Teaching Your Child To Read: Letter-Sound Relationships

As I mentioned in the last blog post, your child does not have to have mastery of all letter names and shapes in order to move on to the next step, which is letter-sound relationships. It’s best to wait until they have an understanding that there are such things as letters, which have specific names and shapes, before adding the element of the sounds that they make, because this can be a lot for them to learn all at once. But once they are getting the idea and know some of their letter names and shapes, you can move on to adding the sounds that those letters make.

Below is a soundboard, which will help you to know all of the letters and the sounds that they make. If English is not your first language, this is an especially important tool, because you want to make sure that you are being consistent each time you say the letter and the sound that it makes. For example, the letter b always makes the sound that you find at the beginning of the word bell. D always makes the sound that you find at the beginning of the word dog. Unfortunately, there are a couple exceptions, because c can sometimes make a soft sound like an s, and g can sometimes make a soft sound like a j. For the most part though, all consonants consistently make the same sound.

Soundboard Graph 2-page-001

Soundboard Graph 1-page-001As you can see on the soundboard, vowels are a little trickier, because each vowel has both its short sound and its long sound. It is always best to start with consonants when you’re working with your children on beginning letter sounds, because they are the most consistent. In blog number seven, I will cover vowel sounds extensively, because they can be quite tricky for children. For the most part, work on the short sounds of vowels, because these will be what they come across most often when reading the simple words from early readers.

You can keep doing the activities mentioned in the last blog and start to ask the child what sound the letter makes as well. Try to associate the letter sound with words that they know; for example, if you are working on the letter c, ask them what sound they think the letter c makes, and then say it makes the kuh sound in cat. Not only will this give them more context for understanding letter-sound relationships, but it makes the connection that words are made up of letters which have sounds. The more that they understand that the words that they see in a book are made up of letters, each of which have sounds, the closer they are to decoding, which is the next step and the topic of my next blog post.

Below are three games that you can do with your child to reinforce letter-sound relationships, in addition to adding the element of letter-sound relationships to the activities from the last blog. It is easiest for children to learn the letter-sound relationship of the first letter in a word (like the c in cat). The following games involve the first letter in a word, also known as the initial letter.

The first game is Hot Potato. The tools I use are two oven mitts and a Mr. Potato Head body. You don’t need to have the Mr. Potato Head, you could use a ball or even a real potato. You take one oven mitt and the child takes the other, and you must pass the potato back and forth quickly because it’s hot. Pick a letter and say that you are going to take turns coming up with words that start with that letter. This is asking your child to think about the letter and the sound that it makes, and words that begin with that sound. For example, start with the letter c, say the word cat, pass the potato to your child, and have them catch it with the oven mitt (the potato will inevitably get dropped on the floor, so make sure you have patience for that piece of the game!). Your child then has to say a word that starts with c, like car, and then they pass it back to you. Don’t worry if they choose a word like kite, which actually starts with k. You don’t need to correct them about this, because the goal is just to understand the letter sound and unfortunately the English language has many exceptions to the rule.

Below is a board game that I made using a file folder, a piece of white paper, some stickers, pennies or game pieces, some foam letters, and a brown paper bag. The board itself shows a trail, and each space on the trail is marked by a sticker that represents a word starting with a specific letter sound. This game has cat (c), dog (d), fish (f), jelly bean (j), and bee (b). These are five distinct letters and letter sounds. Have pennies or game pieces from another game ready on the starting place. Your child will pull out a foam letter from a paper bag (fill the paper bag with foam letters that represent the letters that will be used in this game), and then move to the space with the sticker that has the correct letter-sound relationship on it. So if they pick out the letter b, they move their game piece to the nearest sticker of a bee. Talk with your child about the letter and the sound that it makes as you go, reinforcing this skill each step of the way.


The last game is a modified Twister board. When playing Twister with your child, you play the game as normally directed, with the additional task that each time you place a hand or a foot on a space, you have to say the letter that you land on, the sound that it makes, and a word that starts with that letter sound. So if your child lands on a t, they have to say the letter t, the sound that it makes, and a word that starts with t.


All of these games are meant to make learning to read fun, so if your child is getting frustrated, make sure to take a break or step back to working on earlier skills. Continue to read to your child and get them excited about the process, because the worst thing you can do is to drill your child into memorizing the skills as quickly as possible, ensuring they see learning to read as an arduous task. Try to remember that every child learns at a different rate, and they may learn a letter one day and forget it the next. Their brains are absorbing everything you’re doing and will continue to grow in ways that are difficult to imagine at first.

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