The ABC’s of Teaching Letters

The Importance of Letter Names and Sounds

What is the first step in teaching a child to read? Letters and sounds instruction is the key! In simple terms, for a child to learn to read independently and construct meaning from text – he needs to be able to identify words automatically. He can do this after he decodes unknown words. In order to reach this point, children have to first learn the 44 speech sounds of letters and more than 100 spellings that are made. So- first, identify letter names and then, produce letter sounds. Then, he will be prepared to read! The next step is to implement a carefully planned and systematic presentation of explicit letter/sound teaching.

Which Letters Should Be Taught First?

The hardest question for researchers and professionals to answer is – “What order should the letters be taught?” Although there is not one universal answer to this question, there is great data to give professionals guidance in creating and/or implementing the necessary systematic order of instruction.

When deciding the order to teach the letters, please keep in mind what research says.

What Does Research Say?

  • Some letters are harder to learn than others: U, Q, V
  • The following letters are most well-known by children, even if they have not been taught them: O, A, B
  • Children are most likely to learn the first letter of a their name more easily and quickly
  • Teach the letters in an order that allows a child to form many words with them (for example: C, M, A, T)
  • Begin with letters that make “simple sounds” that are easiest to stretch out and are easier to blend: M, S, F, R, N, L
  • Teach new sounds in small steps
  • Review previously taught letters and sounds
  • Introduce commonly encountered sounds before the infrequent sounds: For example, “A” occurs more commonly than “Q” or “V.”
  • Teach the letters that occur more frequently in most words. The most commonly occurring letters are: E, T, A, I, N, O, S, H, R, D, L, C
  • Introduce vowels early. A child must know the vowel sounds, in order to make and read words.
  • It is suggested to teach graphemes together, like C and H, C and K, T and H
  • Alphabetic order is not ideal because it does not address the needs listed above
  • Do not pair and teach together letters that are auditorily and/or visually similar: E, I and D, B
  • Introduce some continuous sounds early: M, S
  • One study suggests introducing lower case letters first, unless upper case letters are similar in shape: (Similar: S, s, U, u, W, w; Dissimilar: R, r, T, t, F, f) Note: I have always taught capital and lowercase at the same time: Ss, Rr, Tt, so I do not disagree with this study, I myself and just unfamiliar with its effectiveness
  • Do not teach similar looking letters together: b, d, p, q
  • Introducing letters in isolation may confuse some children about the purpose of letters in relation to words and reading
  • Some letters take longer to visually discriminate: t, a, e, o, s, i

The many resources below provides suggestions for the sequence of teaching letters and sounds.



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