3 Steps to Letter Sound Knowledge
Teaching alphabet sounds in kindergarten even teaching alphabet sounds in preschool or first grade can seem like a daunting task. I am here to help you with planning, teaching and remediating your letter sound teaching using 3 Simple Steps that are guaranteed to organize and streamline your instruction. Let’s get moving!
Letters and Sounds Teaching Sequence
Letters and Sounds Teaching sequences vary based on curriculum and pacing guides. I highly encourage you to refer to your teaching guide as your first step. If you do not have a letter and sounds teaching sequence, do not worry I got you covered.
After an Orton Gillingham training I adopted the scope and sequence offered by Recipe for Reading. The rationale of their sequencing is that these are the letters and sounds students begin to see with frequency as they begin learning to read. This letters and sounds teaching sequence includes digraphs, which if you follow a program like Fountas and Pinnell, give students exposure to sounds and skills necessary to tackle words in their growing reading levels.
Frequency and repetition
In kindergarten and with students that I tutor, I expose children to a grapheme and phoneme a day. That is to say, following the letter sounds sequence, we need 30 day for students to gain exposure to 26 letters and 4 digraphs. The key word is exposure. Do I expect students to know these letters after 1 day? NO. Do I expect them to start reading these sounds INSTANTLY after one day of exposure? Absolutely not.
The rationale is that students begin building their letter sounds alphabet knowledge by repeated exposure, multi-sensory at-bats, and a gradual build of content.
Teaching student’s letters and sounds requires repeated exposure. Repeated exposure, as I define it for my classroom, is having the letter and the sound embedded in every part of my day and referencing it during reading and writing, phonics, finding the letter in our daily schedule and in any other place during our day.
Here are some ways that I hit the ground running each day are as follows:
Morning Message: Write a morning message that emphasizes words with the specific letter and sound
Student name cards: Taking roll is something I often forget to do. By using student name cards, and searching through to find letter sounds, we are able to practice hearing and identifying a letter sound AND we can also take roll!
Writing the letter on the carpet, in the palm of their hand, in the air, on their brain, and finally on a whiteboard during whole group instruction. This routine grows as students gain exposure to more and more phonemes.
As a class we run through the alphabet each day using alphabet cards. Some students come into Kindergarten solidifying their capital letter name knowledge, while beginning to grow their lowercase knowledge. It is important to run letter names for capital letters until 85-90% of students know all their capital letter names.
As students learn a lowercase letter and sound, we run through our sounds using lowercase alphabet cards. This routine grows as students gain exposure to more and more phonemes.
Independent practice with students using alphabet worksheets or an alphabet journal that practices: formation, first sound, and using drawing to produce an image of something they know that begins with the alphabet letter sound that they were exposed to on that day.
Emphasizing Alphabet Letter Sounds for Mastery
In my training with Orton Gillingham, they emphasized that phonemes are taught as lowercase symbols. I agree with their approach and to add on, students need their lowercase letters to read. I over emphasize and focus on lowercase letters and sounds because I want to make sure my students are reading by December. To achieve this goal, alphabet letters and sounds must be mastered by end of November. It is an achievable goal. However it is only achieved through consistent, repeated practice all starting with a TON of exposure!
To determine your timeline for students learning their letters and sounds, you will need to consider by what month you wish 85-90% of students mastering 90-100% of their letters and sounds. Second, you will need to determine what mastery is for you, your team and the district. For example, by December my grade level team decided that we wanted most if not all students to know 52 letters and 26 sounds. We then determined that if students knew 48 letters, or 92% of their letters and 24 sounds, or 92% of their sounds, they were meeting expectations, with a few gaps that could easily be remediated. Having these percentages would allow students to read at ‘grade level’ expectations determined and given to us by our district. This was our goal.
To determine these percentages for your class or grade level here are the simple formulas:
For all capital and lowercase letters:
Letters Known / 52 = %
For all lowercase letters:
Letters Known / 26 = %
For A-Z Letter Sounds:
Letter sounds / 26 = %
For Letter Sounds Including Digraphs:
Sounds / 30 = %
If you are not a math person like me, do not overthink the calculations. Determine your cutoffs by paying around the number of letters and sounds then divide by the total to determine whether or not the percentages yielded give you the range you require.
Side note: if you do this work to make these determinations, it is helpful at report card time, it is helpful as a visual to show parents at conferences and really allows you to target your teaching.
Making it to Mastery
Often I feel we overthink and over buy with the hopes that student outcomes will improve with more worksheets, more visuals and more games.
While I agree that these things add fun and curb appeal to classrooms, it really all lies in the consistency with your Tier 1 instruction. I am going to let you in on a little known facts:
I only had one intervention group
I hardly ever did small groups because of my Tier 1
My entire teaching career was spent in Title 1 with an 75% English Language population
Making it to letter sound mastery really relies on your instruction and consistency with instruction. When I began teaching, I bought everything. I spent my ENTIRE paycheck on TpT. I lost sleep over student growth and I tried everything to improve student outcomes. In my first year, I spun my wheels with little success.
With time, training and enough Pinterest and Google searches, I determined it was not the amount of materials I purchased. It was not the number of varying interventions I tried. All my traction came from simple tools with consistent implementation. Consistency shifted student data shifted for an upward trend.
Here are the routines I implemented and did with consistency:
Morning message with focus on a phoneme
Running and review known letter sounds by doing letter name, letter sound routine.
Using kinesthetic practice with whiteboards and markers: “You know one way to spell the sound____.”
Using blending board after introducing the /d/ sound.
Independent alphabet worksheet practice daily that emphasizes formation, phoneme in words, and drawing an image with that phoneme.
How to Know When to Move Forward, Review and Intervene
I think oftentimes, well at least for me, there was no preparation in my teaching program for assessment and determining next steps! I thought that when I got to my school site there would be this nicely wrapped plan of action or an ‘if then’ for all my next steps in teaching. I was CLEARLY very naïve.
So here is what I DO:
Every month, I assess students on their letters and sounds! Begin in August for initial data. September, October, and November progress monitor for growth towards mastery. By January and moving forward to June, only test students who are in the Yellow or Red.
Reference your data benchmarks for what determines mastery at each point in the year to see and measure student growth. Group students based on whether they are in the red(intervention), yellow(approaching), green(meeting/exceeding)
Any alphabet letter and sound with less than 85% mastery, review during: phonics, centers, small group, or homework.
Repeat the above steps
It really is that simple: teach, assess, adjust repeat.
If you need all the tools to get you started, go check out the Letter Sound Bundle and get all the tools you need to get started!
If you have questions, please let me know!