Important factors to consider when teaching letters and sounds blog header

Important factors to consider when teaching letters and sounds

In our recent special 100th episode edition of our HiMama Helps Webinars, we welcomed Cheryl Lundy Swift, Professional Learning Director, and Tracy Sloper, Territory Manager, from Learning Without Tears! Cheryl and Tracy walked us through five strategies for how we can incorporate learning letters and letter sounds into our classrooms to enhance phonological awareness in young children. They explained how to differentiate this learning to accommodate the needs of all learners, and as always shared tangible resources to engage children in the classroom! 

Watch the webinar that inspired this blog post here


Children learning alphabet knowledge is a very important milestone in their growth and development. In order to teach letters and sounds, educators must make them engaging and multi-modal.  

Five factors to consider when teaching letters and sounds​

1. Systematic order of letter learning 

It is important that you have a system or a sequence in place to teach letters.  A lot of people ask what the correct teaching order is. The truth is there is no one correct way. The key is that you have a well-thought-out sequence or order and stick to it so that all letters are taught. ​

When you think about the teaching order of letter learning, consider teaching letters from the easiest to the hardest to recognize. We recommend teaching capital letters first because they are easier to recognize and write. They are easy to recognize and write because they are all the same size and they all start at the top. Think about signs in your community such as a stop sign. The word stop is in all capital letters. You can also tie in children’s initials of their first or last name to teach capitals. ​

After teaching capitals, we recommend teaching lowercase letters. Be sure to start with lowercase letters like c, o, s, v, and w which look exactly like their capital partners, only smaller.​

Starting with familiar lowercase letters will allow you to later move on to teaching lowercase letters that are different from their capital partners.​

2. Be explicit 

It is imperative that you directly teach children the names of letters, the sounds they represent, and how the letters are formed. We cannot assume that children will naturally pick this up. ​

Introducing a new letter

To introduce letters, we recommend that the educator name and say the letter and use a picture mnemonic to help anchor the letter name and sound. For example, a common mnemonic for A is apple. Also, use strategic letter formation to help children learn how to form the letter.  We build letters before we write letters. Lastly, children must be able to apply their letter knowledge. As you read, have children point to the target letter within the book.  ​

3. Alphabetic principle

We must show children how the alphabetic system works.  It is important for us to help them understand that our spoken language can be transferred to written form and that letters make words and words make sentences.​ Ensuring that children understand that letters represent speech sounds supports later reading development.

The alphabetic principle is the system of symbols that connects speech to print. It is this system—or code—that helps children understand how to apply symbols and sounds in order to read and write. We must help children understand the big picture of how the system of reading and writing actually works. ​

With young children, we develop the alphabetic principle by modeling the writing of words, playing with language, reading big books and pointing to words, and by using letter-sound correspondence to figure out our words. Reinforcing these skills at school and at home can help children understand how symbols represent speech sounds.​

4. School-to-home partnership 

Home and school or childcare are the two most important places for young children.  A successful school-to-home partnership assures children that there are people who care about them and provides a unique perspective about the child. When teachers and families work together, everyone wins! ​We encourage schools and families to share music, books, and games to help make letter learning fun at school and at home.  ​

Research consistently shows that a strong school-to-home connection helps children build self-esteem, curiosity, and​ motivation to learn new things.” 

5. Joyful and playful ​

Teaching letters and sounds should be multi-modal, playful, and full of joy! Using dough, wood pieces, magnetic letters, sandpaper letters, and other manipulatives along with music and movement are great ways to make letter learning fun.   ​ ​

Watch the webinar that inspired this blog post here

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