National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) home: part of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) (2022)

Recommendation 2: Linking Sounds to Letters

Help your child link sounds in speech to letters in print.

Sounds in Words: Onset-Rime

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Although speaking and listening may not seem related to learning to read, being aware of sounds in words is very important to reading. This awareness allows children to break apart words orally and use sounds to learn to read and write words. Children first need to become aware of sounds in words without relating those sounds to print. They demonstrate their knowledge using their speaking and listening skills.

You can help your child develop an awareness of sounds in spoken words. Singing silly songs and making up silly words or poems are ways to enhance your child's awareness of sounds. These skills are fun to practice because most children love to play with sounds in words. You can make up silly sentences where most of the words begin with the same sound: Leo the lion liked to lick a lot of lollipops!

There are many types of different sounds in words. For example, you can separate a word into its onset and rime. The onset is the part of a word before the vowel. The rime is the part of a word including the vowel and the string of letters that follows. In the word sun, /s/ is the onset and /ŭn/ is the rime. In the word ring, /r/ is the onset and /ing/ is the rime. In the word stop, /st/ is the onset and /ŏp/ is the rime.

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Sounds in Words: Individual Sounds

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Being able to separate and put together individual sounds in spoken words will help your child become a better reader and speller. If your child can hear the individual sounds in a word and put those sounds together, it will help him or her connect those sounds to letters when he or she reads and spells.

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Sounds in Words: First Sound, Middle Sound, Last Sound

National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) home: part of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) (3)

Being able to separate and put together individual sounds in spoken words will help your child become a better reader and speller. If your child can hear the individual sounds in a word and put those sounds together, it will help him or her connect those sounds to letters when he or she reads and spells.

  • The beginning sound of a word is the first sound you hear when you say the word. The first sound in soap is /s/.
  • The middle sound of a word is the sound you hear in the middle when you say the word. The middle sound in soap is /ō/.
  • The ending sound of a word is the last sound you hear when you say the word. The last sound in soap is /p/.

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Letter Names and Letter Sounds

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It is important for children to know letter names and letter sounds. Letter name knowledge is recognizing and naming letters. An example of recognizing letters is when you show a child the letters N, A, and S and ask which letter is S, the child points to the S. An example of naming letters is when a child looks at the letter M and orally names that letter.

Letter sound knowledge is demonstrated when a child can look at a letter in print and tell you the sound it represents. For example, if you point to the letter F and ask, "What sound does this letter make?" The child will say, "/f/."

The vowels are a, e, i, o, u. Each vowel has a short sound and a long sound. The short sound of each vowel is: a, /ă/; e, /ĕ/; i, /ĭ/; o, /ŏ/; u, /ŭ/. The long sound of each vowel is when the vowel says its name, a, e, i, o, u. The other letters of the alphabet are called consonants. For example, B, C, and D are consonants.

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Sounds With Two or More Letters

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When children know a few letter sounds, they are encouraged to blend them together to read and spell words. For example, fl says /fl/ as in flag and st says /st/ as in stop. If your child knows that s says /s/ and t says /t/, then they blend, or put together, those two sounds, /st/.

flag
stop

Sometimes, there are two letters that make one sound. For example, ch says /ch/ as in cheese and sh says /sh/ as in shop. Th has two different sounds. In the word that, th says /th/ where your vocal cords vibrate, and the sound is said out loud. In the word thin, th is whispered and your vocal cords do not vibrate.

cheese
shop
that
thin

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Silent e Rule

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An important step in learning to read is being able to connect how words are separated into individual sounds with knowledge of how letters relate to sounds. For example, when you are able to hear the individual sounds in the word sat, /s/ /ă/ /t/ and know that s represents /s/, a represents /ă/ and t represents /t/, you are linking letters to sounds. This is critical to understand and be able to do in the process of learning to read.

When we have a word like can and we add an e at the end, the word changes to cane. We call this the silent e rule. We do not say the sound of e; it is silent. The silent e also changes the vowel before it to a long vowel. A vowel is long when it says its letter name. Can has a short a, /ă/. But when we add the silent e to the end, /ă/ changes to /ā/. Other examples include mad/made, rid/ride, hop/hope.

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Changing Letters in Words to Spell New Words

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Word-changing activities can be used to help support your child's learning to read and spell. Word changing activities include using letters in which you know the sounds to build a word. Then, you change a letter or letters to change the word. Word changing can be fun for children and helps them become better spellers and readers.

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