First Year Teacher Self-Study Course

First Year Teacher is a self-paced professional development course for novice K-3 teachers, developed by Reading Rockets. The program provides teachers with an in-depth knowledge of reading so they are prepared to guide their students into becoming skilled and enthusiastic readers.

Photo of teacher and students

Sounds of Speech: In Practice

There are many activities that you can do with your students to help them increase their knowledge of speech sounds and their relationship to letters.

Activity 1: good vibrations

Practice differentiating voiced and unvoiced speech sounds with your students. Have them put their hand on their throat to feel the difference between phonemes that make the vocal cords vibrate (voiced) and those that don't (unvoiced).

Voiced Phonemes
/b/ /v/ /l/ /z/ /m/ /TH/ /j/
/n/ /w/ /d/ /y/ /r/ /g/

Unvoiced Phonemes
/p/ /sh/ /f/ /wh/ /ch/ /th/ /s/ /k/ /h/

Activity 2: human phonemes

Make a list of simple rhyming words and a second column of words with a different medial (middle) sound. Some examples are shown below.

bat bit
hat hit
sat sit
pat pit

Choose students to represent the sounds in the words you've chosen. You'll need one student for each sound. In our example, we would need seven students to represent the /b/, /h/, /s/, /p/, /a/, /t/, and /i/ sounds.

Give each of the students a card with the letter(s) that represent their sound. They should hold the card facing the class.

If you have younger students, you should help them by standing behind the group of phonemes and touching the correct phoneme to step forward as you blend them into words.

If you have older students, as you say the word, the 'phonemes' should assemble themselves in the correct order.

Activity 3: the alphabetic principle

Do the same activity that the teacher in the video clip "The Alphabetic Principle" did with her students (see below).

Students should be sitting on the floor in a circle or at tables. Give each student five blocks, chips, or other similar objects.

Tell your students, "Place one chip (block, etc.) in front of you for each sound in the word.

Activity 4: changing sounds

Call on students to change the sound at the beginning of a word. Start the first round by using their names, as in the examples below. Go around the room until every student has had a chance. Remember, make the sound, don't say the letter name!

  • Jimmy, can you change the /j/ in Jimmy to the /t/ sound?
  • Lisa, can you change the /l/ in Lisa to the /n/ sound?

The Alphabetic Principle

In Houston, the teacher of an advanced kindergarten class connects letters and sounds in a systematic and explicit way.

Sounds of Speech: In Practice

Teaching Tip

  • big     /b/-/i/-/g/
  • house   /h/-ou/-/s/
  • sandy     /s/-/a/-/n/-/d/-/y/
  • comb    /c/-/o/-/m/
  • cook    /c/-/oo/-/k/
  • sit    /s/-/i/-/t/
  • pick     /p/-/i/-/c/
  • win     /w/-/i/-/n/
  • am     /a/-/m/
  • bake     /b/-/a/-/k/
Diary of a First Year Teacher

Diary of a First Year Teacher

Join Barbara Zielinski, a first grade teacher at River Plaza Elementary School in Middletown, NJ, during her first year teaching.

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." — Groucho Marx