Identifying Letters and Sounds in the Early Grades

When students come to kindergarten, one of the most important skills they need to master to become strong readers is identifying letters and the sounds that letters make.

Children’s foundational reading development is related to their understanding of the alphabetic principle – the idea that letters and letter patterns represent the sounds of spoken language.

Research shows that children who know their letters and sounds have a much easier time learning to read than children who have not mastered letter identification and sound relationships (Clayton, West, Sears, Hulme & Lervåg, 2020)

Cartoon primary children holding hands and smiling
The ability to identify letters and sounds is essential to becoming good readers.

How to Determine When Students can Identify Letters and Sounds

When students understand that there are predictable relationships between sounds and letters they can apply these understandings to familiar as well as unfamiliar words. This helps them become proficient decoders of what they are reading.

A quick way to tell who needs additional work with letters and sounds is to ask children to identify letter names and give a sound that the letter makes.

You can find simple assessment forms for checking student letter skill mastery online.

You can also find alphabet flash cards that you can give to parents or classroom tutors. This will help students practice identifying the letters in both upper as well as lower case form.

Periodic rechecks can help you track the progress of your students to make sure they develop a strong foundation in letter-sound relationships. This will help you identify who needs additional work with letters and sounds.

Learn more about helping students become strong readers in The Threads of Reading: Strategies of Literacy Development.

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Early Literacy and Language Development

Language Development is Foundational for Literacy

Language development is a critical aspect of a child’s overall development. It starts very early, even before birth, and continues progressing through childhood and adolescence. Children learn to communicate in various ways, starting with cries and coos as infants, progressing to babbling, and eventually developing the ability to understand and use words.

Research has shown that the language skills children develop in their early years lay the foundation for their later success as oral communicators, readers, and writers. Therefore, providing young children with a rich language environment is crucial, encouraging them to learn and practice new words and concepts.

A child’s early experiences with language significantly impact their ability to develop literacy skills. Children exposed to different words and language structures at home will likely have strong literacy skills later. Conversely, children not exposed to language-rich environments may struggle with reading and writing as they age.

Stages of Literacy and Language Development

The first stage of literacy and language development is the exploratory stage. Children explore the print world during this stage and recognize letters and words. They may enjoy looking at books but do not yet understand the connection between the words on the page and the spoken language they hear.

In the experimental stage, children start to experiment with reading and writing. They may start to recognize some words and try to sound them out. They may also enjoy scribbling and drawing, which lays the foundation for writing.

The early literacy language stage is when children develop more advanced literacy skills. They begin to understand that letters represent sounds and that words have meaning. They may start recognizing some sight words and using phonics to sound out unfamiliar words.

In the transitional literacy stage, children become more independent in reading and writing. They can read simple texts independently and write simple sentences. They may also start to understand more complex grammar and sentence structures.

Finally, children become fluent readers and writers in the independent/productive reading stage. They can read and comprehend more complex texts and write longer, more detailed pieces.

It is important to note that children progress through these stages at different rates, and there is no set timeline for when a child should reach each stage. Some children may progress quickly, while others may need more time and support.

How Parents/Caregivers Can Help Language Development

Parents and caregivers can support a child’s language development and literacy skills by creating a language-rich environment at home. This can include reading to children, talking to them about their experiences, and providing them with opportunities to explore the written word through books, magazines, and other materials.

Additionally, parents and caregivers can encourage children to write and draw by providing them with paper and writing materials and praising their efforts. They can also model good writing and communication skills by writing notes or letters to their child or engaging in meaningful conversations with them.

In conclusion, language development and literacy skills are critical for a child’s overall development and success in school and beyond. Parents and caregivers play an essential role in supporting children’s language and literacy development by providing them with a rich language environment and opportunities to explore the written word. By doing so, they can help children develop the skills they need to become confident, competent communicators and learners.

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Learn more strategies for working with early literacy in my book: The Threads of Reading: Strategies for Literacy Development

Using Running Records in the Primary Classroom

Marie Clay introduced the idea of taking a running record as a child reads orally to document a child’s reading behavior in the early 1980. She demonstrated that having a good understanding of a child’s strengths and areas of struggle could help the reading teacher develop targeted instruction to help the child grow into a strong and capable reader. Today, many primary teachers understand the value of taking running records and use them to benchmark their student’s progress and inform their instruction.

Taking a running record takes practice but with time, you can quickly learn to take a helpful running record. To take a running record, find a book that you believe is written at the student’s independent level that the child has not read before. Some people prefer to make a copy of the text for themselves to mark on while others simply look over the child’s shoulder as s/he reads and make their markings in a line by line fashion on a blank piece of paper. Tell the child that you will be listening to him or her read out loud and making notes about his or her reading on your paper to learn about what s/he does well when reading. As the child reads, make a check mark for each word that is read correctly. For example, if the child read, “The father came home from work.” your paper would have six check marks on the first line indicating that each word was read correctly. If the child is reading too fast, tell him or her to either slow down or to stop while you catch up with your recording.

Reading Error Rate:  To determine the students error rate, count the total words read and divide by the total number of errors the child makes while reading. Round the number to the nearest whole number. The error rate is expressed as a ratio meaning that for each error made, the child reads X words correctly.

Reading Accuracy Level:  To find the child’s accuracy rate to determine if the text is easy enough for independent reading, count the total words read and subtract the total errors and then divide by the total words read and multiply by 100. Books should be in the  95-100% accuracy range for the reader to do well with this book. A book which a reader can read with 90-94% accuracy is at the child’s instructional level. This book can be used in guided reading situations but is too difficult for the child to read alone.  If the child’s accuracy level with the given text is below 90% it is too difficult for this reader and should not be used.