Knowing what to do
Teaching the alphabet
- Teach the names of the letters first (ABCs).
- Once students know the names of the letters they can progress to matching the name of the letter to the written letter (grapheme). For some letters, the letter name provides a clue to the letter sounds,43 for example, /s/, /k/, /m/, /z/.
- Once the learner knows the letter names, switch to using a random order for teaching letters and their corresponding names (not ABC).
- Use letter flashcards, with separate cards for upper and lower case versions of a letter where they differ. For many letters, lower and upper case forms are the same (for example, c, k, o, p, s, u, v, x, z) so there is no need to present lower and upper forms of these letters.
- Teach letters that may be confused in a context where they are easier to differentiate; for example, in the word bed the shape of the word makes the shape of a bed.
- Teach simple reminders to deal with confusing letters; for example, dish and spoon indicates that the round part of the letter d (the dish) comes before the stroke (the spoon); bat and ball indicates that the stroke (the bat) comes before the round part (the ball).
To raise a learner’s awareness, ‘noticing’ type exercises are useful. Some examples are:
- games and activities where learners circle the target letters, or the upper case letters in a short text
- letter bingo using upper case, lower case or a mixture of forms
- eliciting knowledge of upper and lower cases from learners as they write (ask them to identify individual letters or words).
This kind of noticing lends itself well to pair work, with learners reinforcing one another’s noticing.
Letter–sound relationships (phonics)
Learners tend to master the letter–sound relationships for consonant sounds relatively easily (b, c, d, f, h, j and so on). Begin by teaching words that have a simple pattern of single consonants and short vowel sounds (as in cat, pet, sit, cot, cut). Then explore variations such as:
- sit (remove s and replace with b)
- bit (remove b and replace with f)
- fit (remove f and replace with n)
- nit … continue.
Encourage learners to notice that changing one letter or sound changes the meaning of the word. Wherever possible, base activities like this on words that are relevant and used by the learners.
When this pattern is well established:
- introduce initial blends (st, sm, bl, pr) and final blends (st, sp, tch)
- introduce long vowel sounds when the learner has grasped short vowel sounds (for example, gate, Pete, site, code and cute)
- introduce consonant digraphs (with, rich, think) and r and l controlled vowels (her, hall).
It is important when teaching letter–sound relationships to refer also to the names of individual letters. When you discuss letters, it can be helpful for learners to have a distinctive label for different forms (for example, the ‘squiggle g’ as distinct from the ‘regular g’ form).