Alphabet Sound Machine

Make an alphabet sound machine for a fun letter learning early literacy game for kids! This hands on game promotes kinaesthetic learning through play and is suitable for toddlers to school age kids, with some extension activities.

Letters and Sounds Alphabet Learning Machine


When I was teaching Reception (Kindergarten) classes, early literacy was one of my favourite areas of learning to plan activities for, especially linking letters to their corresponding ¬†sounds. There is absolutely no need to ever use a worksheet with young children (I would say all age children but we can leave that debate for now!) as ALL learning happens best when it is done through a hands-on, physical activity, as this is the most effective way the brain learns and retains new information. Much in the same way as you just can’t learn a musical instrument by reading about it or hearing it played, you just have to have a go yourself to being to learn!

Understanding phonics means kids need to say and sound out letters in as many active and fun ways as possible, moving their bodies or manipulating objects and I will be bringing a whole series of these to the blog over the coming months. See also our current, ongoing Playful Literacy series here.
Glitter button for sound machine

I love the idea of making machines that can do weird and wonderful things as kids are always excited by these and you can change them to suit any activity or learning intention. We made a very popular number addition machine with pom poms that was a brilliant way for the girls to visually understand the combining of two groups of objects.

For this activity I made a very simple alphabet sounds machine by covering a small cardboard box with tin foil. We found a yogurt pot lid and I wrapped that with the same foil, then we squeezed in lots of PVA white glue, sprinkled on tons of red glitters and left it to dry overnight. The next day we stuck it onto the front of the box to become a big button, leaving a little space next to it for letter sound cards.
Sound machine alphabet game

Then I wrote out some letters of the alphabet on to card and cut them with a starburst edge. I also wrote some digraphs (these are where two sounds blend together to create a new, distinct sound e.g. th, wh, sh) as a challenge for Cakie who already knows all the phoneme-graphme correspondences.Letters and sound machine

I told the girls that we had made a wonderful sound machine! But oh no, it is broken! When we push the big button at the front we should be able to hear a sound, but now we need to make the sound with our voices instead. We took turns attaching different letter cards to the front with blu-tac, and pushing the button to say its corresponding sound out loud.

Occasionally there were squabbles and they both had to push it at the same time, shouting their version of the sound over each other!Pushing alphabet buttons to make soundsWe played this game with all the different sounds, working on the more unusual ones that they needed more practise with the most. Pop surprised me with how many she could do independently.

I suggested holding the button down for a long time to make the sound stick. “Sssssssssssss” until their finger came off the button again! Then we pushed it lots of short, staccato times over and over again, “S’ “s’ S’ “s “s etc.
Pushing letters and sounds buttons I have taught my girls the letter sounds before the letter names, so for all of the cards they knew them and said them predominantly by name. I took the time on this occasion to emphasise the real letter name first and then encourage them to make the letter name say its sound. “This is letter F (eff). It says fffffffff” (like a deflating inflatable toy sound!)

It’s crucial for children to be able to say both the letter name and its corresponding sound (phoneme-grapheme correspondences) so that when faced with trying to decode ¬†unfamiliar words in books they can break them down and work them out phonetically. It’s also hugely important to teach them small, familiar words by sight, which is another area we will be covering on the blog more often as C begins to learn more by heart.
Alphabet sound machineFor Cakie I introduced the digraphs and she said what each individual sound said, then I told her what those sounded like when blended together. She used the machine to say these out loud and we talked about going to find these in words in books as a next step activity.

What they are learning as they play:

literacy: phoneme-grapheme correspondences, recognising letters by sight, understanding digraphs, understanding that letters have a name but also a sound

Cakie: 4.9
Pop: 3.2
Bean: 15 months
Have a look at our Storytelling Basket while you are here!
Fairy tale story prop basket
Search the Early Literacy archives here for plenty more hands-on letter learning, story-telling and book making activities!


  1. says

    Amazing idea Anna , I love it. I’m really trying to think of fun ways to learn with Syd at the moment. Today we are going to make a role play school.

  2. says

    Aside from this wonderful activity I want to mention that I totally agree with you about the worksheets but there is one place for it. A perfect example would be if they children were doing some sinking and floating experiments at the water table and they had to then refer to and use a worksheet to chart which items sank and which floated. As long as the worksheet is directly tied in to concrete experiences,it works.

  3. says

    What a great idea!! This is so creative, and such a fun way to learn the letter sounds. I agree, children learn best by hands on learning. Worksheets have no place in learning!

  4. says

    This is a brilliant idea. If I were still teaching I would be making this for sure. I’ll be passing it on to my teaching friends. Thank you. :)

  5. Carla Enrci says

    Fantastic idea…just made this for tomorrows playtime. Iv done colour squares aswell to encourage my 2 year old. Cheers

  6. Racel Napthine says

    It’s a great idea. My nursery children are demanding as many phonics games as I can come up with at the moment, and I know they’ll enjoy this one. Thank you, Rachel

  7. LauraP says

    Thank you for posting this excellent idea. My 22 month old has many letter sounds down. This is a great way for us to extend what we are doing and sustain the fun while learning /associating the names of the letters ( in conjunction with sandpaper letters)! Will make this “broken” sound machine over the summer.

  8. says

    Hi there, I’m a childminder to children aged 18 months up to 12 years and a mummy to 3.5yr old Olivia.
    You have one amazing blog but my big question is how do you manage to keep up with the blog and also keep bringing new and interesting activities and ideas, how do you manage to set it all up before the kiddies destroy it all.
    Also where do you store it all wow

    keep bringing us these amazing activities as they are used but many and many a time

  9. Lin says

    Thank you for posting this idea I’ve been working in the baby room and just returned to 3-5 room so need to resources loads of new ideas for start of term to fit in with my planning . Love your amazing blogs thanks again for sharing x

  10. says

    I love this idea! You’re right – children love ‘machines’! When I taught in year 4 I made a ‘Maths Machine’ in one corner of the classroom (table and board covered in tin foil and other silvery materials) and put in some fun maths activities and challenges. They loved using it!