Letter recognition is a fundamental aspect of literacy. Whether you have a struggling reader or are teaching your child how to read, letter recognition is an important part of reading success.
What is Letter Recognition?
In the simplest terms, letter recognition is the ability to identify alphabet sound-symbol correlations. This includes recognizing letter shapes and their associated letter sounds. At Reading Elephant, we recommend teaching letter sounds before letter names.
You can teach letter recognition over time, giving lessons on 2-4 letter sounds at a time. This allows students to slowly acclimate to new letter sounds.
Teach visual recognition in conjunction with letter sounds.
Once students are able to recognize all 26 upper and lowercase letter symbols and their sounds, they have successfully achieved basic letter recognition. Advanced letter recognition includes identifying letters by sound, shape, and name. Students with advanced letter recognition will also be able to write the letter shape independently.
Letter Recognition is a foundational skill.
There’s been reading research that reveals letter recognition and phonemic awareness are two of the greatest predictors of future reading success.
Students who struggle to recognize letter sounds have difficulty learning how to read. However, with intentional instruction, repetition, and consistency, your student can learn letter recognition and achieve accurate cvc (consonant-vowel-consonant) reading skills.
Our cvc stories help kindergartners practice letter recognition. Enter our shop.
Strategies for Teaching Letter Recognition
Some kids struggle with letter recognition. This will negatively impact their ability to decode. Therefore, when teaching letter recognition to these struggling students, it’s essential to follow proven strategies.
Whether you’re unsure where to start with teaching letter recognition or the steps you’ve tried don’t seem to be working, implementing the strategies below can help your student learn letter sound-symbol correlations.
1) Practice with flashcards.
Flashcards are an excellent tool for teaching letter recognition. Write one letter per card to encourage students to match letter recognition with alphabet sounds. This approach will lay the groundwork for successful literacy.
Using flashcards also helps battle the challenge of kids simply memorizing the order of letters in the alphabet. Instead, shuffle the cards each time you review. Since students can’t memorize a specific order, they must rely on mastering the shapes and sounds to help with letter recognition.
When you introduce a letter sound, you can include a picture on the card to help your student make an auditory association. For example, a flashcard for the letter ‘a’ could include a picture of an apple. Eventually, work your way toward having your student identify the letters on his own, without images.
2) Teach short vowels.
Teach short vowel sounds for the vowels a, e, i, o, and u:
a_ as in apple (ex. hat, sat)
e_ as in elephant (ex. hen, pet)
i_ as in igloo (ex. sit, pig)
o_ as in octopus (ex. dog, pop)
u_ as in umbrella (ex. cup, bug)
As students learn how to read, they can use their knowledge of short vowel sounds to decode short vowel words, like hat and sit. These types of short vowel words are called consonant-vowel-consonant words or CVC words. These CVC words are the foundation for literacy. Once kids master the basics of short vowel sounds, they can move on to more complex stories featuring CVC words like this:
Explore Reading Elephant’s collection of printable decodable books.
3) Focus on letter sounds.
Think about it: when you sound out a word, you use the letter sounds, not names. Letter sounds is what actually unlocks a word. Unfortunately, most people focus on letter names too much, yet beginning readers don’t decode words using those names. Instead, they must think of the sound associated with the letter symbol.
When teaching letter recognition, the main focus should be on letter sounds. The fact that the letter name for “c” is “see,” the letter name for “a” is “ay” and the letter name for “t” is “tee,” does not help kids when they try to read the word “cat.” If they were focusing on letter names, students would read “cat” as “see-ay-tee.” When they shift their focus to the letter sounds of “c-aaa-ttt,” they can unlock the word “cat.”
4) Start with one sound per letter.
One of the most complicated aspects of learning the alphabet is that many letters make more than one sound. This can lead to confusion for beginning readers. Rather than bombarding learners with all the sounds each letter can make, teach students one sound per letter. Gradually, you can teach your students the additional sounds (a_ says a_ as in apple, but in “ai” it says ai as in sail… etc). Scaffolding your approach will help narrow students’ focus so they can master one sound for each letter before moving on.
When working with beginning readers, start by focusing on the following letter sounds:
a as in apple
b as in bat
c as in cat
d as in dog
e as in elephant
f as in frog
g as in goat
h as in hat
i as in igloo
j as in jaguar
k as in kangaroo
l as in lion
m as in monkey
n as in nest
o as in octopus
p as in panda
q as in queen
r as in rhinoceros
s as in snow
t as in turtle
u as in umbrella
v as in violin
w as in wing
x as in fox
y as in yak
z as in zebra
Teach sound-by-sound reading skills with Reading Elephant’s printable short vowel stories. They’re perfect for beginning and struggling readers.
5) Start with lowercase letters.
While students will eventually need to recognize the lower and uppercase versions of each letter, it’s best to start with lowercase letters. Take a look at the short vowel book excerpt below:
As you can see in the example above, there are far more lowercase letters than uppercase. That’s because kid’s books, or reading material in general, are primarily composed of lowercase letters. Uppercase letters only appear at the start of a sentence or a proper noun. Therefore, recognizing lowercase letters and their associated sounds is a more widely used skill. This makes lowercase letter recognition the perfect starting point for beginning readers. Once students master letter recognition using lowercase, they can move on to matching each letter to its uppercase counterpart.
6) Hold continuous sounds.
There are two types of sounds to think about when teaching letter recognition: stop sounds and continuous sounds. Continuous sounds can be made for a long time without changing the sound. For example, you can hold “mmmmm” or “sssss” without any distortion to the sound. Learning continuous sounds is an important part of letter recognition for beginning readers and helps them unlock words with more ease. Beginning readers can move from one continuous sound to another without stopping, making it easier to blend and, ultimately, decode words.
For example, the word “Sam” is composed entirely of continuous sounds. This means “Sam” is easier for beginning readers than “big,” a word that begins and ends with stop sounds. As you practice letter recognition with continuous sounds, teach your student to hold these sounds for a minimum of 2-3 seconds. Point out how the sound never changes to help them understand how to apply continuous sounds when reading.
7) Clip stop sounds.
Unlike continuous sounds, stop sounds must be said quickly. This kind of letter sound cannot be sustained for long periods without adding an “uh” to the end. Therefore, if they are held for too long, the sound eventually changes. For example, sat the sound of the letter “g.” Now, try to hold the letter sound for 2-3 seconds. Did you add an “uh?” It’s inevitable.
We need to teach students to clip that “uh” off when making these letter sounds. As they practice their letter recognition, ensure your students keep their stop sounds nice and short. If they try to hold these sounds for too long, they will inevitably add an “uh” to the end. This additional sound will lead to difficulty when decoding words, causing them to mispronounce a word like “dig” as “dug’ or “dog.” As you can imagine, this would make reading a long and tedious process. Therefore, make sure your reader clips that “uh” off stop sounds for the letters b, c, d, g, h, j, k, p, q, t, w, and y so they can decode words with less frustration and more accuracy.
Teach stop and continuous sounds with Reading Elephant’s printable short vowel stories.
8) Teach 2-4 letter sounds at a time.
Yes, there are 26 letters in the alphabet, but that doesn’t mean you should teach 26 letter sounds at once. Instead, stick to teaching 2-4 letter sounds at a time. Not only does this decrease overwhelm for learners, but it allows kids to develop confidence in their letter recognition. Let them master 2-4 alphabet sounds before introducing the next set of sounds.
Scaffolding letter sounds into small groups allows kids to gradually build their letter recognition and letter sound repertoire. However, as students gradually acclimate to new letter sounds, don’t forget to review old sounds too. Consistently weaving in review will help solidify their foundational knowledge of letter recognition.
Mastering letter recognition helps establish a strong foundation for literacy. Using the strategies above can guide your reader toward developing letter recognition skills needed to decode words with confidence. Once they master letter recognition and letter sounds, they can read short vowel books with success.