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Montessori three period lesson: teaching letter sounds

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The Montessori practice called “the three period lesson” is commonly used in Montessori teaching to clearly and precisely teach a child a certain concept or skill. Today I am sharing how we are teaching letter sounds with Montessori sandpaper cards using the Montessori Three Period Lesson.  A video is below to show you how you can easily use this sequence for teaching sounds, vocabulary, or for any learning and teaching you are doing with your child.

3 Period Montessori Lesson: learning sounds with sandpaper letters - includes a great tutorial video!

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We have been learning different way to engage my son in early reading. Our goals are to not discourage him, and to hold his attention for short, productive periods of time.

Using the three period lesson with Montessori sandpaper cards to learn letter sounds incorporates both a tactile element as well as reinforcing the letter sound through auditory learning. I had to practice the three period lesson several times before feeling confident with it. This Montessori approach to teaching can be used for many subjects, such as mathematics, geography, or vocabulary.

What is phonics and how can I teach it?

Phonics is teaching the sounds that each letter makes.  When teaching letter sounds, keep your sounds short and crisp. Try not to add an “uh” sound to the end of the phoneme to prevent confusion when your reader will be ready to sound out words.

D is /d/ and not “duh”

B is /b/ and not “buh”

T is /t/ and not “tuh”

While teaching letter sounds as a starting point towards reading, Montessori teaches the phonetic sounds of the letters, rather than the letter names. The belief is that the letter names will come naturally.

“s” is no longer “esss” but “/sss/”

“w” is no longer “dubl-u” but “/www/”

Lowercase letters are formally taught before uppercase letters. (We intentionally teach uppercase letters first, you can see why at my Early Literacy Stages; I believe that teaching either is a matter of preference and experience.)  We taught uppercase letter names at first, while teaching their phonetic sounds, but now we are really focusing on calling the lowercase letters by their sound, instead of their name.


Montessori Three Period Lesson

Here is a video I created to show you how simple the Montessori Three Period Lesson can be in teaching children letter sounds using Montessori sandpaper cards.  I hope this encourages you to try to teach your child utilizing this very direct and child-centered way of teaching and learning.  I hope to make another video when my son (or daughter, who is excelling in this teaching!) agrees to be videoed.  You can see all of our YouTube videos here.

The child observes your motions, touches the sounds, and voices the sounds while acquiring the skill of concentration throughout the lesson.

1) Naming Period

Place three letters on a table. Choose one to begin and model for the child before they are to begin. Have your child trace the letter with their index and middle fingers while making the letter sound.

This is /s/
This is /m/
This is /a/

2) Recognition and Association Period

The child will recognize the phonetic sounds by repeating this period over and over. Place the letters on the table again and repeat this movement to increase memory of the letter sounds.

Show me /s/.
Where is /m/?
Can you find /a/?
Put the /s/ in your hand.
Hand me the /s/.


3) Recall Period

Place the objects, or sandpaper letters, in front of you child. This testing phase should only be used when you know the child will be confident and successful.

What is this?
We will repeat this sequence for each letter, using lowercase sandpaper cards, until we are done with the alphabet. This is a recommended letter sequence that will set your child up for the most success:

s, m, a, t, l, n, u, d, w, o, g, c, i, h, p, e, k, z, r, j, b, f, x, v, q, y


Need more ideas for your early/beginning reader?

We also love using our Montessori alphabet box. This reinforces phonics learning with hand held objects.

Check out our extensive list of readers and workbooks for ages 2 to 5 here.

Here are five more simple suggestions for phonics learning at home.

Thanks for visiting!

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  1. I pinned it but I need to remember it when I start working on my planning for next school year. This year my youngest did more tot school and free play and that went way wrong so next year he is starting a pre-school type curriculum during our homeschool time and remember this for his one on one learning time will be really helpful!!

    1. Thanks Sheena :) We are doing Tot School with my youngest too — and “just play” is okay too — sometimes child-led is the best <3

      1. I am going to try to keep his a little child led but most days not having a plan for him has meant he has destroyed my house or been a handful during school.

        1. Yes, my son is the same :) Hard to find a balance that you’re happy with — and also don’t feel guilty about!! <3

  2. Ikioweri Nneka says:

    Thanks so much. But I was wondering if I can do this to my 4yrs old kids in school. Even when they’ve gone thru this process in their formal two classes that is kg and nursery 1 as we call it in Nigeria. Pls I need to know cos am supposed to reteach this sounds for them for this first term. My other question is how many letters do I introduce person lesson knowing that they have been taught this in their previous classes. Thanks, Nneka Nigeria.

    1. Hi, Nneka, Yes you can start these lessons with any child 3-6 years old! You can gently teach the letters, or use objects to correlate too — like a is for apple, b is for ball and slowly teach that way! Blessings to you!

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