Is It Too Early?
First of all be sure you are not starting too soon! If the child is in the first half of their three year old year, back off and play a lot of sound games. Other spoken language and vocabulary building activities help to set the stage too. Try learning poems and songs by memory, read picture books, tell stories and have conversations! Be sure to watch for signs of readiness in the child to begin learning letter sounds in earnest.
Use Less Letters
Move the classic lesson from three new letters at a time down to two new letters at a time or in some rare cases only one! Once the child has mastered a few letters, you may want to use one or two of the mastered letters as the second or third letter in the 3 period lesson if they are aware the lesson usually has three letters.
Review, Review, Review!
Be sure every lesson begins with a review of the sounds studies so far. This invites celebration and lets you ensure that mastery is indeed happening.
Add More Practice in the First Period
After the child is done tracing the letter, place it in a small tray and ask him to go and tell three people “This is aaaa!” (Often I invite him to tell the other adult in the classroom and 2 children to minimize the interruption factor.)
Make it a Game
Create thin strips that have letters on the top. Show the child the strips and invite the child to only say his letter when he sees it! You can provide more practice by placing more of that letter in the set. 20 strips and 10 of them have the targeted letter. The letters in the sorting strips of the Color Coded Sound Games work well for this purpose. I’ve also tried this with a few letters from the moveable alphabet, hiding 5-7 of each letter under a scarf. The child then reaches for a letter, looks at it and says the name.
Add More Practice in the Second Period
Creating opportunities for more fun second period practice is really key for struggling learners. Realize that you will stay on this step awhile longer than most typically functioning children. That is OK! You are working for mastery! Go as slowly as necessary! Encourage as much tracing of the letter as the child will tolerate. You can vary the location of tracing to keep it interesting (on the sandpaper letter, on a sand tray, on the table, on your hand, on your back, etc).
Ask the child to move the letter in the second period. Put “aaaa” on your head! Now put “aaaa” on the table. Hand me “ssss” Put “ssss” on your knee. Now put “ssss” on your head.”
Put the letters on a rug, far, far away and ask the child to fetch, utilizing his visual memory. This asks the child to hold the letter sound in his memory as he goes to get it. I’ve also hidden moveable alphabet letters around the room, or on a distant table (3-5 of each letter in the current 3-period lesson) and asked “Can you bring “aaa”? Can you bring “sss” Can you bring another “aaa”?
Add More Support to the Third Period
Remember, don’t rush to this step! We are working for mastery, and the second “show me” phase may be necessary much longer than anticipated. If he does not remember the sound, just tell him the sound and assure him, “We just have not had enough practices with that one yet!” Keep the lesson moving swiftly and keep it light and fun!
Give a Small Hint
If the child looks at you blankly, when you ask “What sound is this?”, place your mouth in the correct position to make that sound (press your lips together for the “mmm” sound.) He will probably mimic your mouth and that motor memory may help him recall the sound!
Trace it in Color
Use the Orton Gillingham Rainbow Writing Method and introduce writing just a bit sooner than usual.