How to Teach Letter Sounds to Struggling Students

How to Teach Letter Sounds to Struggling Students

Starting out on the right foot in teaching a child to read is important, so taking a little time to find out how to avoid pitfalls is a great idea. It's also important to know how to teach letter sounds to struggling students and kids if they seem to be having a little trouble.

One of these pitfalls is teaching a child to recognize and write letters and blends, but not to teach the them separately with focus on the sound (or sounds) of the letters/ blends. This focus on the sound is called phonemic awareness, and you can teach this to your child even with their eyes closed!

However, a lot of children miss this important piece in learning, and it may show up later on with significant struggles. So when teaching your child, be sure to focus on naming sounds of letters and blends in the early days of learning, and you will both reap the benefits later!

After your child has a good grasp of letter sounds, feel free to check out these free alphabet printables for good letter practice.

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how to teach letter sounds

Phonemic awareness cards for every letter

Find ways to practice letter sound recognition with your pre-readers and struggling readers. You can learn songs, read rhymes, and name the letter sounds of items you see all around you.

For something a little more "put together", you can use these flip cards that have no-prep activities you can work on each day for only a few minutes to practice the different sounds of each letter.


Phonemic Activities for Letters

Activities to teach letter sounds

There are just a ton of ways and activities to teach letter sounds to your child. And so many of them don't need any preparation! You can work on letter sounds in the car, while waiting for a doctor's appointment, or at the dinner table.

You can come up with your own list of ideas, but here are some to start:

  • Play the alphabet sound game. Starting with the letter A and working your way down the alphabet, you just list out with your child all the things you see around you that start with that letter sound. "What do we see that starts with the letter A?"
  • Go on a letter sound scavenger hunt! Put items with letter sounds for different letter in a sack. 
  • Find good apps that help children practice their letter sounds, like Reading Eggs, ABCmouse, or Hooked on Phonics.
  • Sing songs that start with the letter sound you are working on.
  • Watch videos (think Sesame Street!) that highlight a certain letter and its sound(s).
  • Pull Scrabble tiles out of a bag, encourage your child to say the letter sound, and make up more words that start with that sound.

Letter sound interventions

If you have a child who seems to be a little behind with learning letters and sounds, you may need to do a little letter sound intervention planning.

You can start by assessing which letters and letter sounds your child already knows.

Grab some flashcards with a picture on one side, and the associated letter on the back. (Here are some you can use if you need them). Show your child the picture, and have her say what it is. See if she can isolate the first letter sound in the word, and then see if she can name the letter.


beginning sounds picture cards

Document which letter sounds and which letter names need to be worked on. Now you know where the gaps are, and you can begin to fill them! 

Make sure when you teach these letters not yet mastered, that you utilized all kinds of sensory activities to really help solidify them in your child's mind and learning process.

Kindergarten letter songs

Letter songs for kindergarten, preschool, and all beginning reader stages is a perfect way to teach the letters!

Rhyming intervention

One of the ways that you should develop letter sounds and phonological awareness in your student will be through rhyming intervention.

So, seek to include poems and rhymes in your day as you teach the letters!

For example, for the short letter a sound, you can pair rhyming words, like



hat, etc.

to help your child hear and retain the letter A. It may seem like a simple way to teach, but sometimes the simple ways are the proven ways to stick to!

How do I teach my child to sound out letters?

There are multiple toys, puzzles, flashcards, and activities to teach your child letters and sounds, and particularly if you are looking into how to teach letter sounds to a struggling student or child,

The difference for many kids between struggling and becoming proficient in reading is phonemic and phonological awareness, being aware of and being able to manipulate those sounds within words.

So, as your child engages in these activities, just be sure you are making the sounds together, talking about them, and engaging with them with rhyme and alliteration, so that the printed word will be associated with the sounds of blends as the learning happens.

What age should my child begin to recognize letters?

While some say that most kids will begin to learn letters around the ages of 3 and 4, each child is different.  You cannot force this milestone, and frankly, you should not even try. 

It's hard, I know! Because parents want to see their child move forward, and worry about their child being left behind.

Some kids will be reading by age 3 (I kid you not - my sister was reading at age 3.) But lots of other (just as smart!) kids will not really "get" it until age 5,6, or even higher. That CAN be normal, notwithstanding a learning disability, which you can always be on the lookout for.

I know that a lot of children are forced to have reading skills too early, and may be required to have skills before they are ready in a school setting.

But even so, resist the urge to force-feed the alphabet to your very young child (toddlers or even preschoolers).

Instead, focus on these developmentally appropriate skills and activities that will serve your child in the years to come and lay a strong foundation for reading:

  • Listening to stories read aloud with enjoyment
  • Becoming familiar with a local library
  • Having toddler and preschooler appropriate books in the home for play and pretend
  • Talking about stories and books with others, asking questions and engaging with the story
  • Learn how to hold a book and turn the pages correctly
  • Point to different parts of a book (cover, author, etc.)
  • Development of fine and gross motor skills through PLAY and CRAFTS
  • Learn to enjoy alphabet puzzles, rhymes, songs and videos

What to do if your child is having trouble learning the alphabet and how to teach letter sounds to struggling readers:

Depending on the age of your child (and if your child is developmentally ready), you can start working on interventions like the ones listed above to help ready your child for reading.

And, take a look at these flip cards to strengthen the letter sounds of vowels and consonants.

Let me know what has worked or not worked for you in your teaching of letters in the comments below!









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