Recognizing beginning sounds in words is a huge step for kindergarteners to take towards becoming independent readers and writers. Not only is it a skill that they can use to figure out words in emergent readers, but it is also crucial to their emergent writing as they begin to represent whole words with the beginning sound.
However, before our students can apply this skill to their early reading and writing, they need to practice it in more isolated ways. Like anything else in kindergarten, they have to practice the skill of identifying beginning sounds in different ways and do it repetitively before they can truly master it. These are some of my favorite ways to teach beginning sounds.
With Matching Games
One of the best ways to get students practicing their beginning sounds is with center games with moveable pieces. Typically, I have one set of cards that has the letters of the alphabet on them. On the other set of cards, I have pictures beginning with each of the different letters of the alphabet. As students look at the picture and say the name of the picture, they listen for the beginning sound. For example, if they see a card with a picture of an alligator, they can hear the beginning sound /a/ and match it to the letter Aa.
I like to use a pocket chart so that students can see all of their matches, but you can also have students lay the matches out on the carpet or their desks. Regardless of where they complete the center, students can practice beginning sounds in a fun and hands-on way.
With Magnetic Letters
Another way to teach beginning sounds is with magnetic letters. Not only is this a material that is readily available in most kindergarten classrooms, but it is something that is easy for kindergarteners to move and manipulate when doing different tasks. One of the simplest ways to use them is by having students look at a picture beside a word that is missing the first letter, and then fill in the missing letter with the magnetic letter.
In another center game made for magnetic letters (or any moveable letter pieces), students can use a gameboard that features different pictures in different boxes. Much like in the matching game described earlier, students listen for the first sound at the beginning of each picture and put the corresponding letter on top of it. With a little more advanced students, you could even use these cards BINGO style, where the teacher calls out a beginning sound or letter, and the student covers the picture with the matching letter. By using magnetic letters, students get even more hands-on beginning sound practice.
With Simple Worksheets
You may think that worksheets aren't engaging enough to help students practice their beginning sounds, but any practice is good practice. Moreover, I have found that students really do love any kind of activity where they have to hunt for and find something. With this in mind, I created worksheets where students are given a letter, and then they have to find and circle each picture that begins with that letter. You can also do an activity where there is a focus letter and students have to find and color only the pictures that begin with that focus letter.
As students gain letter/sound knowledge, they can do simple activities where they look at a picture and write in the beginning sound. Using worksheets that introduce students to a variety of beginning sound activities will keep the content fresh and more engaging.
One of our biggest roles as kindergarten teachers is to give students the tools and skills they need to become independent readers and writers. Mastering beginning sounds is a huge step towards that goal. With that in mind, it is so important to introduce students to different ways of practicing beginning sounds through worksheets, center games, and magnetic letter activities.