Teach letter “sounds” before their “names”: If you haven’t started teaching your child the alphabet, start with the letter “sounds” before you teach the letter “names.” After all, when we “sound out” words in reading, it is the “letter sounds” we use the majority of the time. Even in the case of vowels, in which words often include the “long sound” or “name” of the vowel, it is much wiser to start with the “short vowel sounds.” When children have learned the letter names first, they often try to sound out words by naming the letters–which rarely works. Once a child knows the letter “sounds” well, you can go ahead and teach the names. You will notice that almost all “alphabet flash card” pictures use short vowel sound words. It is silly to teach the child that “[Long] A is in cat.” Or that “Zed is for zebra.” Avoid confusion! Teach in ways that make sense. 🙂
Create simple sketches: If a child is having difficulty learning short vowel sounds, you can try using little sketches. For example, for “short a” words, introduce the word “hat” and draw a “hat” on top of the “a.” Then introduce other words in the same family (cat, mat, fat, bat, etc.), and draw the “hat” on the “a” until she gets the “short a” sound consistently. Next, use “short a” in other words not in the same family (man, ban, map, gap, ash, mash, etc.), again using the “hat on the a” until she no longer needs it. For “short e” you can start with “net” and draw a little net on top of the “e”… and so on. NOTE: Click on the sketch above to get some ideas! Feel free to print it, if you wish.
Point out words on signs and containers: Another way to introduce short vowel sounds is to watch for commonly seen words, such as “stop” or “exit.” Point out the words (which your child will very likely be able to “read” simply because she has seen the “sign” so many times). Emphasize the short vowel in the word. Then show other words with the same short vowel sound, and help her sound them out. You can also use common containers (“milk”), and can talk about everyday objects in her life (cup, sun, apple, pet, pot, etc.). Draw short vowel connections to things she is familiar with.
Help your child label his drawings: If your child enjoys drawing, talk with him about what he is drawing. For example, if he is drawing the family cat, ask what the “middle sound” is in the picture, and talk about how “the short ‘a’ in ‘cat’ is the letter ‘a'” — and encourage him to label the picture if he can. In fact, it is often best just to label with the short vowel sound first; then you can add the consonants letter to form the entire word, once he is confident with the short vowel sound. Later you can write the first and last letters, and the child can fill in the vowel. Finally, he can write the entire label himself.
Use alphabet cereal or soup: Another fun way to learn vowel sounds–and for that matter, consonants–is to use “alphabet cereal” or “alphabet soup.” Spell out simple words, say them, and then eat them! After eating each word, say the sound stretched out, as if enjoying the taste of the sound. “c-a-t- Cat — [eat] — c-aaaa-t!”
Find pictures of things with short vowel sounds: After your child feels confident with a certain short vowel sound, show pictures that use that short vowel sound–and others that use the same long vowel sound or a different short vowel sound. Have your child say the name of the picture, and identify the ones that have the short vowel sound that she has been studying.
After several or all short vowel sounds have been learned, you can show pictures of words with short vowel sounds, and write two or three choices for each picture (for example: a picture of a cat: write: cut / cat / cot). Have your child say the picture word, and choose the correct word. Or write the consonant letters under the pictures, and the child can write in the correct vowel. (Note: many workbooks have lots of exercises like these; you can purchase slightly used workbooks very inexpensively at many thrift stores, or even new ones at Dollar Stores).
What are your favourite tips for learning short vowel sounds? Be sure to share them with other readers, in the comments below.
Looking for other useful tips on helping your child read and write? Check out the list of topics in the second half of our Tutoring Tips page.