Teaching CVC Words: Step-by-Step Guide

Teaching students how to read is arguably one of the most important tasks of educators. Although most of us would love for our children to ultimately love reading, we want at the very least for them to be proficient readers. This is because literacy is one of the core foundations of effective communication.

We all know that effective communication skills are valued in every facet of life: professional, social, and personal. Thus our children’s personal success in life will hinge in part upon their reading ability. Literacy education is very important indeed!

If you need help in assessing your child’s reading ability or developing an individualized reading curriculum, Mastery Genius is a great resource that provides both assessment and curriculum design with your child’s specific needs in mind.

What Is the Best Approach to Teaching Reading Skills?

There are two major philosophies of literacy education: the phonics method vs. the whole-language method. What are these two approaches?

The phonics method teaches reading skills by teaching individual sounds and then progressing to blending those sounds together to pronounce a word. Students can then use these skills to “decode” whole words into their respective sounds and blends as they learn to read.

The whole-language method focuses more on learning whole words based on clues, such as pictures or other nearby words that are already known. Breaking a word down into individual sounds is not emphasized.

It would be difficult to find an education researcher that would commit to endorsing a “best” approach to literacy instruction. However, current research seems to point to the need for reading curriculums to at least include phonics methods (see this article in Education Week). It is important to note that opting for a phonics-centered reading curriculum does not preclude whole-language methods, but rather relegates them to a supplemental role in the curriculum.

What Are CVC Words?

Three-letter words with a consonant-vowel-consonant pattern, like cat (c-a-t) or dog (d-o-g) are called CVC words. In this pattern, the vowel is a short sound.

Skills Needed First

Since teaching CVC words involves the practice of blending individual sounds, the individual sounds of the alphabet (phonemes) must be learned first. However, you can start teaching some CVC words before the entire alphabet of sounds is learned, as long as you stick with the sounds that the student already knows. The student must also have mastered the short vowel sounds.

To Each His Own

Since the student can still be learning the alphabet sounds and only needs to grasp short vowel sounds in order to begin learning CVC words, you can introduce this reading concept very early on. While you may find suggestions of age or grade level to introduce CVC words, the important thing is to move at the child’s own pace. Avoiding frustration in the early stages of reading is of utmost importance in maintaining the child’s confidence level and likelihood of future success.

How to Teach CVC Words

In this section below we are going to cover the three steps to teaching CVC words. Make sure you keep reading to see exactly how each step can be executed the right way.

  1. Phonetic Introduction
  2. Fun Practice
  3. Avoiding Common Pitfalls

1. Phonetic Introduction

Example: Teaching the word “dog”

Sound out individual letters

Show a visual of the three letters, spaced out. The visuals can be simple (written on a board or paper) or purchased (magnets or printed cards). Focus first on sounding out the individual sound of each letter.

Saying the sound of a letter is indicated by placing the letter between forward slashes. For example, saying the sound of the letter d is written as /d/.

Use indicators to track progress, like placing a manipulative under each letter as the sound is made, or just pointing to each letter as the sound is made. We will just mention pointing for now.

The student sees:

  • d o g

You say:

  • /d/ /ŏ/ /g/

Point to each letter as the sound is made. Encourage the student to say the sound with you as you point to each letter.

Blend the sounds of the first two letters

Move the first two letters closer together (by either erasing and re-writing, or moving the visuals closer together). Sound out each individual letter of the first two sounds, but progressively shorten the pause between each sound until you are saying the blended sound.

The student sees:

  • do g

You say:

  • /d/ /ŏ/
  • /d/ /ŏ/
  • /dŏ/

Point to each letter as you make the sound, finally pointing to the blend as you make the blended sound. You may slide your finger from the “d” to the “o” as you indicate the blended sound. Again, encourage the student to say the sounds with you as you point.

You could also begin by blending the sounds of the last two letters and then combining with the first letter sound in the next step. However, this may be confusing to some students since the skill of reading progresses from left to right.

Combine the blended sound with the last letter sound

Move the visual of the last letter closer to the pair of first two letters. Sound out the blend and then sound out the last letter, progressively shortening the pause between sounds until the word is being pronounced fluidly.

The student sees:

  • d o g

You say:

  • /dŏ/ /g/
  • /dŏ//g/
  • /dŏg/

Point to indicate progress as before, encouraging the student to say the sounds along with you.

Show a picture to demonstrate the word.

Why save the picture till the end?

  • Saving the picture till after the word is read can help ensure that the student is actually learning how to combine sounds and not just saying the word because they can identify the picture.
  • Showing a picture at the end of the instruction time is like a reward for a job well done. The child worked hard to read the word, so now a picture of the word is revealed!

2. Fun Practice

There are lots of great ideas out there to practice reading CVC words. Just have fun with it and don’t get too overwhelmed. Remember, if you’re having fun, the child is more likely to have fun too! Here are just a few examples, inspired by ideas from Wordwall and Thrive Literacy Corner:

Circle the letter that makes the sound

The student looks at the complete CVC word. Say one of the phonemes and ask the student to circle which letter makes that sound.


  • c a t

Say /t/ and then ask the student to circle which letter makes that sound.

Fill in the letter

A CVC word has one letter missing (vary between the first, middle, and last sound). Say the word and have the student try to fill in the letter of the missing sound.


  • c__t

Say the word “cat” and ask the student to fill in the missing letter. Repeat the word as needed.

Picture Flip

Make or purchase cards that have a CVC word on one side and a picture of that word on the other side. Lay out the cards word-side up. Have students sound out the word on the card then flip over to see if the picture matches the pronounced word. Alternatively, have the other side be blank and let the student draw his own picture on the back of the card.


Have a list of CVC words and a column of pictures. Match each picture to the correct CVC word.


Have the student replace one of the letters and then read the new CVC word. You could guide the substitution, or have more advanced students try to come up with their own substitution.


  • cat
  • __at

Say: For the second word, change the “c” to an “h.” Can you say the new word?

Or say: Can you pick a new letter to make a different word? Can you say your new word?

Write the word

Have the student write an entire word as prompted by a picture. Provide blanks for each letter so the student will know that the word is only three letters. It’s ok to also say the word if the student isn’t sure what the picture represents.

Avoiding Common Mistakes When Teaching CVC Words

  • Choose CVC words that are simple to understand.
  • Children will know what simple nouns mean and have fun drawing or viewing pictures of them as a supplement to the lesson. Yet some CVC words, like “bog,” are not easily understood by a child, and can be either a noun or a verb. You don’t want to have to explain that a bog is like a swamp (do they even know what a swamp is?), or to “bog down” means to overwhelm (huh?). Exactly.
  • Simple action verbs are ok too, like “dig” or “hop.” Drawing pictures of verbs can be a little challenging, but these words would also be great for kinesthetic learners to act out as part of their reading practice!
  • Avoid the exceptions.
  • Not quite all CVC words have a basic short vowel sound, so avoid these. For instance, the sound made by the vowel “a” in the word “man” sounds a little different than the short vowel sound in the word “cat.” The rule of thumb as suggested by literacy specialist Delilah Orpi is to avoid CVC words that end in l, m, or n, since these consonants can modify the vowel sound.
  • Also avoid words that end in “y”. It would be better to just consider “y” a vowel that doesn’t qualify to make a CVC word (remember “a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y”)? The individual sound of “y” is not explicitly pronounced at the end of a word. Also, when “y” comes after a vowel, it is often considered part of a vowel digraph, which is a combination of two vowels that makes a single sound. For example, the words “day” or “boy” do not have short vowel sounds and do not have the /y/ sound at the end of the word. The segments “ay” and “oy” are considered vowel digraphs. These words cannot be taught by phonetic blending of individual letter sounds.

You can easily find lists of CVC words from different resources (websites, workbooks, textbook pages, etc), but it is still good to know these basic pitfalls, because not all lists are created equal!

Keeping it Simple to See Success

  • Phonetic Introduction: sound out individual letters, blend the sounds of the first two letters, and combine the blend with the last letter sound. Show a picture for a job well done!
  • Fun Practice: try a combination of simple exercises and more advanced tasks to practice new skills and assess understanding.
  • Avoid Pitfalls: stick to simple words and avoid language exceptions.