Sounds of S

The letter S the sound of /s/ makes when you see snakes. Hear the sound of /z/ when your nose smells a rose. Letter s is one of the consonants that vary.

s = /s/ at the beginning of words: sand, sell, sip, soft, sun. It is also the sound of /s/ in beginning s blends: scuff, smell, sniff, spill, stop, swim.

s at the end of words can be either /s/ or /z/: cats /s/ and dogs /z/ need baths /s/ with suds /z/. Understanding voiced or unvoiced consonants can help when s comes after a consonant. Consonants that are voiced make a vibration in the throat which can be felt. Consonants that are unvoiced are quieter and no vibration is felt.

After letters made with a hiss or puff of air, the soft sound of /s/ is often there. In these examples s follows unvoiced consonants f, t, k, p, and th: puffs, cups, cats, sacks, paths.

After letters that make the throat buzz, the sound of /z/ is often what s does. In these examples s follows voiced consonants b, d, g, v, l, m, n, r: jobs, nods, dogs, stoves, files, rooms, pens, stars.

After vowels, sometimes s = /s/

The -ss ending flossy words above have the sound of /s/.

More words with the /s/ sound after a vowel: Fill this bus with gas.

After vowels, sometimes s = /z/

Here are some words where s = /z/ after a vowel: It is easy for boys to choose toys.

When a plural -es is added to words that end with  -sh, -ch, /s/, -x, /z/, and /j/, the sound is /iz/ like in dishes, matches, classes, faces, horses, boxes, buzzes and judges.

When you sure like sugar and tissue, you hear that s can also = /sh/.

WATCH the Phonics Focus video on the sounds of s at Youtube. (5:04)

WATCH videos and PLAY online games at the Consonants That Vary tutorial at Wakelet. Some online games require flash, which is no longer supported after 12/31/2020. Learn more at The End of Flash.

Letter S is covered in Consonants that vary (IV.c) in the Phonics Pow Toolkit with a worksheet and gameboard. Learn how to get a free set of word sort games that includes the two sounds of s. A free word sort game for the letter S is available at the Super Tutor Tools store at Teachers Pay Teachers.

Word Sort Games


This set of word sort games designed to go along with the Phonics Pow Toolkit is available as a free download. (link below) Word sorts are a tool for teaching reading skills that have been shown to be effective. We’ve got you covered! Print on cardstock, cut out, store in zip-lock bags, and play while learning.


Fill the phonogram card with one word card of each pattern for a quick game (player who fills card first wins), or use all the word cards for a longer game (player with the most word cards wins). Mix skip (the turn is skipped if drawn) and swipe (player can take a word card from the other player) cards in with word cards to add fun. POW!

See an index of all the sorts included. Check out the Phonics Pow Toolkit and get your free Word Sort Games!

The Schwa Sound

SchwaSymbolChairBe Aware of Schwa:

Schwa is often a light “uh” sound that can be made by any vowel. It is the most common sound in the English language. It is often found in unstressed syllables, and very similar to a short u, but is softer and weaker.


The Schwa sound is often found in words with more than one syllable, so it is included at the end of the Phonics Pow Toolkit. (V.c) However, it is a good idea to introduce it earlier as Schwa can be found in some one syllable words like: the, a, was, and of.

The sled was a lot of fun.

Hear the Schwa sound in these one syllable words with the letter o: My son won a ton of money a month from the lottery. At the end of the Silent e section (III.a) there are activities with words that have the Schwa sound (some love gloves).


Extra Attention to A Schwa

Any vowel can make the Schwa sound: zebra, open, pencil, lemon, and butter. But let’s give a little extra attention to the letter A, which can make the Schwa sound at the beginning of some words like aware. Play an online word search game with words where the letter a makes the Schwa sound at the beginning.

The letter a can make the Schwa sound at the end of some words like extra.

The letter a can also sometimes make the Schwa sound in the middle of words like: alphabet, amazon, elephant.

Practice words that have an A Schwa with a set of resource that includes a handout, worksheet, and nice dice practice. Now available at the Super Tutor Tools store at Teachers Pay Teachers.

More Resources

PLAY A free printable Sheriff Schwa Worksheet from and Schwa maze at Pizza! Pizza! printable schwa game from the literacy nest. Online Quiz at purposegames.


Super Tutor Tools store at Teachers Pay Teachers: Schwa Word Sort and free Schwa Word Treasure game.

Note: read about short U & the schwa sound at the challengeoflearningUSEnglish

Open and Closed Syllables


Syllables are simple, one for every vowel sound, so there are lots of syllables around. You can clap or tap, or feel your mouth drop! Hearing syllables is a part of phonemic awareness that can be practiced with a syllable sort mat and animal flashcards.

Open and Closed Syllables



When a vowel is followed by at least one consonant, it is closed in. It often makes a short sound, as in pin. (the vowel stops short)


A vowel is open with no consonant behind. Open syllables are often long, you will find. (the vowel can go long)

Advanced phonics patterns are more powerful and follow their own guidelines: “car” makes a new sound because of Bossy R,  and so does “loud” because of the Diphthong. “Cake” and “team” both have long vowel sounds because of Silent e and Vowel Teams. WATCH this video from Jessie Ketchum.

WATCH videos and PLAY online games at the Open and Closed Syllable tutorial at Wakelet.

Some online games require flash, which is no longer supported after 12/31/2020. Learn more at The End of Flash

Examples of words with open and closed syllables at sightwordgames.

Syllable Division


WATCH videos and play games at the Syllable Division tutorial at Wakelet

Open & Closed Vowels in Two Syllable Words


After learning about how to divide syllables, notice that two syllable words with one middle consonant can divide after the first vowel. This leaves the first syllable open, which often has the long vowel sound. Examples: pa|per, be|gin, ti|ger, ro|bot, mu|sic. Note that there are exceptions: about 40% of the time the word splits after the middle consonant, making the first syllable closed and short. Examples: cam|el, ped|al, vis|it, rob|in. Learn more at More Ways Vowels Can Be Long.

Consonant Digraphs


Digraphs are a pair of letters representing one sound. The consonant digraphs that make new sounds are CH, SH, TH, WH + NG.

Consonant Digraphs may be introduced after learning about Blends, using words with short vowels. Many words with consonant digraphs have more advanced vowel patterns, which can be introduced as the patterns are learned. Download a free Consonant Digraph Word List with Bookmarks at the Super Tutor Tools store at Teachers Pay Teachers. Practice words with short vowels and a consonant digraph with an online wordsearch.

WATCH videos and play online games at the Consonant Digraph tutorial at Wakelet. WATCH  more videos from Kids vs Phonics: CH (1:38) SH (1:28) TH (1:53) TH-Hard (1:42) WH (1:34) & NG (2:02). PLAY more online games from Literactive:  Whale gameCrab Catcher game, NG: Hula Pool & Gopher game.

Some online games require flash, which is no longer supported after 12/31/2020. Learn more at The End of Flash.  

LISTEN and play Digraphs at Quizlet

NG as in Sing

Elvis Presley was known as the King of Rock & Roll. He liked to wear rings when he sang. His longest song was “Suspicious Minds” (7:14) On Nov. 1, 1969, it reached number one on Billboard’s Hot 100.

TH can be voiceless or voiced

In some words, the th makes a vibration or voiced sound. At the beginning of words: this, that, them, than, then. In the middle of words: father, mother, brother. At the end of some verbs: smooth, bathe, breathe.

In other words, the th is a quieter or voiceless sound. At the beginning of words: thin, thick, thud, thumb. Or at the end of words: bath, math, with, cloth. In the middle of some words: ethics, method, lethal.

READ the Pattern – Digraph Sentences from READ Books: by author Brian Cleary: “Whose Shoes Would You Choose?” “The Thing on the Wing Can Sing” and “Spring in the Kingdom of Ying”


PLAY Roll, Read, & Keep -free at Teachers Pay Teachers. Mix BAM & SWIPE cards in with consonant digraph flashcards from

More consonant digraph resources:

PLAY a Printable Game from the Measured Mom, a Digraph Picture Sort from Thisreadingmama, a word sort game for NG from Science Is For Kids, an H Brothers Poster from thewisenest.

A Digraph Word Sort and story and Bossy R and Consonant Digraph Soccer Sort Game are also available at the Super Tutor Tools Store at Teachers Pay Teachers.

Consonant Digraphs with familiar sounds

  • CK = /k/ at the end of one syllable words with short vowels like duck.
  • PH = /f/ in some words like phone. Learn more at Fall for Phonics.
  • GH can vary. GH = /f/ as in laugh, or /g/ as in ghost. Sometimes the letters GH are silent as in light. The letters GH are enough /f/ to make you sigh (silent), aren’t they just ghastly /g/? Learn more at a Ghost With a Slight Cough Gave a Great Fright.

-tch ending

The /ch/ sound immediately after a short vowel in a one syllable word is often spelled with -tch. Learn more at Catch the Pitch.

Some words have both a Silent e vowel and consonant digraphs. Practice these with activities at Chase the Sheep. Some words have both a Bossy R vowel and consonant digraphs. Practice these with activities at Shark Chart. Some words have both a vowel combination (diphthong or vowel team) and consonant digraphs. Practice these with activities at Smooth Beach.