How to Teach Consonants Quickly

If you have limited time with older emergent students (grade 4-adult) then this technique is for you! Teaching grapheme-phoneme connections (letter-sound correspondence) can be time consuming when using the traditional alphabet chart. ABCs are great for teaching the names and the order of letters, but they are not organized for teaching the letter sounds. Teaching consonants can be done quickly and efficiently when they are divided into four groups.

Older emergent newcomers who are non-literate or preliterate often struggle with making letter-sound connections. They can get overwhelmed when trying to learn 26 phonemes at one time. When the consonants are divided into smaller, manageable groups, English learners can focus on a fewer letter sounds and learn quickly.

The first consonant group says its sound at the beginning of its name. (/b/ Bb, /k/ Kk).  Begin by clarifying that students should focus on two things: the NAME and the SOUND of the letter. The picture helps to remind them of the name and sound. Introduce each letter in the group. Ask the students for several examples of words that begin with that sound. (T /t/ table, take, talk, two, today, Tuesday, turn, Tarik, etc.) Soon your students will know the first eight consonants. This process may take 1 day to one week depending on the literacy and age of the student. Preliterate students generally learn much quicker than non-literate students. Once this first set of consonants is learned, students gain confidence and are eager to learn more.

In addition to reviewing the group of consonants, you may want to focus on one letter per day to reinforce learning, Worksheets with pictures and minimal writing are helpful. Making a collage of photos or drawing pictures for each letter is another fun activity to reinforce learning and vocabulary.

If you have taught some vowels, you make words with learned consonants and practice sounding them out. This skill is must be demonstrated, practiced, and reinforced. Many non-literate and preliterate students find sounding out words strange.

The second consonant group says its sound at the end of the its name. (Rr /r/, Ll /l/). Sounds at the end can be difficult for students to hear and distinguish at first. Hold the final sound for a couple seconds to emphasize it. Once students have adjusted to hearing final sounds, these seven consonants are quickly learned. Continue to ask for several examples of words beginning with the sound and doing reinforcement activities. Connecting sounds to known words helps reinforce acquisition and retention. This group usually takes a little longer to learn than the beginning sound consonants.

Student contributions like saying "cookie" for the letter "K" or "phone" for the letter "f" should be praised because the student is hearing the sound correctly. You may or may not choose to mention that hard "C" makes the same sound as "K" and "PH" has the same sound as "F".

The third consonant group has letters that make two sounds or their names do not give any clue of their sound. These phonemes are more challenging. Hard and soft "c" and "g" are included in this group. The rule for hard and soft sounds may be mentioned, but the focus is on learning the two sounds. "H" is merely a breath without a sound. Emphasize that "Q" never stands alone in English, It is always "QU" and it is a blend pronounced as /kw/.  "Q" can be used by itself in other languages and is pronounced as /k /(quiche, Qatar, Iraq).

Lastly, the consonant teams (digraphs) are introduced. English is a language of patterns and includes both consonant and vowel teams. Consonant teams fall into two categories. 

  • Different sound from its letters: th, sh, ch, ph, ng, tch, gh, and dge
  • Reduced to one sound: wh, wr, kn, and ck

Don't be surprised that most students are unable to pronounce the "TH" sound. Most languages do not contain /th/ and students often struggle to hear and pronounce it. (Arabic contains both voiced and unvoiced "TH" sounds.)

Consonant  teams can be found in the beginning, middle, and end of words. Some are found only at the beginning of words like "wr" and "kn". Others are only at the end of words like "ck", "tch", and "dge". Using examples of words will help students recognize the sounds and patterns.

Happy Teaching!

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