How to Teach Kids to Sound Out Three Letter Words (CVC Words)

We’ve been working on sounding out CVC words recently, so I want to tell you about what’s been working when I teach this concept to my students!

1.  How to Teach Kids to Sound Out CVC Words

In my district, the teachers have all been sent to trainings on writing “Brain Compatible Direct Instruction Lesson Plans.”  The name of the company that is providing us with these in-services is RISE.  The inservices help you to focus on creating a task analysis for each lesson.  That is, the format forces you to concentrate on breaking down each skill into the tiniest of steps for the children and teach it to them one step at a time.  And this is a good thing!

Although I do not think that every Kindergarten skill can be taught using this lesson plan format, many can. It is always a good idea to break each skill down into the smallest steps possible and teach them methodically with visual aids and a solid lesson plan in mind. The number of steps should be kept to a minimum for Kindergarteners and should ideally be no more than five steps total.

That being said, I wanted to share with you today the lesson that I created to teach children how to sound out words!  I thought that it went very well, and my students are actually getting very proficient at it!  I am quite proud of them, since many of them appear to be catching on quite well to this new skill with very little trouble.

The flashcards are from my set, which you can find here!

Of course, we have spent a good, long time laying the foundation of phonemic awareness to prepare them for this big step of sounding out and reading words.

This foundation is essential to the success of this lesson because it lays the groundwork for the skill they are trying to learn. These foundational activities have included learning to blend onsets and rimes, such as /mmmm/ /at/ = mat. We also worked on blending three sounds together (with no letters to look at, sounds only!), such as /s/ /a/ /t/. These activities lay the foundation to help children get ready to sound words out by looking at letters and making the sounds that they see rather than just blending the sounds together that others say.

If a child is unsure of the letter sounds, they could struggle with this activity. Children must be fluent with the letter sounds to sound out words well. They should be able to say the letter sounds quickly, easily, and automatically when they see the letters. If a child lacks this skill, you will need to back up and fill in the missing gaps before proceeding.

Once a child has this crucial foundational skill of knowing the letter sounds, these are the steps I give to help them start to sound out three-letter words:

1.  Say the letter sounds.
2.  Stretch out the sounds.
3.  Blend the sounds together. (Say them a little faster.)
4.  Say the word.

It was no surprise that the children did much better with the task when I made each step a motion!

Movement always helps children learn a little bit better. So when they said the letter sounds, many did the Zoo-Phonics signals. Then, we pulled our hands apart to stretch out the sounds. We swept our hands to the side when we blended them, and then I had them throw their hands out in front of themselves when they said the final word. The more we did this, the better the children got at it, and the quicker they got at it, too!

This poster is from our Handmotion Posters to Supplement the Heggerty Phonemic Awareness Program.

After we sounded out all of the words, we matched up the pictures on the flashcards from the CVC worksheets with the correct words.

Then, later, as independent practice, we did one of the CVC worksheets from that word family from that same book.

When asked to read the word, some of the children reduced the steps to just one or two steps almost immediately. Others stuck to all four steps the whole time we practiced!  I allowed each child to decide how many steps he or she needed to read the word correctly.  The only thing I insisted on was that each child should tell me all the letter sounds that he or she saw first. If they start with the wrong sound, they will not read the word correctly.  If a child hesitated or said they didn’t know what to do, I helped them start from the beginning and go through each step to arrive at the answer.

In the “RISE” brain-compatible lesson, they recommend a teaching format called the “Model Sandwich.”

In the Model Sandwich, the teacher first models the skill then teaches the steps and then models the skill again.  So, following this format, I modeled how to sound out one CVC word.  Then I read the children the steps and taught them to recognize the picture icons that went with each one since, of course, they are non-readers!  The picture cues for the steps are pretty important, then, for making this teaching method work for non-readers.  Finally, I modeled sounding out a CVC word again.  This forms a Model Sandwich:  model, teach the steps, model.


It’s a Model Sandwich Chart!
Another thing that I did to help them learn was teach them the sound blending songs from my Word Family Songs Video Collection. These songs REALLY help them learn the steps for sounding out a word! I noticed it quite a bit when I asked them to tell me what the steps were at the end of the lesson. More children were telling me the steps as they were worded in the song than the way they were worded in my lesson, LOL! I think it’s pretty amazing that just about ALL of my kids can now sound out and read the four words that we sound out in the song, which are “an,” “van,” “fan,” and “ran.” I think that is really neat! Check it out below.

Lastly, we put what we learned to paper!

I created these CVC Worksheets to use at our language arts table during centers. We usually focus on one worksheet at a time. I start the worksheet with them, and once I feel they have a handle on it, they work on it independently until finished! All of the worksheets have images, and when the worksheet is complete, some of my students like to color in the pictures.

There are six basic worksheet formats:

1) Look at the picture, choose the correct word from three choices, and write it. The pictures match the flash cards.
2) Find the CVC word from other “look-alike” words, and circle it.
3) Draw a line to the matching word and write it.
4) Read the sentence and fill in the blank using the word bank provided.
5) Read and color: Color each picture with the color indicated in the sentence.
6) Cut and Glue Sound Sort: Sort the pictures by ending sound, put them in the correct column, and write the word.

Find the worksheets on my TPT store here!




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