Teaching the 2 Sounds of C: Hard C and Soft C + FREE Word List

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Teaching the 2 sounds of C can be tricky for some readers. While some will naturally understand when to use the soft C versus the hard C sound, others will need to be taught explicitly, so that they understand why C can make two different sounds.

In this blog post, I will share some tips on how to teach your students the difference between hard and soft C, and a free printable C words list.

Hard C

Hard C is the sound of C that we hear in the word car. It is represented like this: /k/.

Hard C is the more common sound of C.

Hard C Words

Some hard C words include clay, cry, cake, come, cola, and cute. See the hard c words list for more words.

c sounds hard and soft c anchor chart

Soft C

Soft C is the other sound C can make. When C is followed by e, i, or y, it usually makes the /s/ sound as in ice. The soft C can be at the beginning, middle, or end of a word.

This is a rule that may happen, not always. There are a few exceptions, such as the word ‘Celt’.

Soft C Words

Some soft C words include cell, cereal, cinder, cycle, fancy, decimal, and pencil. See the soft c words list for more words.

c words list - hard and soft c words

C Words

Need a list of C words? You can download this list by joining my email list above or below. This C words list includes a list for both C sounds.

I like to use these as anchor charts in my classroom.

When To Teach Hard and Soft C

You can teach soft C towards the end of first grade, after students have learned all consonants, digraphs, blends, vowel teams, silent e, vowel-r combinations, floss rule, and glued sounds.

How To Teach Hard and Soft C

Introduce the rule to students:

“When c is followed by e, i, or y, it usually makes the /s/ sound as in cent.”

It can help to use an anchor chart and talk about some examples.

Focus on asking students to look at what comes after the letter C. This will help students determine which sound it makes.

c sounds

Be sure to talk about the exceptions. This rule has very few exceptions but it’s still worth teaching.

You can teach students to try following the rule, but if the word doesn’t make sense then try the hard C sound. Flexibility in reading is always important.

A word sort is a good introduction activity to teach this rule.

After sorting hard and soft C words, highlight the letter that comes after the C in each word so students can clearly see the pattern.

s sound wall card with soft c spelling options
The card pictured above is from my sound wall.

It may be helpful for struggling readers to work on one spelling pattern at a time. For example, you can start with words that with ce: ice, center, juice. Then work on words with ci: city, circle, civil. After, you can work on words that start with cy: icy, fancy, lacy.

Activities To Teach Hard and Soft C

Below are a few activities you can use to reinforce the soft C rule.

Read Decodable Texts

Find some decodable texts that target the hard and soft C sounds.

Have students find all the hard C words and highlight them in one color, then find the soft C words and highlight them in a different color.

Then read the words together.

After this students can read the passage/book.

hard and soft c word sort

Picture & Word Sorts

I already talked about word sorts, and picture sorts are good too.

Students can sort pictures or words, then write them in a list and highlight the C sound in a specific color – one color for hard C and another for soft C.

Word Mapping

Phoneme grapheme mapping is always an activity to do when teaching any new graphemes and phonemes.

Using the C words list, have students map out a few words.

Note that sometimes for soft C, the C and following vowel would go into the same sound box as pictured above. That is the case when the vowel after it doesn’t make a sound.

Writing Words With Soft and Hard C

Students can practice writing some words using multisensory methods. These include using magnetic letters, letter tiles, or writing on a textured surface.

dictation for the c sounds


Dictation is a great way for students to practice and show what they have learned. And it only takes a few minutes.

Ask students to spell the /k/ sound. Then ask them to spell the /s/ sound.

Next, dictate 3-5 words that students learned. Choose a mix of words with hard and soft C.

Last, say 1-3 sentences that use words with hard and soft C. Say each sentence once and give students time to write it. Keep it simple and use only words you taught along with words they already know.

You can do this on a blank sheet of paper or use my dictation template which is available for download in my freebies library.


The different sounds of C can be tricky for students to learn, but with a little practice and effective instruction, they will be able to master these phonemes.

With our list of printable C words and activities like decodable texts, word sorts, and phoneme grapheme mapping, you can provide your students with the practice they need to become confident readers.

how to teach hard c and soft c strategies and activities

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