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How to Teach Vowel Sounds

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Teaching vowel sounds using fun hand motions

When I began teaching kindergarten, I discovered that children can have a very difficult time distinguishing between their vowel sounds. This is to be expected! Consonants are much easier to teach and learn. A “Ss” sound and a “Mm” sound are both very different in their sound and in the way their mouths, lips, and tongues form while making the sound.

Vowels are very different — when you say “Aa” or “Ee”, there is only a slight movement in the throat. This is not visible when holding a mirror in front of the face; there is hardly any lip movement and is difficult for a young child to distinguish between them. When all the sounds are meshed together, and are too often taught together, this can create undue stress on any child.

Let’s take the difficulty out of this! First, vowel sounds should be taught separately, alongside 3-4 consonants, so three letter words can be build phonetically!

Typical sequence could include starting teaching with Ss, Mm, Aa, Tt. These all have a very different sound, and the mouth is shaped differently for each! Once Aa is taught and mastered, you may be ready for Ii, the Oo, then Uu, and finally Ee. This is only my recommended Vowel Sequence. The key is to not to teach them all together and expect a child to immediately catch on to the sounds. Some may! But most will need additional time, tools, and assistance!

Enter our hand motions for each of the vowels! These were taught to me by a dear veteran first grade teacher in my building while I was teaching — the credit is hers and I did not create these myself! It is amazing how something so simple can make ALL the difference when sounding those phonetic words out — and building words and creating spellings in the future!

Please watch my video to see how to teach vowel sounds using hand motions:


Aa = a a apple (biting an apple with one hand!)

Ee = e e elephant (big ears like an elephant) (I’ve also see eeelbow and pointing to the elbow!)

Ii = i i igloo (dot your nose as if you’re dotting your “i”!)

Oo = ooooctopus (or ostrich) (use your pointer finger to make an O with your mouth)

Uu = u u umbrella (make a fist and gently tap your stomach as if saying “uh my tummy hurts!)

And that’s it! Simply motions to help solidify the vowel sounds using your child’s auditory and muscle memory! It has worked wonders for my students, and for my own children, as they learn reading. My eight year old still uses his motions to work out hard-to-read words!

Above all, don’t put pressure on your child. Some children read at 3 or 4 and most will begin learning at age 6. There is no need to push them in reading until they are developmentally ready! Be patient, read to them, enjoy one another, and their sounds — and reading — will come.

Please let me know if this has helped your child become more familiar with their vowel sounds and feel more confident in their reading!


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  1. So short and sweet! Love these ideas. I’ve used the /uh/ hurt tummy sound frequently when I tutor beginning and struggling readers. Thank you! I’m going to share this on my Facebook page…

  2. This is so super helpful! We just started the good and the beautiful this week and I experienced a lot of frustration going through the first five cards in the grade K curriculum. Thank you! I like the curriculum for other reasons, but I feel like this is a pitfall.

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