Teaching Letter Names and Letter Sounds

Important Sequencing Strategies and Considerations for Teaching Letters and Sounds of the Phonemic Code:

      The following information is copied from a website called RightTrack Reading. I am not trying to promote the products from this website because I have not personally reviewed them. However, the recommendations written here reflect current research in teaching letter names and sounds. Please note that when you have taught some of the more frequent letter names and sounds, research also recommends that you practice blending and segmenting activities that lead to reading and spelling with those letters.

     While there is not an absolute mandatory sequence for teaching the phonemic code, there are some important sequencing strategies and considerations when determining order of presentation for effective reading programs. The following considerations are important in ensuring effective phonologic-based reading instruction and importantly helping the child learn.

Alphabetic order is not ideal: The abc sequencing of letter presentation creates challenges for effective reading instruction because it fails to incorporate many of the key components listed below.

  1. Introduce sounds simple to complex: Begin with the simple sounds and the basic code This is important because it allows the child to master and learn other essential beginning skills such as blending and tracking with ‘easier’ sounds.  The simple continuous sounds that can be ‘stretched out’ are easier to blend (/m/, /s/, /f/, /r/, /n/, /l/).  In general, the ‘basic code’ of the primary letters and short vowel sounds and common digraphs such as th, ch and sh  should be introduced and taught before the ‘advanced code’ of vowel combinations, r-controlled vowel combinations and (example teach m, t, s & short vowels before adding in the vowel combinations, r-controlled vowel combinations and complexities such as ‘igh’ and  ‘ph’).   Not only does this help the child learn, it makes teaching easier!

  2. Introduce a few letters/sounds at a time: Teach new sounds in small sets. Allow time for practice before adding new sounds. Be sure and include review of previous sounds until code knowledge is automatic.  

  3. Consider frequency of occurrence:  Introduce commonly encountered sounds before the infrequent sounds:  When determining order of presentation, consider the frequency of occurrence in English words and introduce the most commonly encountered letters/sounds before the infrequent letters.  For example, the letter ‘e’ occurs significantly more often than the letter ‘q’ or ‘v’. You want to teach the frequent letters early on so you can make more decodable words. Frequency lists vary depending on if they are derived from common words or all words but in general the high frequency letters include e, t, a, i, n, o, s, h, r, d, l, c)

  4. Introduce vowels early:  You MUST have vowels to make words therefore you need to include the vowels early on.

  5. Separate similar letters and  similar sounds that are easily confused by children:  Separate instruction of similar looking letters that can be visually confused (b, d and p) and sounds that are phonemically similar (such as /i/ and /e/, /f/&/v/). In other words don’t introduce b and d on the same day.  Separate these letters in your preplanned sequence.

  6. Include some of the ‘buddy letters’ (digraphs) early: The common digraphs ‘th’, ‘sh’ and ‘ch’ should be taught early in your sequence. This is important so that the student learns the important concept that 2 letters make 1 sound. In addition, these combinations are extremely common and you need them to make words for decodable text (Basically you need to teach the ‘th’ sound early in your sequence so you can include the words the word “the”, “this” or “that” in your decodable sentences and stories).  

  7. Group certain letters together:. Sometimes it helps to group certain letters or graphemes together. For example, pairing  ‘k’ and ‘ck’  together in the same lesson, or pairing ‘ch’ and ‘tch’ together. This grouping allows you to design instruction to help the child learn. For example, by teaching  both representations of the /ch/ sound together, I can directly show the relationship of when ‘ch’ is used compared to the far less common ‘tch’.

  8. Teach the complete code! Include direct instruction of all the code complexities. Start with the basic sounds but be sure and also include the alternate sounds, the vowel combinations, the r-controlled vowel combination, and other complexities. Don’t stop at the basic sounds and leave the most confusing part of our English language for the child to figure out on their own. You  must teach the complete phonemic code that is the foundation of our written English language!  A pre-planned systematic presentation ensures you cover the entire phonemic code. Don’t toss the entire alphabet soup of 70 to 80 phonograms at the child in one day but rather manage these complexities by planned, systematic and complete sequencing. ** The goal should be that children have learned the complete phonetic code by the END of 2nd grade.

**The Right Track Reading program applies the sequencing strategies and considerations listed above and uses the following ordering sequence for the basic sounds: m, t, a, s, d, i, f, r, th, l, o, n, p, e, h, v, sh, u, b, k, ck, c, g, j, w, ch, tch, x, z, qu, wh, y

This is by no means the only sequence, but it gives you something to start with if you are attempting to work without a program.