5 Easy Letter-Sound Activities Struggling Students
By Megan Starnes
When a student struggles to master their letter sounds, it just means they need more practice! This doesn’t have to be a daunting task for the teacher or the student.
Below are five simple activities that require little or no preparation and can be done with individual children or with a group. Although there are suggested materials and strategies, use what you have available, and adjust the activities to do what works best for the child who is struggling to master their letter sounds.
Each activity has a description, instructions on any preparation that is needed, and a “How to Play” section detailing how to lead to activity. You may find other ways to make the activities work for your beginning or struggling students-just remember to be flexible and have fun!
1. Letter Eye Spy
How To Play
The game is simple. Instead of saying “I spy something…” and naming a color, you will say “I spy something that starts with the letter…” and name a letter.
If the child does not yet know all the letter sounds, you may add clues like “I spy something blue that starts with the letter…” and name a letter. Or you may say “I spy something that starts with the letter…” and then name the letter sound for added help. For example, if you spied a book, you would say “I spy something that starts with the letter B, /b/” and reinforce the sound as the child guesses. You should always have a visual of the letter to support learning the letter-sound correspondences.
Try to choose objects that start with single, easily recognizable letter sounds. This rules out words like “shelf”, “train”, and “ceiling”, as those words start with blends and non-traditional letter sounds (for the letter c, in this example). Stick to words like “book”, “clock”, “plate”, etc. so that even if there is a blend, the initial sound is easily recognizable for the child.
2. Alphabet Game
Many of us played a version of this game in the car as children on long road trips, but have you thought of using it to teach children their letter sounds? This can be played in a classroom, walking around a building with signage (like a store, airport, or school) or driving down the road.*
How To Play
Youngest learners may not yet be able to identify all the letters and their sounds. In this case, you can provide clues and guidance as needed. For example, if the child is having a hard time identifying the letter g, you might say, “I see a blue letter g over there on that yellow sign. Can you find it? It’s next to the letter a.” You can continue giving clues in this way, even choosing to point the letter out to the child if they are not familiar with it yet.
3. Letter Ball
This activity requires just a few minutes of preparation. It is fun to play with an individual child or a group of children.
- One medium sized inflatable ball or rubber playground ball
- One permanent marker
Choose a ball about the size of a basketball, or a little larger if you have slightly older children. Write several letters around the ball, spaced about a hands-width apart from each other.
How To Play
Pass the ball back and forth with the child, or around a group of children. You can roll it or throw it depending on the children’s ability to catch. Whichever letter the child’s hand lands on, they name the letter and say its letter sound. Once the child knows the letter sounds, you can ask them to name a word that starts with that sound.
4. Letter Grab Bag
This activity can be done with an individual child or in a larger group. It can be presented as a fun, “surprise” activity if you prepare it in advance so the child does not know what is in the bag. Do just one object at a time, or several in a row if the child is enjoying the activity and staying engaged.
- One medium sized bag, box, or other container
- Several small toys
Prepare the activity by gathering several small toys with various beginning sounds and placing them in your bag or other container.
How To Play
Have the child reach in without looking and pull out a toy. Ask the child to name the toy. Then, ask the child to isolate the beginning sound of the word. Finally, ask the child to name the letter that makes the beginning sound. For example, the child may pick a bug out of the bag. First they would say “bug”, then isolate the /b/ sound, and finally identify the letter b.
Young children may confuse sounds, but this a developmentally appropriate mistake. For example, if a child picked “car”, the child may isolate the sound /c/, but identify the sound as the letter k. This is an appropriate guess and correct it gently. You could say “Yes, the letter k does make the /c/ sound. But in this word, it is a different letter. Can you think of another letter that says /c/?” Then, name the letter c if the child does not know it. Use a similar strategy if the child does not know the letter. Have them repeat the letter and the sound after you to reinforce the learning.
5. Building Block CVC Words
This letter-sound activity not only reinforces the letter sounds, but it helps students make a direct connection to the purpose that is reading.
This activity requires a little bit of preparation, but once you prepare the blocks, you can use them again and again. It is most easily done with building blocks, but it can be done with any sort of stacking or connecting toy large enough to write letters on. You can use a pool noodle cut into rings, wooden blocks, plastic cups, or any consistently shaped toy that can be easily stacked or lined up. You may also use letter flash cards, but toy objects make the activity more engaging for younger children.
- Several blocks or other small toys to stack or line up
- One permanent marker
Prepare the activity by writing the letters you want to use on the building blocks, or other objects, with one letter on each object. For any object, but especially stackable blocks, you may want to write the letters so that they can be read and connected horizontally instead of stacking them vertically. This will make it easier for beginning readers to understand the left-to-right nature of reading. To differentiate between consonants and vowels, either use two different color objects (for example, blue blocks and red blocks) or two different color markers when writing the letters.
How To Play
Choose three blocks that can spell a word and ask the child to make the sound of each letter as it is picked. Then arrange them in the CVC order and ask the child to point to each letter and make its sound again. Guide the child to combine the letters together to form the word. You may then switch just the starting sound, ending sound, or vowel sound, to form new words, or you may replace all of the letters to practice different sounds.
About the Author
Megan Starnes is a preschool professional and freelance writer with a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education. She specializes in play-based activities that are developmentally and academically appropriate, but also fun and engaging for children of all ages. She enjoys activities like rock climbing and kayaking in addition to the fun challenges of curriculum development and preschool management.