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Teaching the Articulatory Features of the Consonants, Part 1

All students need to know the relationship of the consonant and vowel sounds and the letters that represent them. (Sound-symbol correspondences) Many of the students who struggle to learn these paired associations also have phonological and phonemic awareness challenges which makes learning the paired associations of letters and sounds challenging.

Teaching the articulation features of the consonants and vowels as well as the linguistic labels for the letters, single consonants or vowels, consonant digraphs and vowel digraphs and diphthongs aids all students in learning the sounds and letters and talking about them clearly.


This week when I asked a fourth-grade student to name the different types of letters in the alphabet, consonants and vowels, she stated that the consonants were A, E, I, O, U. Obviously, her teacher had taught her these terms, consonants and vowels, but the student did not learn the information correctly.


For her to define these terms in greater depth, we talked about consonants being closed phonemes or sounds. The reason that consonants are named closed phonemes is that some part of the mouth, the lips, tongue, or teeth narrow or restrict the air flow and the result is that some consonants emit a ball or puff of air (plosives) when we pronounce them, /p/, /t/ are examples of plosives and some consonants emit a continual stream of air (continuals) /f/, /sh/, /th/, are examples of continuals, and some consonants pass the air through the nose instead of the mouth (nasals) /m/, /n/, /-ng/. We also talked about the fact that all consonants are either voiced or unvoiced and I taught her a way to feel that by putting her hand on her voice box or covering her ears and saying a consonant sound.


This chart is used to make these ideas clearer.



Then this student and I did a few examples together using the sounds /b/, /k/, /f/, /sh/. I asked her the following questions to help her locate where on the chart she would write each of the letters (graphemes) that corresponded with the sounds, the part of her mouth she was using to pronounce the sounds, and the quality of the air:


· What part of your mouth are you using to pronounce this sound, your lips or your tongue?

· The front of your tongue or the back of your tongue?

· Is your tongue inside or sticking out of your mouth, behind your teeth, or in the back of your mouth?

· Is the air plosive or continual? Is the air coming out in a puff or a stream?

· Is this consonant voiced or unvoiced?


Her homework was to go through the consonants in the alphabet and place them on the chart.


I hope you and your students will enjoy this exploration together.

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