I love when the first graders are ready to begin learning about more sophisticated letter combinations, like /sh/, /ow/, /ar/, /oo/, etc. I call them "Super Sounds" because the letters work together to make just one sound... and so they're super. This is the right time of the year for many kids because they're starting to see these combinations in the leveled books they're reading and they need to recognize them quickly as chunks so they can process text efficiently. For example, when a child sees the word shout in a book, I'm hoping he'll notice the /sh/ super sound (or chunk) and the /ou/ super sound. (Better yet, I hope he notices the little word out in that word... that's efficient decoding.) We have fun trying to use the strategy of Stretchy Snake with words like shout and we talk about how Stretchy Snake doesn't always work, especially as our books get a little harder. If a child tries to sound out each letter in a word like shout, think of how that would sound... /s/ /h/ /o/ /u/ /t/. The kids love how silly that sounds and it's a playful way to show how we can't rely on just one decoding strategy. (If you're familiar with the Beanie Baby strategies, these super sounds work really well with the strategy of Chunky Monkey.)
In the past, I've challenged the children to find pictures in magazines that represent the super sounds, but that isn't as easy as it sounds. This year, I gave each team a super sound and challenged them to look through their leveled books and work together to write as many words as they could find with that super sound. I had them divide their paper into thirds, with one part for beginning, one part for middle, and one part for end. It was important for them to realize that the super sound could be in any of those positions in a word. For example, the /th/ sound is in the beginning of Thor, the middle of mother, and the end of tooth. The next day, they worked together to illustrate each word and make a teaching poster to use when presenting (and teaching) their super sound to the rest of the class.
The teams take ownership in their particular super sound and we've hung them in a prominent spot in the classroom so they can be seen and, more importantly, used by everyone when reading and writing.