Regardless of which letter-sound sequence you use to introduce letter-sound links and teach children early blending skills, kids in Kindergarten should have mastered the basic alphabetic code by the end of the school year. They should also be able to blend the speech sounds most commonly associated with each letter to form short words, like “bat” and “sit”.
Unfortunately, some children are very good at tricking us into thinking they are better readers than they actually are. For example, some children with good expressive vocabularies and/or oral language structure skills are adept at pretending to read by guessing words from pictures or following simple language patterns (e.g. “I can see a…”, “There’s a…”). This is especially a risk when predictive texts that use repeated carrier phrases and lots of pictures. Other children simply memorise their readers and trick us into thinking they are reading by reciting books back to us on cue like secretaries from the 1950s.
Many children with problems decoding words fly under the radar until around Year 3. Then they are expected to read lots of things without pictures, and are also expected to learn new things – written words they have never seen before – by reading about them. If the child hasn’t learned to decode before Year 3, it takes a huge amount of work to catch up, and the evidence tells us that many kids never catch up.
To give families a reality check on their children’s true basic decoding skills, we have written some free, mini-stories for late Kindy kids (and older kids with reading issues).
They don’t have pictures or follow patterns. Nor are they fine literature by any measure. (If you are after quality literature to enhance your child’s oral language development, check out these links – audiobooks for preschoolers, audiobooks for kids in Kindergarten and Year 1, audiobooks for kids in Years 2-6.)
Instead, these mini-stories are designed for one thing: a basic check whether children can decode real, simple words without guessing from pictures or spotting oral language patterns.
To help us structure the stories, we used the Sounds Write letter-sound sequence and Units for reference. We tweaked it a bit to include some early developing morphemes, including 3S and possessive s. But most children who have finished Kindergarten should be able to read these silly little tales without too much trouble.
If your child struggles to read these tales, she or he might benefit from some more work on letter-sound links and early blending skills to kick-start their true decoding and reading skills.
- Teaching the alphabet to your child? Here’s what you need to know
- Is your child struggling to read? Here’s what works
- Kick-start your child’s reading with speech sound knowledge (phonological awareness)
- How to find out if your child has a reading problem (and how to choose the right treatment approach)
- “I don’t understand what I’m reading” – reading comprehension problems (and what to do about them)
- How to help your school-age child learn new words – the nuts and bolts of how I actually do it in therapy
- The forgotten reading skill: fluency, and why it matters
- What else helps struggling readers? The evidence for “morphological awareness” training
- Dyslexia vs Developmental Language Disorder: same or different, and what do we need to know about their relationship?
Banter Speech & Language is owned and managed by David Kinnane, a Hanen- and LSVT LOUD-certified speech-language pathologist with post-graduate training in the PreLit early literacy preparation program by MultiLit, the Spalding Method for literacy, the Lidcombe and Camperdown Programs for stuttering, and Voicecraft for voice disorders. David is also a Certified PESL Instructor for accent modification.
David holds a Master of Speech Language Pathology from the University of Sydney, where he was a Dean’s Scholar. David is a Practising Member of Speech Pathology Australia and a Certified Practising Speech Pathologist (CPSP). David is a part-time Associate Lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney’s Graduate School of Health. David sits on Speech Pathology Australia’s Ethics Board and Professional Standards Advisory Committee, and is a Board Member of SPELD NSW.
1. Letter names are not the same as speech sounds
- writing takes the form of a sound-based, alphabetic code. The letters we use are to a large extent determined by how words sound;
- letters of the alphabet have names (e.g. “a”, “b” and “c”, which we pronounce as “ay”, “bee” and “see”, respectively);
- each letter is linked to at least one sound. The letter “b” (pronounced “bee”) says one sound: /b/ as in the first sound in ball. The letter “c” says one of two sounds depending on the vowel that follows it: /k/ as in “cat” or “cut” and /s/ as in “ceiling”, “circle” or “cycle”. The letter “a” says three sounds: /ae/ as in “apple”, /ei/ as in “gave”, and /a/ as in “father”; and
- the name of each letter is not the same as the sound(s) it makes. For example, we say “aytch” for the name of the letter “h”. But, when we read “h” aloud in a word, we say a “huffy” sound at the back of our throats, /h/. It’s the first sound in “hippo” or “helicopter”. The sound is not “aytch”.
2. To read, speech sounds are more important than letter names
- To read, we need to “decode” the letters, turn them into speech sounds, and then blend them together to say words.
- Unfortunately, most of us learn the alphabet from the “Alphabet Song” (Smith, 2000) or from early learning books that focus on the letter names.
- For example, kids learn to say the letter names “See” (for “c”), “Eff” (for “f”), “Jee” (for “g”), and “Ex” (for “x”), rather than the sound(s) they make, namely:
- /k/ as in “cat” or /s/ as in “ceiling”;
- /f/ as in “fire”;
- /g/ as in “goat” or /d ʒ/ as in “giraffe”; and
- /ks/ as in the sound at the end of “fox”.
- Understandably, this confuses kids (and everyone else!):
- Some kids memorise the Alphabet Song but can’t recognise letters in isolation. For example, they may think that “l-m-n-o-p” is one name (very common), or they may be able to recite the letters in order, but can’t tell you what letter comes after “s”, or before “d”.
- If kids try to use letter names (rather than sounds) to read the word “cat”, for example, they end up with “seeaytee”, rather than /kaet/.
- Therefore, when teaching your child a letter, stress the sound(s) that the letter makes. For example:
- “This is the letter “k” [pronounced “kay”]. It says /k/ [not “kuh”], as in “koala” or “kangaroo”.
- Tip: When teaching short “plosive” sounds, like /p, b, d, t, k, g/ do not add an “uh” to the end of the sound – it’s /p/, not “puh”; /t/, not “tuh”; and so on. Otherwise, you end up with the child saying “kuhat” for “cat”.
3. But letter names are not irrelevant!
- Alphabet knowledge is an important emergent literacy skill (e.g. Hammill, 2004).
- Knowledge of letter names in Kindergarten is one of the strongest predictors of future reading ability (e.g. Catts et al., 2002).
- Poor alphabet recognition skills is a risk factor in later reading difficulties (Catts et al., 2001).
4. To help with reading, link letter names to the sounds they make and teach them together
- To understand the alphabet, children must not only be familiar with the letters, but they must be able to identify and manipulate the sounds to which the letters are linked (Neilson, 2003).
- In other words, we need to explicitly, deliberately teach children the links between letters and sounds.
5. Lower case letters are more important than uppercase letters
- Lots of research seems to have focused on the ability of kids to read upper-case (CAPITALISED) letters (e.g. Ellefson et al., 2009).
- But the ability to recognise lower-case (uncapitalised) letters is critical for reading: most of what we read is made up of lower-case letters (Worden & Boettccher, 1990). Lower-case letters are used around 17 times more often than capitalised letters.
6. In what order should I teach my child the letters of the alphabet?
- Start with the letters in your child’s name. Pre-schoolers and Kindergarten kids are usually better able to recognise the first letter of their name than other letters (e.g. Justice et al., 2006). There’s also some evidence that this “own-name” advantage extends to other letters in the child’s name (e.g. Treiman et al., 2006).
- Teach letters in the order kids learn to say the speech sounds linked to the letter (Lehr, 2000) (see below for a system based on this idea).
- Teach the letters where the upper-case and lower-case versions of the letters look similar. Treiman & Kessler (2004) identified nine such letters:
- (Note: apparently, this doesn’t work for the letter Uu (Evans, 2006)).
- Don’t teach letters at the same time that are easily confused. This includes:
- letter pairs that look similar, like:
- b and d;
- p and q;
- m and w; and
- v and u (Evans, 2006); and
- letters where the letter names (when said out loud) include similar sounds, e.g.
- b, p, d, e (which are said as “bee”, “see”, “pee”, “dee” and “ee”); and
- a and h (which are said as “ay” and “aytch”) (Treiman & Kessler, 2003).
- It’s tricky to avoid this problem: only six letter names are phonologically distinct: e, o, i, r, u, y (Huang & Invernizzi, 2014), and it’s debatable whether “e” and “y” are truly distinct.
- letter pairs that look similar, like:
7. Is there an “ideal” order in which you should teach your child the alphabet?
But there are a couple of researchers and publishers who have given it a go, based on one or more principles set out above:
A. Lehr (2000) (lower-case, based principally on the order of speech-sound acquisition in children):
Pre-school kids: n, w, p, h, m, a, b, k, d, f, o, c, e, y, g, t, s, r, z, i, q, v, l, u, j, x
Kindergarten kids: m, t, f, n, h, a, p, z, b, i, s, d, u, v, l, w, o, r, g, e, j, c, k, y, q, x
B. Carnine, Silbert & Kame’enui (1997) (lower- and upper-case)
a, m, t, s, i, f, d, r, o, g, l, h, u, c, b, n, k, v, e, w, j, p, y, T, L, M, F, D, I, N, A, R, H, G, B, x, q, z, J, E, Q
C. Sounds Write, UK Letter Sounds, Initial Lit, Little Learners Love Literacy
For reading and spelling:
- learning the names of the letters of the alphabet is important;
- learning the speech sounds that letters make is more important; and
- linking speech sounds to letters, and blending the sounds together to “decode” writing is most important.
Lots of factors affect how children learn to recognise letter names. However, some factors matter more than others, including:
- whether the letters are in a child’s name;
- the visual similarity of a letter’s upper- and lower-cases; and
- how different a letter looks and sounds to other letters.
Many pre-schools and kindergartens teach a “letter of the week” (e.g. Pressley et al., 1996). But there may be more efficient ways of teaching children letters and linking them to their speech sounds following the principles and sequences outlined above (e.g. Treiman, 2000).
- Is your child struggling to read? Here’s what works
- FAQ: In what order and at what age should my child have learned his/her speech sound consonants?
- Why is English spelling so hard? Why and how should we teach it?
- Huang, F.L. & Invernizzi, M.A. (2014). Factors associated with lowercase alphabet naming in kindergarteners. Applied Psycholinguistics, 35, 943-968.
- Lehr, F. R. (2000). The Sequence of Speech-Sound Acquisition in the Letter People Programs. Waterbury, CT: Abrams & Company
Banter Speech & Language is owned and managed by David Kinnane, a Hanen- and LSVT LOUD-certified speech-language pathologist with post-graduate training in the Spalding Method for literacy, the Lidcombe and Camperdown Programs for stuttering, and Voicecraft for voice disorders. David is also a Certified PESL Instructor for accent modification.
David holds a Master of Speech Language Pathology from the University of Sydney, where he was a Dean’s Scholar. David is a Practising Member of Speech Pathology Australia and a Certified Practising Speech Pathologist (CPSP).