Something’s Fishhhy

Beginning Reading

By: Emily Barberini

Rationale: To successfully decode words in reading, students must learn the components that make up the alphabetic code – graphemes and their corresponding phonemes. This lesson will teach students the grapheme-phoneme correspondence sh=/sh/. When two letters together make one sound, we call it a digraph. Digraphs are very common in the English language. This lesson will help children remember that when they see s and h together, they make the /sh/ sound.


  Primary paper and pencil

  Poster with tongue twister: “Shawn wished for a shell to share with Shannon.”

  Whiteboard and markers

  Paper fish cut-outs with one word written on each fish:  sharp, fish, ball, shell, hand, ship, book, sheep, pig, bed, wish, shop, car, dress, hat [one         for each child in the classroom]

  Bowl to put paper fish in

  Elkonin letterboxes [large one for teacher & smaller, individual ones for students]

  Letter tiles for teacher and students: a,d,e,f,h,i,m,o,p,r,s,t,u,w

  Class set of Tish the Fish” (Phonics Readers)

  Word page with: shark, sheet, cat, shoe, dog, duck, fish, candle, ball, book, sheep, shell, frog, shirt


1.         “Today we are going to be learning how to put letters together to make new sounds!  Have you ever had a teacher or parent ask you to be quiet?  What sound do they usually make to ask you to be quiet?  Shhh…that’s right!  Shhh is a sound that we all probably hear a lot throughout the day.  The /sh/ sound is found in many of the words we use all the time!  We have been talking about letters and the sounds that each one makes, but /sh/ is a very special sound because it is made up of two letters!  Whenever two letters together make one sound, we call it a digraph.  The sh digraph is made up of the letter s followed by the letter h.”  [Show students the letters s and h on the board as this is being explained.] 

2.         “Now boys and girls, we are going to practice asking each other to be quiet by saying, ‘Shhh’  Do you think you can do it?  Watch me first and then it will be your turn.”  [Teacher puts index finger to mouth while modeling for students the /sh/ sound.]  “Now it’s your turn!  Everyone get their index fingers ready… Shhh.  Great job!  Do you feel a little bit of air coming out of your mouth when you make that sound? What are your teeth doing? That’s right… they are together! That is the sound that the letters s and h make whenever you see them together. Let’s practice that sound one more time.  Ready? [Teacher brings her finger to her mouth to begin the sound]   Shhh.  Very good!”

Now, let’s try a fun tongue twister!” [On poster]  Read through the tongue twister once before explaining the activity to the students.  “As we read through the tongue twister this time I want you to listen for the /sh/ sound, every time you hear the /sh/ sound I want you to pretend to be asking someone to be quiet by putting your finger up to your mouth.    Shawn wished for a shell to share with Shannon.”   Have students stretch the /sh/ sound in the words to emphasis it.  “Shhhawn wishhhed for a shhhell to shhhare with Shhhannon.”  For added review, explain to students, “We are going to read this sentence again, only this time we are going to circle the letters s and h whenever they are next to each other making the /sh/ sound.”  Begin reading the tongue twister modeling for the students with the first word, Shawn.  Circle the letters s and h to show students what they are looking for.  “Let’s see if we can find some more /sh/ sounds in this sentence.”   

4.         “Now we are going to play a game!”  Bring out the fish bowl with paper fish inside.  Demonstrate for students what they are going to be doing by reaching in the fish bowl and picking a fish.  “Each of you is going to get to catch a fishhh from our fishhh bowl.  There is a word written on each of the fish.  [Show word on fish teacher has selected]  Some of the words have the /sh/ sound in them and some do not.  [Ask students if the teacher selected fish has the /sh/ sound or not.]  When you get your fishhh read the word on it silently to yourself to determine if it has the /sh/ sound in it.”  Allow each child to “catch a fish” from the bowl.  “Now, if the word on your fishhh does have the /sh/ sound in it I want you to come to this side of the room [points left] and if it does not have the /sh/ sound I want you to come to this side of the room [points right].”  Have students read their word aloud and allow the rest of the class to give their input on whether the word does in fact contain the /sh/ sound or not.

5.         [Pass out boxes and letters. Review how to use the letterboxes – one sound per box.]  “Now we are going to spell some words that have the /sh/ sound in them.  I will try one first.  I am going to spell shop.  I will stretch it out /sh/ /o/ /p/.  I hear the /sh/ sound!  I know that two letters make that /sh/ sound.  Will I put that in one box or two?  That’s right, one, since it is only one sound!”  Finish spelling the word.  Give students the remaining words to spell one at a time: [2: ash  3: shut, mesh, sad  4: fish, swish, shred]  Guide them through the first few as to how many boxes to use, but then allow them to do it on their own.  Be sure to encourage students to read the words after they have spelled them.  Teacher can be assessing through observation during this.

6.         Give each student a copy of “Tish the Fish”.  “As you are reading, I will be walking around the room.  As I come to your desk, I would like for you to read out loud for me so that I can listen to you.”

7.         Assessment:  Give each student a word page with some words that do contain the sh digraph and some that do not.  Have students circle the words that have the /sh/ sound in them and put an ”X” through the ones that do not.  After completing the worksheet, have students write a one-sentence message including at least two words with the sh digraph.  Also, assessing through observation of the letterbox lesson and from the students reading out loud as the teacher was walking around the room.



Borders, Emily.  Shake with A.

Murray, B. A., & Lesniak, T. (1999). The letterbox lesson: A hands-on approach for teaching   decoding. The Reading Teacher, 52, 644-650.

Tish the Fish. Phonics Readers (1990). 

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