University of Pittsburgh School of Education

Applying Letter-Sound Knowledge

My students seem to know letter-sound relationships. However, they have trouble applying what they know when they are asked to read a word or groups of words. Any suggestions?

By Dr. Rita Bean, LEADERS Project Co-Director

Students need many opportunities to practice manipulating letters/sounds in a concrete way so that they can get a sense of how these letters/sounds fit together to form a word. We have identified several strategies below that are useful in helping students gain this necessary practice.

Word Building: With this procedure, students have a set of letter cards. Teachers tell the students to bring down specific letters, and then they must identify the word that they have made. Students are then led through the procedure, changing one letter to form a new word each time.
Working with onsets and rimes: Students need experience working with onsets (part of a syllable before the vowel) and rimes (part of the word from the vowel to the end of the syllable). Teachers can provide activities in which onsets are changed and the rime stays the same.

  • Example:
    • Here is the word "cake."
    • Change it so that the word is a garden tool. (rake)
    • Change rake so that you have an animal. (snake)
    • Change snake so that it describes a movement. (shake)
  • Resources:
Making Words: Students are given opportunities to make up their own words by manipulating a limited number of letters. The teacher identifies the word, and the students then make the word, using their own individual letter cards. Students continue to make words, using the same set of letters. They finally get to make a "big" word, using all the letters in the set. Students enjoy trying to figure out the "big" word that they will make.

Resource Texts

Cunningham, Patricia M. and Cunningham, James W.
Making Words: Enhancing the invented spelling-decoding connection
Good Apple, 1994.
Cunningham, Patricia M. and Hall, Dorothy P
Making More Words: Multilevel, Hands-On Phonics and Spelling Activities
Good Apple, 2000
Cunningham, Patricia M. and Hall, Dorothy P
Making Big Words: Multilevel, Hands-On Spelling and Phonics Activities
Good Apple, 1994
Cunningham, Patricia M.
Making More Big Words
Good Apple, 1997