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Teaching Phonics

Previous posts about literacy focused on oral reading. Today’s entry suggests ways to guide children to match the symbols of letters to their “short” sounds. All ideas in this post come from Project Read. After taking numerous workshops on various ways to teach phonics, I decided Project Read provided one of the most user-friendly methods to present this aspect of reading.

Teaching Actions for Each Short Vowel

Materials needed include the following items: pictures to represent a concrete object for each vowel, copies of lower case letters for each vowel, and letters for children to trace (called puffy paint letters because thick paint or glue creates a raised surface). As you teach each vowel sound, complete the following steps:

1) Teach a motion or story for each vowel (movements and stories below). Make motions as elaborate and dramatic as possible. My goal was to make each lesson fun for children.

2) Show a picture or object, and ask students to make the sound and the movement with you.

3) Ask children to trace puffy paint (raised) copies of the vowel. I also used other touch experiences such as tracing in the sand.

4. Say, “The name is _____ and the sound is _____,” as the children trace the raised letters. Actions and stories for vowels are suggested below. I used this phrase with each new sound. I remain convinced that repeating the same phrase helps children remember the activity.

Short A

A = Ask children to locate their Adam’s apples in their throats. Tell them to bring their hands straight out from their throats as they say the short /a/ sound (as in apple). I included real apples to smell, touch, and eat.

Short E

E= Show students a puppet representing Mr. Ed, the horse. Pull the reins as you say the short /e/ sound (as in Ed). Ask children to use their own reins by pulling back on the corners of their mouths. I made Mr. Ed puppets out of old socks.

Short I

I = Using your thumb, touch the bottom of your chin and with your first finger, dot your nose as you make the short /i/ sound (as in Icky). Tell the children that when (i’s) mother wanted him to eat something he did not like, he said, “This is icky.” I liked to suggest something really gross such as fried roaches. On some occasions, I provided something with an “icky” smell to lock in the sound.

Short O

O = Show students a puppet of Ms. Odd, the opera singer as you make the short /o/ sound (as in odd). Demonstrate how to form your mouth into a circle as you say the /o/ sound. Ask children to form circles with their mouths as they sing /o/. When I taught short /o/, I was as dramatic as possible.

Short U

U = Push an imaginary barbell from your chest to above your head as you say /u/ as in up. Another option is to open an imaginary umbrella as you make the sound of a short (u) (as in umbrella). Use realia, (real objects). I dramatized this action by including a real umbrella.

Is (Y) a Vowel or Consonant?

The letter (y) is actually a vowel more often than it is a consonant. (Y) is a consonant at the beginning of words as in yes. (Y) is a vowel when it sounds like either (e) or (i) at the end of syllables. In baby (y) replaces (e). In my, (y) replaces (i). (Y) is a vowel when it acts like a silent (i) or (e) as in May.


Cox, Aylett R. Structures and Techniques. Cambridge, MA: Educators. Publishing Service, Inc., 1984.

Greene, V. and M.L. Enfield. Project Read Phonology. Language. Bloomington, MN: Circle Enterprise.

Smith, M. and E. Hogen. Multisensory Teaching Approach Linkages, EDMAR: Forney, TX 1987.


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