Teaching the Alphabet Sounds

The foundation of reading and spelling is knowing the most common sound represented by each of the letters of the alphabet –  /a/-apple, /b/-ball, /k/-cat.

With this knowledge you can spell words by breaking the words into their individual sounds (bat – /b/ /a/ /t/) and then writing the letter that represents each of these sounds.

Similarly, if you want to read a word you say the sound represented by each of the letters m-a-n and then blend them together – man.

In contrast,  knowing the letter names /ay/, /bee/, /see/ is not a particular useful skill for learning to read or spell, because for example, saying “/em/-/ay/-/en/ … /emayen/” will not help you to decode and read the word ‘man’.

There are several key elements to consider when teaching the alphabet sounds:

  1. Use a multisensory approach and providing plenty of opportunities for practice
  2. Initially, the key focus should be on the lower case letters as these are the most commonly occurring form of the letter.
  3. Introduce the letters so that letters that are similar in sound (e.g., ‘a’ and ‘u’) or similar in appearance (e.g., ‘b’ and ‘d’) are not taught consecutively.
  4. Link each letter to a key word that begins with the sound of the letter and that can easily be represented by a picture (e.g., a- apple).
  5. Choose pictures that look like the shape of the letter (e.g., i can be made to look like an insect)
  6. Teach an action song for each letter which requires hand movements and the reproduction of the letter.
  7. Do phonological awareness activities which include the child identifying the location of the sound at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of a word.
  8. Ensure a level of awareness of other types of letter fonts.
  9. Promote over learning to ensure completely automatic responses both in terms of reading and writing the letter.
  10. Link knowledge of letter sounds to the reading and spelling of 3 and 4 letter words which have a direct sound/symbol correlation (e.g., cat -/c/-/a/-/t/, run – /r/-/u/-/n/, peg- /p/-/e/-/g/).

The research indicates that each of these factors will assist in learning and long term memory retention.

For more information and resources go to: Reading Level 1 


Cook, S., Yip, T., & Goldin-Meadow, S., (2010). Gesturing makes memories that last, Journal of Memory and Language, 63 (4), 465-475

Shmidman, A., & Ehri, L. (2010). Embedded picture mnemonics to learn letters Scientific Studies of Reading, 14 (2), 159

Treiman, R. Stothard, S. E., & Snowling, M. J. (2013). Instruction matters: Spelling of vowels by children in England and the US. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Jo The US and England have taken different positions on



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