Sound isolation is the ability to isolate a single sound from within a word. Children usually master initial sound isolation in the middle of kindergarten, and final and medial sound isolation at the end of kindergarten or early first grade. Phoneme (sound) isolation is a very important step in early literacy development. Kids that have mastered this particular phonemic awareness skill will be able to accurately answer questions such as “Does the /b/ sound come at the beginning, middle, or end of the word bat? Once children become proficient in identifying the initial consonant sounds in simple words, they can move on to practice listening for the medial and final sounds in words. For example, they will be able to tell you the the short /o/ vowel sound appears in the middle of the word, top. Or, where do they hear the /r/ sound in the word car. Kids must be able to identify where a sound appears in a word to develop strong literary skills. In this post, I will describe a few fun ways to practice this very important phonemic awareness skill.
The Name Game
Start with your child’s name. Then, tell your child to change the initial sound of their name with a different consonant sound. For example, if your child’s name is Katie, tell her to change the first sound to an /b/ sound. Katie changes to batie – a nonsense word. Continue until you have practiced most or even all of the consonant sounds! Discover how many real words you create versus nonsense words. You can even teach your child how to sing “The Name Game” by Shirley Ellis. It would go something like this:
Katie, Katie, bo-ba-tee
Bo-na-na fan-na, fo-fa-nee
Fee fi mo-may-tee
There are plenty of YouTube videos that you could watch with your child to learn this silly song! (Sorry, I know it’s stuck in your head now. It’s stuck in mine too!)
After a trip to the grocery store, put some items on the table or in an open space and have your child sort them by their initial or final sounds. For example, broccoli and bananas would be grouped together because they both start with the /b/ sound. Cereal and apple would be grouped together because they both end with the /l/ sound. Remember the child is listening for the SOUND of the word, not the SPELLING. So, even though the final sounds of the two words are spelled differently, they still make the same /l/ sound.
Red Light, Green Light
What kid doesn’t like to play this classic recess game? Parents can use it to practice sound isolation! Decide if you will be practicing initial, medial or final sounds with your child. Then, have your child start at a starting line. From a distance away, you call out words that either match or do not match the decided criteria. For example, if your child is listening for the beginning sound of /b/, when you call out a word that begins with b, your child would walk, run, hop, skip, crab walk, etc. toward you. Continue to call out words that either match the criteria (Green Light), and your child will keep moving, or do not meet the criteria (Red Light) and your child will freeze. Then you start a new round when your little player reaches the finish line.
Learning to isolate the phonemes in words is an essential early literacy skill. Activities and games like the ones discussed in this post all provide fun opportunities for literacy development.