound Out Three Letter Words (CVC Words)

The flashcards are from my CVC Book.

Of course, we definitely have spent a good, long time laying the foundation of phonemic awareness to get them ready for this big step of sounding out and reading words.  This foundation is essential to the success of this lesson because it lays the groundwork for the skill that they are trying to learn.  These foundational activities have included learning to blend onsets and rimes, such as /mmmm/  /at/ = mat.  We also worked on blending three sounds together (with no letters to look at- sounds only!)  such as /s/ /a/ /t/.  These activities lay the foundation to help children get ready to sound words out by looking at letters and making the sounds that they see, rather than just blending the sounds together that others say.  Of course, when you add the stress of having the child come up with the letter sounds him or herself, that taxes working memory even more, so if a child is a little unsure of the sounds, then it is even less likely that he or she will be successful with this activity.  Therefore, to be able to sounds out words well, children must be very fluent with the letter sounds, (meaning that they must be able to say the letter sounds quickly, easily, and automatically when they see the letters.)  If the child in question lacks this skill, then you will need to back up and fill in the missing gaps before proceeding, or you are certainly in for a struggle.Keeping in mind that this very important foundation had already been laid, these are the steps that I gave the children for sounding out the words:

How to Teach Kids to Sound Out Three Letter Words (CVC Words)
Children are supposed to articulate the "Big Idea," above.

1.  Say the letter sounds.
2.  Stretch out the sounds.
3.  Blend the sounds together. (Say them a little faster.)
4.  Say the word.

It was really no surprise that the children did much better with the task when I gave each step a motion! Movement always seems to help children learn a little bit better, in my opinion and in my experience.  So when they said the letter sounds, many of them did the Zoo-Phonics signals.  Then we pulled our hands apart to stretch out the sounds.  We swept our hands to the side when we blended them together, and then I had them throw their hands out in front of themselves when they said the final word.  The more we did this, the better the children got at it, and the quicker they got at it, too!  If you would like to see a short video clip of me teaching my class to do this with the movements, I posted one on my HeidiSongs Facebook page!  Click here.

After we sounded out all of the words, we matched up the pictures on the flash cards from the CVC book with the correct words.  Then later as independent practice, we did one of the CVC worksheets from that word family from that same book.

It was interesting to me to see that some of the children, when asked to read the word, dropped the steps or reduced them down to just one or two steps almost immediately, while others stuck to all four steps the whole time we practiced!  I allowed each child to decide how many steps he or she needed to read the word correctly.  The only thing I insisted on was that each child should tell me all of the letter sounds that he or she saw first, because if they start off with wrong sound, then they will not read the word correctly.  Also, if a child hesitated, or just stood there helplessly saying that he or she didn’t know what to do, I insisted that he or she start from the beginning and go through each of the steps to arrive at the answer.

In the “RISE” brain compatible lesson, they recommend a teaching format they call the “Model Sandwich.”  In the Model Sandwich, the teacher first models the skill, then teaches the steps, and then models the skill again.  So in following this format, I modeled sounding out one CVC word.  Then I read the children the steps and taught them to recognize the picture icons that went with each one, since of course they are non-readers!  The picture cues for the steps are quite important, then, for making this teaching method work for non-readers.  Finally, I modeled sounding out a CVC word again.  This forms a Model Sandwich:  model, teach the steps, model.

Model Sandwich Chart
It's a Model Sandwich Chart!

Another thing that I did to help them learn was teach them the Sound Blending Songs from my Sound Blending Songs for Word Families CD/DVD.   These songs REALLY help them learn the steps for sounding out a word!  I noticed it quite a bit when I asked them to tell me what the steps were at the end of the lesson.  More children were telling me the steps as they were worded in the song than the way they were worded in my lesson, LOL!  I think it's pretty amazing that just about ALL of my kids can now sound out and read the four words that we sound out in the An song, which are "an," "van," "fan," and "ran."  I think that is really neat! 

It seems that it is becoming quite common that school districts require that teachers post the learning objective that the children are working on in their classrooms, and prepare the children to be able to recite what that objective is, should they be asked. However, in the RISE lesson, the children are supposed to be able to articulate both the “big idea” of the lesson (the main idea of what you are teaching) and the objective as well.  Admittedly, these can be a little tricky to distinguish between and articulate, even for the teachers!  So to assist in this I decided to post the “Big Idea” on my pocket chart along with the steps and have the children read it with me.  (I figured that it would at LEAST help ME remember what it was, LOL!)  The children are supposed to begin and end the lesson by repeating both the learning objective, the Big Idea, and the steps.  So here is the learning objective vs. the Big Idea for this lesson, put into kid friendly terms as our administration requires:

In the photo, you can see my daily "Objective Board" where I have posted what we are working on in child friendly terms. I try to include a drawing as well, since most of the children in Kindergarten can't actually READ it. LOL! Well, it looks nice in my classroom!

Learning Objective: “Today we are going to learn to sound out words.”

Big Idea: “Sounding out words is saying the letter sounds that you see and then blending them together to make a word.”

CVC Worksheet Example
This CVC Worksheet is an example of one from the CVC Book.

I really don’t know how much young children get out of trying to repeat these things, but I have decided that I might as well try to look at the bright side:  it is not a bad challenge to give those that have the language skills to give it a try!  For the little ones with very limited language skills, such as my English language learners, my students that qualify for speech services, or even those that are a bit immature, this task seems to be completely puzzling!  Perhaps they will get better at it with time.  I’m withholding judgement until I have spent more time training them to do this before I decide whether or not I think I would recommend it to anyone or not.

I am including the lesson plan for this lesson as a free download for those of you that would like it.

And as an extra bonus, I am giving you the steps with the icons as well!  That way, if you would like to use the pictures to help the children learn the steps for sounding out a word, you can easily do so.

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