Sounds all around
Pre-school provides a wonderful opportunity for exploring sounds with children. Music, stories, rhymes and songs are all excellent means of encouraging children to listen to and hear sounds. Ask them to repeat sounds around them: rain, the door closing, water from the tap and so on in order to develop their auditory skills. In the English classroom it is important to read stories, speak and listen to English and sing as much as possible. For the majority of children English is not their mother tongue, so exposure to the language and its sounds should be a priority in our classroom.
Playing with sounds
Words are made of letters and letters or combinations of letters make different sounds. Understanding those sounds is the first step towards reading well. In order to understand words, children need exposure to letters and their sounds. It is also very important to remember that children must be able to relate to what they are learning. It must have some meaning. So let’s start with their immediate surroundings. Here is a selection of activities that are ideal for Infant or early Primary ages, depending on your teaching context. Take your pick!
Put a label that can be pulled off and stuck back on again by the children on everything in the classroom. Always make sure your labels are at an appropriate height for children to read them. Look at the words with your pupils and count the letters, pointing to them as you count. Give the pupils cut-up letters (or foam or magnetic ones), let them touch and feel the letters and get them to construct the words using the labels as a visual aid. Remember to repeat the words as often as possible. Exposure to the sounds means children will start to work out the patterns of the language themselves.
Hear the sound!
Using flashcards, teach children words that have a common sound in them such as pink, pencil, panda, hippo, etc. Puppets and toy animals are great for experimenting with sounds. A pig that will come out of a box and sayOink, oink when it hears words with the /p/ sound is great fun. You can ask children to tell you English words that have the /p/ sound. You’ll be surprised at how many extra ones they will tell you (like paint, picture or Patricia) as well as the pre-taught words. Children are most likely to hear the /p/ in the first letter, but never underestimate them; they may say jumper. The focus here is on hearing the sound, not where they hear it. Invite the children to find labels in your classroom that have the /p/ sound, eg plant, April, plasticine. Find a rhyme that uses that sound a lot or invent one. Here’s an example of one of my favourites, which is great for practising /f/ and /s/ sounds:
5 Fat Sausages
5 fat sausages sizzling in a pan
5 fat sausages sizzling in a pan
All of a sudden one went BANG!
And there were 4 sausages sizzling in a pan
Teach it to the children. When they know the rhyme, write it on the board and sing it with the lyrics, pointing to each word as you sing. Ask them to draw five things that have that sound.
Feel the sound!
Explain that this sound is made by the letter P. Make the letter P out of plasticine or clay, paint it with water on the playground or paints on paper; all of these exercises are also great for motor skills. Show them a picture of a pig and ask them to finger draw the first letter, emphasising it as you say the word pig.
Sounds and spelling
Once pupils are confident with the sounds of individual letters, we can start combining them to see how words are formed. Plastic letters are great for this. If you have started using word cards with the flashcard, you can up the challenge by turning it into a game to encourage speed, racing against a time limit to complete the word. If they are familiar with the sound of the word and its spelling, this will help them to conceptualise it when they come to read it.
When teaching sounds, always make sure you feel confident making the sound. Practise in the mirror first if you are unsure! Also be aware that the same sound can be made by different letters (cat, school, king / fish, photo) and that one letter can make different sounds (cake, ant). When you feel they are ready for it, point this out to your pupils. Challenge them to tell you what letters make the sound. What words have these sounds? What sounds does the letter A make? Let your pupils explore, experiment and enjoy sounds.
Rebecca Adams is a teacher in Sanlucar de la Barremeda, Cadiz.