How I Teach Beginning Phonics in Spanish
Yesterday I wrote a post about teaching phonological awareness in Spanish (and how it’s a little bit different from teaching phonological awareness in English). Similarly, there are some differences between teaching phonics in Spanish and phonics in English.
In today’s post, I’ll share ideas and free materials for teaching beginning phonics in Spanish. I’ll cover letter sounds, open syllables (sílabas abiertas), syllables with blends (sílabas trabadas), and closed syllables (sílabas cerradas).
There are other types of phonics patterns that you’ll want to teach your students, depending upon their developmental levels (like diptongos, or diphthongs). However, I’m focusing on these areas in my post because I’ve worked mostly with beginning readers.
General Phonics Teaching Strategies
When I was a classroom teacher (in the primary grades), my students learned Spanish phonics primarily through a daily minilesson, small group or guided reading work, picture/word sorts, independent centers, and dictados. And, of course, they also learned it through reading and writing activities!
I’ve found it helpful to choose a scope and sequence for the year (click HERE for the Kindergarten scope and sequence I’ve used in the past). Although I differentiate and deviate from it, having a planned-out path helps keep me on track.
To introduce a new letter sound, syllable, or spelling pattern, I typically start with a minilesson. I write the letter or syllable for students, have them read it, and then have them write it in the air. We brainstorm words that contain the letter or syllable.
Next, I introduce a picture sort. I have students cut out and sort pictures into 2 or 3 columns (by beginning sound or syllable, for example), and then write each word underneath. It gives them practice with the letter or syllable in the context of real words. I also encourage students to search for additional words (with the same patterns) in books.
As time goes on, I have students begin to sort words rather than pictures. I also give different students different sorts, based upon their needs. Click HERE for a great book of Spanish word sorts.
During independent work, students continue to practice these same letter sounds, syllables, or spelling patterns. When they’re with me for guided reading or small group literacy instruction, I either reinforce those same phonics patterns or work on other ones (depending upon what students need).
On Fridays, I do a dictado, where I dictate words or a sentence to students. I incorporate some words that have the same sounds and spelling patterns we’ve learned throughout the week. I have students correct their work at the end, and help them make the connection between our phonics work and the words or sentences they’ve written.
I’ve found that it’s important to always relate whatever skill you’re teaching to real reading and writing. Young readers are always so excited when they are able to read or write the type of syllable you’ve been studying in class! This also helps them understand the importance of learning the different phonics skills.
Teaching Letter Sounds
Some bilingual teachers teach the letter sounds in isolation, while others teach them in the context of syllables. Honestly, I don’t think it matters much which way you do it (as long as you move relatively quickly into teaching the syllables, because Spanish is a syllabic language). My personal preference is to teach letter sounds first (without syllables), because I think it gets kids writing and reading emergent texts more quickly.
I always teach the vowel sounds first, because these sounds are the ones that kids can hear and spell most easily. For example, if you asked an emergent reader to write the word “mesa,” you might get something that looks like this: “ea.” It’s easier for students to hear (and spell) vowels as opposed to consonants. AND the vowel letter names and sounds are the same, which makes them easy to remember!
After I teach students the vowels, we move on to the consonants. I like to start with the consonants m, p, s, and l, because these are “easier” consonant sounds for students to hear, say, and spell.
After that, I progress through the rest of the consonants, teaching several per week (when I was in the classroom). Again, you can access the scope and sequence I used when I taught Kinder HERE.
I’ve used the Estrellita program to teach letter sounds for the last 5ish years, and I absolutely love it! There’s a chant and hand movements for each letter, as well as an alphabet chart that goes with it. Students learn the letter sounds so quickly from practicing the chant! You can check out the chant here (it’s not my video – I found it on YouTube!).
Even if you don’t have access to Estrellita, you can still use an alphabet chart and create a chant to go with it. Fill in your information below, and I’ll send you a free Spanish phonological awareness and phonics toolkit that includes an alphabet chart (if you already downloaded the free toolkit from my phonological awareness post, you don’t need to sign up again – you already have the materials):
In addition to practicing the alphabet chant once or twice daily, I also like to use picture sorts to give students practice with the letters that we’re currently studying. We practice naming the pictures as a group, and then students work independently to sort the pictures by their initial sounds. After some practice, I also ask them to write each word underneath the picture. I don’t demand correct spelling – it’s just an opportunity for students to practice spelling words by listening for their sounds. There are picture cards in the free Spanish phonics toolkit that you can use to create your own picture sorts. Or, try the book of Spanish word sorts I use (HERE). If you find that some of your students are struggling with letter sounds, try my Spanish Letter Sounds Intervention Pack. It comes with instructions for using the materials for an interactive, engaging interventions. And the printable sheets require no prep!
One other note about teaching letter sounds – I always teach them before teaching letter names. Although I do begin to use the letter names after a couple of months, I’ve found that starting with letter sounds enables kids to begin reading and writing more quickly than does teaching them the letter names.
Teaching Open Syllables (Sílabas Abiertas)
Once students are comfortable with many of the letter sounds, we move on to open syllables with a consonant-vowel pattern, like ma, pe, si, or tu. Something I learned from the Estrellita program is that it can be helpful to teach students multiple syllables with a single vowel, rather than the usual ma me mi mo mu pattern. For example, I teach students ma, pa, sa, and la in one week. Once I’ve taught all the sílabas con a, I move on to sílabas con e. I haven’t read any research about which way is “better” – I think just comes down to personal preference. I always try to help my students connect syllable learning to reading and writing real words. Here are some of the activities I use to students open syllables and words with open syllables:
- Picture sorts – Just like with letter sounds, I use these to give students practice with sorting and writing words that have the syllables we’re studying.
- “Touch and say” blending sheets – Sometimes students struggle with orally blending letters into syllables and syllables into words (i.e. they may read “so….pa” and say “pa” or “sapa” or “sopo” or something completely different from “sopa”). When I see this happening frequently, I give students practice with oral blending – no letters involved. Watch the video below to see how I use the “touch and say” blending sheet to have students practice blending sounds and syllables (this sheet is included in your free phonics download):
- Breaking apart words with magnetic letters – I have students read and make words with open syllables. Having them physically break apart a word into its syllables has been very helpful in getting them to decode simple words!
- Escaleras de fluidez – Reading in Spanish requires fast syllable processing. If students take a long time reading syllables, they may need some practice in this area in order to improve their fluency, decoding, and comprehension. My Escaleras de fluidez are a quick and easy way to give students more practice reading syllables. Students practice reading a syllable “ladder” until they are able to read it in a certain amount of time. They progress through different levels, starting with open syllables, then words with 2 open syllables, and on up.
- Building words with open syllables – I have my students engage in different independent activities to give them practice with building and reading words with open syllables. My free phonics toolkit comes with some syllable puzzles that students can use to practice word-building.
- Writing words with open syllables – Writing is sooo good for developing phonological awareness and syllable knowledge in Spanish! My kids love using spelling cards to practice writing words. They can either write the words out or spell them using magnetic letters. The cards progress in difficulty, so you can have students begin with simple words that have 2 open syllables, and then work their way on up. Click HERE for the 2 syllable word cards, and HERE for the 3 syllable word cards.
Teaching Syllables with Blends (Sílabas Trabadas)
Once students have mastered many open syllables, we move on to syllables and words with blends. When I’m getting ready to make the transition from open syllables to syllables with blends, I start having them blend sounds orally. For example, I might say /b/ /r/ /i/, and then the kids say “bri.” I also ask them to think of words that have that syllable (like “brisa”).
I use many of the same activities to teach syllables with blends that I mentioned above (with open syllables). Picture sorts are great, as are breaking apart words with magnetic letters. My Escaleras de fluidez include practice with blends and words with blends:
My word cards also include practice with blends (some samples of these are included in the free download, or you can get the complete set HERE.
Teaching Closed Syllables (Sílabas Cerradas)
Next, we move on to closed syllables. There are different types of closed syllables, like “im” in “imposible” or “son” in “sonrisa.” These can be tricky when students are used to reading syllables that end in a vowel!
Not to sound like a broken record, but many of the same activities I’ve mentioned work well for teaching closed syllables! Magnetic letters are great for giving students practice with breaking up words and learning that not all syllables have 2 letters.
My Escaleras de fluidez and syllable writing cards give students practice with closed syllables, too. The free Spanish phonological awareness and phonics toolkit (sign up below) contains some sample materials from both of these products.
Although teaching phonics in Spanish is slightly different from teaching phonics in English, many of the same principles apply. You’ll want to use a defined scope and sequence, provide many opportunities for practice, and always connect phonics learning to real reading and writing.
Do you have any additional activities that you use to teach Spanish phonics? Please comment below – I’d love to hear from you!