Eye on the Sky Project FIRST: Fostering Reading Through Science and Technology
Tutor Guide to Early Literacy
tutor guidelines
skill development
reading technique
wrting technique
student activities
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Vowels and Consonants
101 High Frequency Words
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Session Activities
Updated: 04/23/02
skill development

Student literacy is encouraged through the development of several skills. In particular, beginning readers benefit from learning letter sounds, segmenting, blending, spelling patterns and high frequency words. There may not always be sufficient time to cover all skills, but including them in tutoring sessions encourages reading success! We have included some ideas to begin teaching these skills to young readers.

Tutoring sessions generally last 30 minutes. In an effort to lend consistency to the tutoring session, we have developed the following structure, which allows tutors to work with their students on:

  • Specific literacy skills
  • Reading
  • Writing

Approximately 10 minutes is allocated for each area of focus. Depending on the student’s needs the time can, of course, be redistributed. After the tutoring session, tutors are encouraged to reflect on their session to consider what went well and look for ways to improve.
This structure is meant to serve as a model and if all areas are not covered in a single session, there is always the next session to pick up where you left off!

Session Activities

phonemic awareness and reading
  1. What is phonemic awareness?
    The ability to distinguish and manipulate sounds.

  2. What are phonemes?
    Phonemes are speech sounds. The word “dog” has three phonemes, one represented by the letter “d”, one by the letter “o” and one by the letter “g”.

  3. Why is it important?
    Phonemic awareness leads to reading success.

  4. How can you encourage phonemic awareness?
    READING: Use books and poems that contain many rhymes and alliteration (repetition of the first sound in a word).

    WRITING: Writing experience helps build phonemic awareness. Students begin writing with invented spelling—that is expected and gives insight into how children are connecting letters and sounds. “Cat” may first appear as “c”, then “ct” and then “cat”.

    GAMES: Children need a variety of opportunities to play with language and increase their awareness of sounds in words and sentences.

    •Tapping or clapping can be used to practice segmenting sentences or phrases into component words, words into syllables, and syllables into phonemes.

    •Chips or counters can be used to mark the segments.

    •Rhyming games encourage awareness of speech sounds.

    •Help students to differentiate beginning, middle and end sounds and to manipulate sounds to make new words (mat/bat, back/buck, jam/jab).

    SINGING: Songs are another great way to enhance students’ awareness of sounds.

  5. Prompts that can become games to increase children’s phonemic awareness:

    •Drop a Sound: What would be left if the /p/ sound were taken away from pet?

    •Word Matching: Do dog and dinner begin with the same sound?

    •Blending: What word would you have if you put these sounds together /m/, /a/, /t/ ?

    •Segmenting: What sounds do you hear in the word hot?

    •Phoneme Counting: How many sounds do you hear in the word kite?

    •Odd Word Out: Which word starts with a different sound: big, bike, nine?

    •Sound to Word Matching: Is there a /k/ in the word Mike?

    •Phoneme Switching: What word would you have if I took the /b/ from bit and replaced it with /m/?

    •The Name Game: Man, Man, Bo, Ban etc.Other good ideas can be found in Improving Reading by Jerry Johns and Susan Lenski.

  1. Begin by saying, “I’ll touch under the letter and say the sound. I’ll keep saying it while I am touching it.”

  2. Demonstrate this and say, “My turn. mmmmmm.” Hold the sound for two seconds.

  3. Ask your student to say the sound by giving the cue, “What sound?” Listen and slide your finger under the “m” for two seconds as your student makes the sound.

  4. If your student is correct, move on. If not, correct and begin again by saying, “My turn, mmmmm.” Practice until she says the sound correctly.

Teaching additional sounds…

Write the previously taught letters on a small board along with the new letter. A magnetic board works well for this too. The board should look like this:


  1. Teach the new letter sound as described above. Check all the previously taught letters, returning to the new letter in between those already taught.

  2. Be sure to model correct sounds when your student’s sounds are incorrect. Say, “My turn, mmmmm.” Practice until the sound is correct.

  3. Print out the vowels and consonants. Cut up and use as letter cards.

segmenting words
Each sound in a word is important. To help your student to read, practice listening for and identifying each sound in a word. You can use pictures or words for segmenting. Easily decodable words are an excellent place to start.

1. Tell your student that you will play a game to break apart all of the sounds she hears in a word.

2. Explain by saying, “When I hold up one finger, you say the first sound of the word. When I hold up two fingers, tell me the next sound. When I hold up three fingers, tell me the last sound.”

3. “Let me show you how.” Say a word, for example, dog.

  • Hold up one finger and say,”/d/”.
  • Hold up two fingers and say “/o/.”
  • Hold up three fingers and say “/g/.”
  • The sounds in dog are /d/, /o/, /g/.”
    Model this a few times with different decodable words.

4. “Now, you try it.” Say another word, for example, sun.

  • “What are the sounds in sun?”
  • Hold up one finger for /s/.
  • Then hold up two fingers for /u/.
  • Then, hold up three fingers for /n/.
  • Reinforce by saying, “Good the sounds in sun are /s/, /u/, /n/.”

5. Do this again with 5-10 other words, depending on your student’s level. Keep the pace fast and moving along!

6. As your student makes progress, use this activity for words with more sounds.

blending words
  1. The decodable words are an excellent place to start teaching students how to blend sounds into words.

  2. Point to the word you are blending. For example, am, but do not say the word. Say, “ We are going to sound out some words.” Point to the left of the “a”, pause, say, “Sound.” Quickly move your finger under the “a” and hold it there for about 2 seconds while the student says “aaaaaaaa”.

  3. Quickly move on to the “m” and hold it there for another 2 seconds. The student starts saying “mmmmmmm” without any break or pause between “a” and “m.” Say “Again.” Then point to the left of the “a” a third time, pause, say “Read,” while you quickly move your finger left to right.

  4. If your student makes a mistake say, “My turn,” and model the correct way to blend and read the word. Have your students practice until they correctly blend the word. Do the same thing for other decodable words in the story.

practicing spelling patterns
For this example, we are using words in the –ack family. There are many word families in English. For beginning students, you will start with simpler patterns, such as –ad, –at, or –it.
  • Encourage your student to point out words in your text that have similar spelling patterns.

  • Help your student think of other words that have this pattern. You may have to write a few words for him or her:

    sack    stack
    pack    back

    Ask your student to read the whole word and underline the repeated part of the word: "ack." Use magnetic letters to form a word with the "ack" pattern. Ask the student to change the first letter of the word (for example: 's' in sack) to make a new word such as: "pack." Provide a limited number of letters (two or three at first) for your student to choose from.

  • Give your student a chance to go back to a book other texts where he or she can apply this new reading skill. Poems, nursery rhymes and jump rope jingles are a great resource for early readers.

  • Make and use “flip books” to encourage the learning of patterns and rhyme.

  • Create a Hidden Word game to focus on word families.

  • Create Wordo games using word families.

--From Banks Street College, America Reads

hidden words
Can you find the hidden words that end with at? Look for those words and circle them! Read the circled word.
high frequency sight words

Neither beginning nor advanced readers ever sound out every word. We all have words that we recognize instantly—those are sight words. Your goal for sight words is to start with a word which your student already knows the meaning of, and have the student see it and read it instantly—without taking the time to sound it out. Students in first and second grade need to increase their sight word vocabulary.

What do I need?

  • Print each word on a flashcard. Be neat. Print in lower case and use a dark pen.

How many words do I work with?

  • As you work with your students you will develop a sense of how much they can retain in a single session. For students on a low first grade level, start with 3-4 and work up from there.

What are the steps?

  • When showing a new word, read it first and have your student read it immediately afterward. (Remind your student to look at the word while reading it.)

  • In some cases you may want to make sure your student is thinking of the right sight word. Ask your student to use the word in a sentence to make sure they have the right word.

  • After you have gone through the flashcards a few times (saying each word and having your student repeat it) then ask your student to read the words. Echo each word and provide correct response, if necessary.

Games to encourage learning sight words

  • Put the flashcards up on the table. Ask your student to point to the ones he/she knows and read them. As your student reads each word—he/she turns it face down. When all cards are face down, he/she turns them up one by one and reads them.

  • Place the flashcards face up. Say a word and ask your student point to it and read it.

  • Place flashcards face down. Take turns turning up a card and reading it. If you read it correctly, keep it. Add a “joker” card. If you turn it up you must put back all the cards.

  • Once your student knows the words fairly well, turn it into a “high pressure” game by timing your student with your watch. Students generally enjoy trying to beat the clock.

  • At the end of the sight word exercises ask, “Which word was the hardest for you?” Asking your student to identify the hardest will help her/him to recognize these words the next time.

  • Reward all this hard work with encouragement!

Tips to Maximize Learning

  • Each time your student reads a word, repeat it. Letting your student know he/she read it correctly will strengthen the association of the written word with the spoken word.

  • When your student hesitates or reads the word incorrectly—give him/her the right word immediately. Don’t make it a struggle—you want to teach instant recognition. Focused word analysis can happen later in your tutorial.

  • Review frequently!

  • Keep two Envelopes—Words I am Learning and Words I know. At the end of the session, put them in the “Learning” envelope. At the beginning of the next session, show the words—if your student reads them automatically put the words in to the “Know” envelope. If he/she hesitates or makes a mistake, then re-teach them along with new words for the current session.

©2002 UC Regents