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Teaching Letter Sounds and More!

Updated on July 20, 2012

Instruction for Early Learners

The search to effectively instruct students, as they take their first steps learning to read and write, presents unique challenges for parents and educators. The big task for these young readers is to crack the code of print! We are confident that children need to know their letters and sounds, the function of print, as well as experience the enchanting meaning of text. The challenges we face to support a child’s early literacy journey stretches into many critical areas of literacy development. Oral language is very important and helps prepares children for reading and writing. Sharing rich literature introduces them to the structure of book language, and builds oral vocabulary. The world gets bigger and comprehension develops, as children learn to make connections to the stories they hear. They begin to take an interest in print and understand that it carries a message. Looking closer at the lines of text they ask questions about what it all means. Then comes the tricky part; instructing children about print to prepare them for reading.

Critical Skills and Strategies

There are many items of knowledge children must understand in order to read. Letter identification, phonemic awareness, sight words, and concepts of print are all critical for early learners. In order to provide effective instruction in reading it becomes necessary to demystify print. Young readers require explicit instruction to identify letters, and clarify an understanding of how print operates.

Ensuring early learners are provided with the best instruction to crack the code of print is critical. When students begin to explore the lines of text they will naturally begin make assumptions about how it works. Accurate information and clarification of the symbols and rules in language help to demystify print before confusions surface in the students’ understanding. Confusions will set the child back, as time is taken to identify and correct their learning. Creating instruction to effectively address the unique needs of early learners and differentiate instruction is tricky. It requires assessment and monitoring of specific concepts and skills that target all the critical areas of development.

Children are natural learners!
Children are natural learners!

Struggling Readers

Children that are not taught how to operate letters and sounds will struggle with important reading and writing strategies. It is very possible for a child to know a letter but not know how to apply their knowledge when solving a word in reading. It is also a reality for a student to know a sound in reading, yet be unable to isolate the sound in writing. This lets us know there is more to learning letters than simply identification and sound recognition. Phonemic and phonological awareness, and concepts of print, are also necessary areas of instruction for early learners.

Identifying the skills and knowledge students have in place offers insight into necessary next steps in student’s learning. With explicit instruction in key areas it is possible to establish a foundation of print knowledge that supports a smooth transition into reading and writing. While some students may quickly acquire letter identification, the process of blending and segmenting sounds, for instance, is a practiced skill and requires consistent instruction in early literacy development.

Maximize Early Reading Instruction

There is much we must consider when seeking effective methods of instructing students. It is important to be a catalyst that supports and nurtures a motivation for learning. Instructional methods and strategies that motivate children are an essential ingredient in best teaching practices. That does not mean that every parent or educator has to be an entertainer. What it does mean is that, it is possible to deliver more effective lessons by maximizing instructional strategies. For instance, the example of reading with intonation and expression can convey a lot of meaning for teaching the conventions in print. Enthusiasm and props incorporated into lessons will help to engage a child's interest. Making connections to text and exploring other comprehension strategies is important to stretch the mind of students into higher order thinking.

The cluster of skills necessary to crack the code of print is a bridge of knowledge that prepares students for reading and writing. The bridge is built early and needs to be crossed watchfully with explicit instruction and assessment. The Ministry of Education Early Reading Expert Panel clearly states that "While developing oral language is a natural process, learning to read is not. Children must be taught to understand, interpret, and manipulate the printed symbols of written language." Preparing children for reading requires instruction in several areas research has shown to be important for early learners. It is not just about learning to identify letters and sounds. It is also about instruction in the important areas of phonemic awareness and concepts of print. Children will develop a strong reading readiness when all the critical areas of early literacy development are supported.

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    • Sturgeonl profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Practice with phonemic awareness does improve children's skills so I am sure your grandson will improve greatly with the help he gets. If he has particular difficulty articulating sounds, model saying them to notice how the mouth is formed, and then have him practice saying it in front of the mirror to notice correct mouth formation. This can be a helpful strategy for improving articulation. All the best!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I read this article with great interest because one of my little grandchildren has phonetic problems and sometimes it's hard for me and for his parents to understand what he is saying, even though he is a great communicator. He tries so hard, poor thing. He is only three and he is attending a special school that caters to children with similar problems as well as children with no problems at all. We have already seen some improvement in his speech, but he still has some way to go. I hope that by the time he goes to kindergarten his speech problem will be resolved. Incidentally, his mother has a master degree in teaching special ed, and his dad is a very doting father so I know he is in good hands. Thank you for your very informative article. I especially like the following quote: "Accurate information and clarification of the symbols and rules in language help to demystify print before confusions surface in the students’ understanding. Confusions will set the child back, as time is taken to identify and correct their learning." Voted up and interesting.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thank you for your comment!

    • keithlipke profile image


      6 years ago from Fort Wayne, Indiana

      Great points here


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