Open Wide

By: Karla Hollis


Before children learn to read, they must be able to identify phonemes in words. This lesson identifies the phoneme /o/. The children will learn an important representation of the letter symbol for /o/. Students will have the opportunity to recognize short o in words as well as find /o/ in a tongue twister and story.


Poster with “Oliver the octopus loves olives” written on it.

Poster/Board with primary lines labeled ‘rooftop, fence, sidewalk, and ditch.’

½ poster with the letter o on it.

In the Big Top. Educational Insights. 1990.

Assessment sheet with 5 questions, each with a picture of a word that has the /o/ sound and one that doesn’t.

    Picture of a mop and chair
    Picture of a sock and hat
    Picture of a pot and bed
    Picture of a cup and a box
    Picture of a cat and a dog


  1. Introduce the lesson by making the children excited about learning a new sound and letter. The teacher may say that “it is important how we move our mouths when we say words because different mouth moves can produce different sounds and words. Today we will introduce the mouth move for /o/. It might feel a little funny at first, but over time, our mouths will get used to making the movement,” explaining why the new sound is valuable and preparing them for the awkwardness.
  2. Ask students if they’ve ever been to the doctor. Hopefully, they will respond ‘yes’. Ask them “When the doctor gets ready to look down your throat, what does he tell you to do?” (Say /o/). “Can you hold your mouth open as if the doctor is getting ready to look down your throat? GREAT! This is the way we say /o/. Now can you put the mouth movement and the sound together? /o/ is a very important sound and can be found in the middle of our words.”
  3. “Now, since everyone did such a great job making the mouth movement that goes along with the sound /o/, can you think of a word with the sound /o/ in it? I’m thinking of the word spot. Oh my goodness! (Teacher is overly excited about finding the sound /o/ in words.) I just thought of another word. The word pot has the /o/ sound in it! If I stretch the word out, I can hear the /o/ sound. Let’s see… p – o – t. I heard the /o/ sound in the middle of the word. Did anyone think of any different words with the /o/ sound in them?” Allow students to give you words that they have found with the /o/ sound in them. If a student does not give a word with the /o/ sound, say the word he/she said slowly so all the sounds can be heard, then ask him or the class if we heard the /o/ sound in that word.
  4. “Because you are picking out the /o/ sound so well, I want to see if you can pick out the /o/ sound when it’s used in a sentence. Listen carefully and repeat after me. (Point to the words as they are spoken on the tongue twister poster.) Oliver the octopus loves olives.” Give the students the chance to repeat the sentence. “Now every time we hear the /o/ sound, we’re going to stretch it out as if the doctor were looking down our throats. For example, Oooooliver. Ready? Oooooliver the oooooctopus loves ooooolives.
  5. “Just like the rest of the sounds we’ve learned, the sound /o/ has a special symbol. Our /o/ sound is spelled with the letter o. (Optional: have the students say “/o/ is spelled with o”.) This is what the letter o looks like. (Show them a picture of the letter.) Together, we’re going to learn to write the /o/ sound. Does anyone know what letter we write the /o/ sound with? (Allow students to give you the correct response.) We can make an o by making a little c and closing it up. (Demonstrate while speaking/explaining) We start at the fence, make a little c, and then close it up! Now, I want see if you can give me instructions on making a little o.” (Allow the students to tell you to start at the fence, make a little c, and then close it up.) After they’ve given you directions, ask them to take out a sheet of paper and practice with you. Then allow them to practice on their own, writing o’s on the first line of their paper. “When you have your first row full of the letter o, raise your right hand so I’ll know you’re done!”
  6. “I see that everyone has finished and I noticed that you all did a very good job writing the letter o. (If you noticed any problems student were having, take this time to point them out whole group by demonstrating on the board.) Now I’m going to say some words and I want you to clap once if you hear the /o/ sound. I must warn you, some words will have the /o/ sound and other will not, so you have to listen carefully. Everybody ready?” Say the words mop, net, top, cap, doll, chip, lock, jack, duck, giving students time to clap after each word.
  7. “We’ve spent a lot of time on the sound /o/ and we learned that this sound is represented by a special letter. Can anyone tell me what that letter might be? (Allow them to say the letter o.) That’s right, /o/ is spelled with the letter o and we can sometimes find /o/ in the middle of our words.”
  8. “I want everyone to stand up. Now, jump up and down twice if you’ve ever been to a circus. (Give students time to jump). Awesome, now I want everyone to sit back down, criss cross applesauce! By raising our hands, can someone tell me some animals we may see at the circus?” Call on students as their hands are raised, accepting all logical answers. “We are going to read a story called In the Big Top.” Give a brief book talk, not giving away the ending of the story, but making it exciting so they will be interested. Read the story all the way through once. “Now, I’m going to read the story again. This time, I want you to listen for words in the story that have the /o/ sound in them.” Begin reading the story, stopping after each page or two and allow the students to tell the words that had the /o/ sound in them. Ask students to stretch out the /o/ sound when they say it in a word.
  9. For assessment, give each student a sheet of 5 questions. Explain to them that each question has two pictures and their job is to figure out which one has the /o/ sound in the name. Students should color each picture in which they hear the /o/ sound in its name.


Elizabeth Moats, Say /o/

 Mary Cox Brown, Gazunheit

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