3 Quick & Easy Ways to Stretch Sounds in Maternelle
If you teach a primary grade, you know that in order to learn to read, our students NEED to learn how to decode, and blend letter sounds together to make words.
Reading is like an orchestra, with a bunch of factors working altogether, but it’s pretty clear that if a student can’t stretch out sounds and stick them together to form words, they aren’t going to get very far.
Blending sounds is a skill that our students will need to be explicitly taught.
If we want them to be successful, we will also need to give them a LOT of opportunities to practice.
Even if your students can say each letter sound, it’s putting them TOGETHER to make a word that can be tricky for them.
If a student sees the word « va » in their book, for example, and they say « vvvvvv, aaaaa », but then can’t stick the sounds together and know that the word is « va », their decoding is not serving its purpose.
As with any skill, practice makes progress… so you’ll want to make sure you’re giving your students plenty of practice stretching sounds and then putting them back together to make words!
They will need to practice over and over so that it becomes natural for them to hear the sounds that they are saying, remember what they are and the order they said them in, and turn them into a word that makes sense.
With my students, I like to do lots of sound stretching practice orally, withOUT letters, to start.
This is really important!!
We (and parents!!) are often so excited to get students to start “sounding it out” that we forget to lay the foundation first. But the foundation is SO important!!!
In this blog post, I’ll share three quick & easy ways to sneak in some important sound stretching practice!
1. Using slinkies
Slinkies are super fun for maternelle students, and really up the engagement for sound stretching!
To use slinkies, you say a word that has 2+ sounds (you’ll want to start small and build up to words with more sounds).
Have your students repeat the word, s-l-o-w-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y, stretching out each sound as long as they can.
They will want to rush! I have been known to give a sticker to the student who says it the slowest, just to make my point that slower = better (and I give them all a sticker for their hard word at the end, of course!).
Slinkies make this practice a little more fun and really give a visual to stretching out the word.
They also really help your students pay attention to the individual sounds in each word.
My students will often rush the first sound, and then slow down for the subsequent sounds. If this happens, I get them to start over and stretch out the first sound, too. We want them to hear ALL the sounds!
You can also use elastic bands, rubber tubing, or resistance bands if you don’t have slinkies. My slinkies are inexpensive plastic ones that I found at Walmart in the party supplies section.
You can get the rubber tubing pictured below on Amazon (*here is an affiliate link*). It works great too, and easier storage for a class set if you want to practice as a group!
Once the word has been stretched out, have your students snap the slinky back and say the word at normal speed. Example: « vvvvvvv-aaaaa-cccchhhheeee, « vache! ».
That part is REALLY important – you want to make sure that your students are practicing putting the word back together… that’s what they will need to do when they are reading!
This activity is a great warm-up. It’s like stretching your muscles before you exercise!
Even if you teach older primary students, you can still do it.
To give them an extra challenge, you can have them think about the letters that make the sounds they are saying and move the slinky around to show what they know.
For example, if they were doing the word « balle », they would say « bbbbb (hold the slinkie above their heads to show that b is a tall letter), aaaaa (hold the slinkie at waist level) lllllllll (lift the slinkie back up above their head).
If they did a word with a sound represented by a letter with a « tail » (like g, j, y), they would hold the slinky down by their feet. You could have another movement that represents a « son composé ».
2. Using jetons and Elkonin boxes
The second thing you can try is using jetons (bingo chips work great!) and Elkonin boxes.
For these, you will need to draw a square box for each sound in the word you are going to say.
You can draw them on a whiteboard, tape them on a whiteboard, print out a table in Powerpoint, or just draw it on a piece of paper. Keep it simple!
(If you’re not exactly sure what I mean, if you Google “Elkonin boxes”, you’ll be able to see what they look like!)
I use the snake mats from my Lecture guidée en maternelle resource as Elkonin boxes, but before I had just made some with washi tape on cardstock – a few for words with 2 sounds, 3 sounds, and 4 sounds that I could use over and over.
To keep us organized, I do words with the same number of phonemes on the same day. So, if we were doing words with 2 phonemes that day, I would just need to give each student a mat with two boxes.
To use the boxes, you will say a word with the correct number of phonemes, and your students will slide one jeton for each sound into each box.
So if you said the word « chat », your students would slide the first jeton into the first box (left to right) and say « ch », and then they would slide the second jeton up into the second box and say « a ».
Again, it’s so important to also make sure that they say the whole word, all the sounds together, once they are done: chat. This is to get them into the habit of blending sounds back together after they segment. We don’t want them to be reading like « chhhhhhaaaaaa » – we want them to self-correct and say « chat »!
Using magnetic bingo chips & wands
Once your students are à l’aise with the Elkonin boxes, stretching their sounds out accurately, and sliding the jetons into the boxes with each sound, you can kick it up a notch to keep their engagement high!
These are basically Elkonin boxes, but with a fun little twist!
We do these once my students have practice a lot with the regular boxes – otherwise, the wands and bingo chips can be very distracting and my students don’t actually end up practicing what they need to practice.
Remember – in maternelle, we need to start small and build gradually if we want to see success!
For this resource, I have also included 2- and 3-phoneme word cards for you to use. That way, you don’t have to remember a list of words with the target number of phonemes, or come up with them on the spot.
The cards also make the activity feel more like a game!
To play, I set my students up with their snake mats with the target number of boxes and one magnetic jeton underneath each box.
They know not to touch their jetons until it’s time. If they don’t listen, they lose their jetons and they have to pretend ;)
I get a student to draw a card, and then we say what the object is out loud a few times.
Then, I ask them to say it again, really s-l-o-w-l-y. And again!
Finally, I model for them sliding one jeton for each sound.
Then it’s their turn to try.
Some students will need a lot of tries! It’s important that you make sure they are doing the sounds correctly.
You can do hand-over-hand if they need help with their jetons matching the sounds their mouths are making.
For some students, it can take a LOT of practice before they are segmenting their sounds correctly. But, it is IMPORTANT practice.
Segmenting sounds incorrectly isn’t helpful. If it takes a student 5 tries to get it right, get them to try 5 times.
If a student is really struggling, you can take it down to one sound and one jeton and then build. It happens!
With practice, your students will get better and better, and hopefully, you eventually won’t have to model each time. But, as soon as someone segments incorrectly, model the correct way, and have them try again.
If you add the magnetic bingo chips and wand, it makes blending the sounds back together again a bit more fun, and helps reinforce directionality.
After your students have segmented and moved their jetons, get them to say the whole word, with the sounds back together again, while sweeping their wand left to right over their snake mat.
The magnetic bingo chips will hop up and stick to the wand – magic! Just like how we stick sounds together to make words.
Of course, the magnetic magic isn’t necessary for great practice. But, it can keep your students excited and engaged when it comes to learning how to segment and blend sounds. They’re pretty cool! :)
Here is an “in action” video. Just ignore the student trying to get my attention, haha!! Life in maternelle ;)
Practice makes progress
Remember, practice makes progress!
If we want our students to become strong decoders who hear and understand the words that they are reading, we need to be sure to give them lots and lots of practice à l’orale, without letters, first.