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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Phases of Early Literacy Development for K-3 Students

We know from research that children begin their development with language as early as when they are developing in the womb. These language skills form the foundation of their ability to become oral communicators as well as good readers and writers. Children form their understandings about language, reading and writing from their home and environmental experiences with language and with the print they experience around them on a day to day basis. Click on the links below to see the characteristics of each stage of literacy development. You will find many great activities to do with children in each stage of literacy development in my book: Threads of Reading: Strategies for Literacy Development.

1. Exploratory Stage

2. Experimental Stage

3. Early Literacy Stage

4. Transitional Literacy Stage

5. Independent/Productive Reading Stage

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.