One of the most important concepts for kindergarteners to learn for their early literacy development is letter-sound correspondence. Children need to know that the written letters are connected to sounds we speak and they need to be able to match the two.
Don’t wait to teach the sounds
We used to wait until the students had mastered identifying the uppercase and lowercase letters to teach the sounds the letters make. This means, we didn’t start explicitly teaching letter sounds until about December or January, at the earliest. That is just too late! We don’t need to wait until children have learned to identify the letter names – you can teach them both at the same time! When introducing letter names, introduce the sounds the letters make as well! They should be taught at the same time, as we really want children to connect the sound with the image of the letter. If you want to learn more about teaching the alphabet, check out this post.
Start with grouping beginning sounds
When teaching letter–sound correspondence, we first want to make sure that students can hear the different individual sounds. You should start with a focus on beginning sounds, as that is the first chunk of words that children can hear. You want students to be able to group words with the same beginning sounds. They should be able to do this early on in the school year, before working on other literacy skills. When they are able to do this, you can start adding in the letters the connect to those sounds. For example, you can label pictures and their writings with the beginning sounds of words.
I love using chants and songs for teaching phonics skills, well, any skill really! Often as a warm up, I take the alphabet chart and read through it with the class in a chat format with letter name, word associated with it, and the letter sound. For example, “A, apple, /a/, B, bear /b/” etc. Whenever you can include hand motions or movements with these chants, the better! I love Jack Hartmann videos for other chants and songs with the letter names and sounds. They are fun, perfect for a quick break between subjects, offer a movement break, and spice up the songs.
When I am gathering students on the rug for writing, I try to open with a playful song to identify different sounds. I like to sing, “what’s the sound that starts the word, starts the word, starts the word, what’s the sound that starts the word, starts the word _______” or “ends the word” or “is inside the word”, to the tune of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush I believe, but you could probable connect it to most familiar tunes! I am an expert of connecting directions to the song “Brother John”. Anyways, the children guess the sound that starts the word and then we connect that sound to the letter that makes the sound.
Tools for Letter-Sound Correspondence
Every classroom should have multiple forms of the alphabet chart. I have one on the wall, connected to the word wall, and individual sets for tables and writing folders. Children should be very familiar with this tool and using the words/pictures associated with the letter sounds to connect to other words. The goal is for them to use the chart to help them identify which letter makes the sound they are trying to write. I like to play games with the chart to help them understand the chart better. For example, we play I Spy or I Hear with the chart and cover up the squares on the chart.
Every classroom should also have several sets of cards with letters on it. Some with the pictures of the associated words/sounds and some with just the letter. I like to use these cards as a whole group for a warm-up and flip through them to say the letter names and sounds. I also like to use them for different movement breaks by flipping through to find the letters or sounds around the room or to make the letter with their bodies. In small groups, I use the cards to play matching games, bingo games, and I Spy. It’s also great to connect handwriting and sensory play to learning the letters by showing the letter and having students trace it in sand or shaving cream.
There are so many ways to easily incorporate letter-sound correspondence into your everyday classroom routines. You can start teaching this important skill from day 1, as opposed to waiting until students have mastered their letter names. If you’re looking for more phonics suggestions, check out this post.