Alphabet Knowledge

There’s a reason preschool teachers emphasize those ABC’s!

The single best predictor, on its own, of early reading achievement is accurate, rapid naming of the letters of the alphabet.*  Readers need to be able to fluently recognize both uppercase and lowercase letters of the alphabet, and also to be able to automatically associate each letter or letter pattern (e.g., ch-, sh-, -ea-, -ng) and the sounds they represent.

What are we talking about here?

Letter Recognition

Recognizing and being able to name each uppercase and lowercase letter on sight is important for distinguishing between all of those little squiggly symbols on the page while reading and for communicating about print.

  • Expect children to have an easier time recognizing uppercase letters first, as these are more visually distinct from each other.  This does not mean that students can’t be taught both at the same time.
  • Many children have difficulty at first distinguishing between letters that are the reverse of each other or similar to each other, such as b/d, p/q, v/w, etc.  Help them visually compare and contrast these letters with activities such as letter sorts or building letters with objects or playdough.
  • Remember to start with the letters your child already knows, and only add one or two new/unfamiliar letters at a time, to keep it fun and manageable for both of you.

See below for links to some activities to teach and practice alphabet letter recognition.

* Colorful Letters

* Blind Pick

* Simon Says Letters

* Twisty Letters

Letter Sound Knowledge

Readers need to know what sounds are associated with each letter shape, whether uppercase or lowercase, and this association needs to become automatic!  It also involves a certain degree of phonemic awareness.  When they say the sounds that the letters make, they are pronouncing isolated sounds that have no meaning on their own, but that can be blended with other sounds to make words.

  • Once the letter-sound association has been taught, repeated instructional activities and games can help students develop speedier recognition of what sound is associated with each letter.
  • Students need to know that vowels can change the sounds that they make, but it’s best to first emphasize the short sound that each vowel makes during instruction, to help with beginning reading.
  • Remember to start with the letters your child already knows, and only add one or two new/unfamiliar letters at a time, to keep it fun and manageable for both of you.

See below for links to some activities to teach and practice letter sound knowledge.

* Letter Hunt

* Hopscotch for Sounds

* Letter Sound Trays

* Photo Line

Is this all that’s needed to learn how to read?

Nope!  Children also need to develop phonological awareness and oral language skills, as well as a knowledge of how printed language works, so they know what they’re building when they put those alphabet “building blocks” to use.  Check back here in the coming months to find links to activities targeting these crucial literacy skills, as well!

We would love your feedback!

Are the activities and information above useful to you?  Would you like to see others like it? Do you have suggestions for additions or improvements?  Let us know in this brief survey.


*Adams, M. (1990). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Snow, C., Burns, M., & Griffin, P. (Eds.). (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.