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How to Develop Knowledge of Letters and Letter Names

Involving young childen in instruction that helps them learn about letters, helps them learn about the alphabetic principle.

Instruction should assist children in:

  • Understanding the concept of letters.
  • Learning letter names and knowking that the names of letters are constant.
  • Learning the names of the twenty-six letters in alphabetical order.
  • Identifing upper- and lowercase letters.
  • Distinguishing between letters based on their similarities and differences.
  • Understanding that letter names are different from sounds.
  • Knowing that letters occur in initial, final and medial positions in words.
  • Learning that most letters in English represent more than one sound, and that this sound is influenced by the surrounding letters and the letter's position in the word.
  • Understanding the usefulness of alphabetical order in organisaing and locating information.
  • Hearing the terms consonant and vowel.

Students do not need to know the names of the letters before they are allowed to have a book to read. They will learn about language through the act of reading.

They will also learn so much about letters through writing. That's why immersing students in many Shared Reading and Independent Reading experiences and many Shared Writing, Interactive Writing and Independent Writing experiences will effectively enable learners to build knowledge of letters and letter names.

Not learning one letter at a time

It is also more helpful if students have multiple exposures to all of the letters and their names rather than just focusing on one letter at a time. The idea of teaching ‘a letter per week’ is not supported by literacy research.

The following activities are some of the things you can do using multiple letters rather than just focusing on one letter:

Using Read Aloud, Shared Reading and Independent Reading to Develop Letter Knowledge

  • Read to students daily for sustained periods of time.
  • Involve them in lots of Shared Reading (where they are reading along with the teacher) of poems, songs, and big books.
  • Provide daily opportunities for students to read themselves, at school and home. This reading may be role-play reading at first or reading through memorisation.
  • Read lots of different alphabet books to the students and encourage students to read them, with students recognising the letters of the alphabet and being able to name them (the names, not sounds).
  • Sing alphabet songs and chants, with a large copy of these for the students to see, so that you can point to the letters as you and the students are singing the name of each letter.

 Using Shared, Interactive and Independent writing to develop letter knowledge

  • Demonstrate daily through Shared Writing. Model how to use an alphabet strip of lower and uppercase letters (large version for modelling) to identify letters for sounds heard in words. Have children say the names of the letters with you.
  • Provide daily opportunities for students to help the teacher with some parts of the writing in Interactive Writing. Model and have children use an alphabet strip of lower and uppercase letters (large version for modelling) to identify letters for sounds heard in words. Have children say the names of the letters with you.
  • Provide daily opportunities for the children to write themselves, regardless of their stage of spelling development. Provide alphabet strip of lower and uppercase letters to identify letters for sounds heard in words as modelled in Shared and Interactive Writing.
  • Whenever you are modelling writing for the students, name each letter as you write it (Later on you can model how you are thinking about the sounds you hear when you write, but if you are trying to help children learn letter names then it is more helpful if you name the letters at every opportunity you can).
  • Use the students’ names to teach recognition and naming of the letters by writing a student’s name on a chart and having students chant the letters, spelling the student’s name (“Give me an A, give me an N, give me a D, give me a Y”).
  • Write 2 or 3 students’ names on a chart and talk about the letters in each name, such as naming each letter and comparing the names to see if they have any letters the same and naming these. Find particular letters in each name, counting how many of each different letter.

These experiences all provide a context for learning about letters and give some purpose to the task. They also help students understand how thoughts can be expressed as written words, to learn what a sentence is, and what a word is, and how these differ from a letter. Without these experiences the 26 upper-case and 26 lower-case are just 52 abstract shapes.

Other activities to teach letter names

  • Use alphabet blocks and cards for recognition and naming games.
  • Play alphabet games such as “I Spy” (with my little eye, something starting with the letter ‘m’, etc.)
  • Begin an alphabet Word Wall at children's eye level. Allow a section for each letter of the alphabet. Display each child's name on a card under the appropriate letter. Play alphabet games, such as finding all the names on the word wall that begin with or contain a particular letter.
  • Write children's names on a set of cards and select one each time you want a child to do a task. Chant the letters in each name, with the children joining in as you point to each letter.
  • Look for similarities, differences and interesting features in children's names. (e.g. Double letters, two of the same letter, same last letter)
  • Ask children to sign in each day.
  • Encourage children to write their names or initials on all of their work. Throughout the day have the children tell you or their friends the names of the letters written.
  • Play Alphabet Bingo.

Once students know the names of the letters, they can gain further letter knowledge through letter explorations.




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