How to Teach Students to Sound out a Word

Stretching the sounds and blending them, aka sounding it out, is a go-to strategy for helping students decode. It’s the oldest reading strategy in the book, but perhaps still the most important.

If you’re familiar with my reading strategy resources, you’ll know I use fun characters and interactive PowerPoints to teach decoding strategies and follow up with meaningful activities for practice. 

I’ll show you step-by-step how to teach students to sound out a word. Even if you don’t use my Stretchy Snake resource, I’ll give you ideas to help teach this essential decoding skill. 

Sounding it out is probably the oldest reading strategy, but still the most important! Students need to read through the whole word to make sure decoding is accurate. Read this post for how I use Stretchy Snake to help kids learn to sound out words in kindergarten and first grade.


Step 1: Engage and Relate!

Kids love animals, so engage them with a twisty paper snake! You can make a very simple one by cutting a paper in a swirl-like motion, like the picture below. I have the little snake heads in my resource for you to use, or you can draw your own.

Stretch out the snake to see how long it can be, then coil it up again. Relate this to reading a new word. First, say and stretch the sounds in the word, then blend them and say the word quickly. Model with the snake, reading a few words you’ve written on the board. It helps to start with words that begin with continuous sounds, or sounds that can be extended, like /m/, /s/, and /r/. For example mat, sip, red.

Step 2: Model with a Sentence

Introduce Stretchy Snake (if you have a snake plush, it’s a bit more fun!) and tell children that he will teach them a reading strategy today. 

Model reading a sentence and stopping to sound out a word or two. The image below is a slide from the interactive PowerPoint in my resource. 

When you get to the word, pause and think aloud,

“Hmm, that’s a tricky word I don’t know. Stretchy Snake says stretch out the sounds, then blend. /ssssssss-aaaaaaaaa-t/, sat!”

Reread the sentence, then show the picture to confirm. (The sentence appears alone and the picture appears on your click).

Step 3: Guided Practice

Practice more sentences together, asking students to do the work of sounding out. 

If you are using a big book, cover the pictures with a sheet of paper and reveal after reading the sentences. 

Try to use sentences with words that include phonics skills you have covered in your class, so students can have success using this strategy. My PowerPoint has 3 levels of sentences so you can differentiate based on your students’ needs. 

Step 3: Independent Practice

After introducing the strategy, have kids take out their own books to read. Give them a Stretchy Snake certificate or a post-it note for them to jot a word that they were able to read using the strategy. 

I model reading a big book and filling out the certificate before I hand them out.

I include 4 decodable mini-books in my resource and I love that students don’t see the pictures until they turn each page. This ensures that they will try the strategy rather than just look at the pictures.

Decodable Mini-books. Students read a page, then turn for the picture to check their reading.

If students struggle with this strategy, prompt with more specific language. For example:

  • Point to each letter and say its sound. 
  • Say each sound slowly.
  • Try to stretch out the sound until you start the next sound.
  • Point to the first letter again and say the sounds faster.
  • Say the sounds quickly to say the word.

Follow-up Activities

Follow up with a little song or poem to help kids remember the strategy, as well as activities during centers and small-group reading.

Each of my strategies has a song to familiar tunes, and tons of practice activities, in both printable and digital forms. 

Here are some more activities we do. 

Stretchy Snake Cut & Paste Pages

Stretchy Snake Reading Cards

Students read the word, then open to see the picture and check their reading.

Stretchy Snake Task Cards

These are a task card version if you prefer to fit them into a photo box. These are double-sided, with the picture on the back.

Skills range from CVC, VCE, blends, digraphs, and multisyllabic words.

Digital Activities Included

I’ve added three digital activities to this bundle, in Google Slides format. These are easy to use on your interactive whiteboard or assign to your students during centers or virtual learning.

Display and Reference Often

Make an anchor chart with this strategy and display it as a reference. You can grab free bookmarks and anchor chart pieces below!

It’s important to remind your students to check for comprehension. Tell them they should always ask themselves if their reading makes sense. And if it doesn’t go back and try the word again, maybe with a different strategy.

Grab these FREE reading strategy bookmarks below.

You can do the above activities with your own classroom materials, but if you want a done-for-you resource to save time, check out my Stretchy Snake or Reading Strategies Bundle!

For more tips on teaching your students how to decode, read these posts:

Step-by-Step Decoding

Tips for Helping Students Become Flexible Readers

How to Teach the Chunky Monkey Strategy

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