Here is another way I teach beginner readers to learn how to work with sounds before letters.
Young students grasp shorter sounds easier than longer sounds. Short sounds are in many of the first words they will learn to read, so I work with those first. Short O's and short A's are also easier than short I's or short e's.
Choose which vowel (a's or o's...you can introduce i's and e's after they master these ones) you would like to work with and add any consonant sound (single consonants or digraph consonant sounds) to it.VC Examples: op, ot, osh, och, om, and ak, ath, af, ab
Give each student a small ball of playdoh. Ask them not to touch it until you tell them to.
You say your letter combination or "fake word" and ask your students to copy you.
Then have them say it slowly, really stretching out the sounds so that your students have the chance to hear the sounds separately.
Ask them to tell you how many sounds they hear.
Have them tear their ball of playdoh into as many pieces as they hear. In this case, it should be only 2 sounds.
Have them touch the first piece of playdoh as they say the first sound.
Then have them touch the second piece of playdoh as they say the second sound.
They will then blend the sounds together as they squish the pieces of playdoh together to make words.
As they are comfortable with this concept, have them try the same activity, this time, have them do the activity with consonants first and vowels second.
CV Examples: po, cho, to, so and ka, tha, fa, na
It may help to have students use a mat like this. Click on the picture to get your free copy. Laminate the sheet so the playdough can be placed in the boxes as you do this activity. The playdough sits in the top box as you begin the activity. Have the students place their playdough pieces in each of the two middle boxes for the sounds they hear. When they blend the word back together, they can place it in the final box. Since the paper is to be laminated, you can use whiteboard markers and even have the students spell the sounds as they hear them and learn to blend them later.
P.S. Click on the heart to check out a post at The Organized Classroom Blog. I am truly working to do my best to provide lots of useful tried and true educational activities to other teachers and educators!