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Once your child is somewhat comfortable sounding out words on the letter board and recognizing some basic words like “dog” and “cat,” it’s time to start introducing the common patterns in English. Particularly, that certain letter combinations almost always make the same sounds.

Some examples of helpful ones to learn are “sh”, “ch” “th” “ee” “ful” etc. The more of these letter combinations that they recognize, the easier it will be for them to guess at the pronunciation of new words.

I like to do this with the following flip book activity:

  • Choose which sound you want to focus on teaching.

In the following example, I’m using the sound “At”

  • Get a list of simple words that contain that sound. For young readers, it’s best to start with words that either begin or end in the sound. As they get more advanced, you can add in words that contain that sound in the middle. It’s easy to google a list of words if you can’t come up with too many on the spot (For example, search “at words English” to get a list of words containing “at.”)

For example, I’ll use the words Cat, Hat, Rat, Sat, Fat. They all end in “At” and are short, easy words. I’ll save the more complex words like “attach” and “compatible” for much later in their reading journey.

  • Write a simple sentence that includes all of the words you chose. Write in big letters on a separate piece of paper.

I chose the sentence “The fat cat sat on the hat of the fat rat.”

  • Create a flip book, such that the common sound is on one piece of paper, and the interchangeable part of the word can be changed by flipping different pieces of paper. It’s best to do this in the order of the words in the sentence for beginners.

For example, the bottom piece of paper in my book reads “__AT.” The child an flip the letters, “F,” “C,” “S,” “H,” and “R,” over the blank space, which lets them change the word from “Fat,” to “Cat,” to “Sat,” etc.

Here’s an animated Gif of one of my students showing off her flip book:

  • Practice flipping the pages of your book with your child, encouraging them to correctly sound out each word, and notice the common sound.

Here’s a video of me practicing this with a student. In the beginning, it’s a challenge for him to put the sounds together, but after we go through the book a few times, he’ll have it down.

  • Once your child can flip through the book and correctly pronounce each word, read the sentence with them. Encourage them to recognize the words from the flip book, using it as a reference if necessary.

Here’s a video of me practicing this. As it’s a new and challenging activity for him, he looses focus a few times. I generally don’t acknowledge his fidgeting or his asking for more snacks, and make it clear that I’m still focused on the activity at hand. He usually wanders back to focus more. Young kids don’t often have a long attention span, so they need a lot of patience. As we keep returning to the sentence, he improves in his ability to read it. However, at the end, he gets a little too tired to remain productive, so we stop for the day. (When we returned to it the next week, he had remembered everything we learned, and was able to read the sentence with ease).

We usually repeat this activity with the same words several times, so they can gain confidence with the new sounds. When we’re reading a story out loud, we often come upon the words they recognizes from this activity. I always give my students an opportunity to be the one to read those words, so they learn to recognize them in context. In the first video, you can also see me holding up the word “cat” to a book about cats. He quickly recognizes the word when it’s next to something he’s familiar with.

We do flip books for all the common sounds in English, which helps to improve their ability to sound out new words.

Some examples of other sentences to use could be:

“The Thirsty Thief stole Three Things.”

“The Sheep, the Shrimp, and the Shark toys sat on the Shelf”

“The Cheerful Chicken Chased the Chubby Cherry.”

“Sam and Sally Sat on Saturday”

“The Sheep swam in the Deep pond to Flee from the Cheetah.”

For words where the sound in question appears in the middle, there are a few techniques to make a flip book.

For example, the “ee” sound frequently appears in the middle of the word. If we make a book in the traditional way, as the student tries to flip the page, it’s likely they would only flip the first part of the word. I avoid this by just writing the full word on each page, and using a different color on the “ee” to emphasize it.)

As the child gets more advanced, you can use the same technique of making silly sentences to teach other word concepts, such as that sometimes different letter combinations can make the same sound.

For example, the sentence: “The Cheating Cheetah Feasted on the Wheat he stole from the Sheep.” shows that both “ee” and “ea” can make the “ee” sound in some words.

In the next post, let’s look at reading books with children, and how to get them to participate in the reading process.