Letter-sound knowledge

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Letter-sound knowledge

Post  Vincent Law on Thu Aug 16, 2012 1:52 pm

Letter-sound knowledge—also known as alphabetic understanding—helps students understand that the letters or clusters of letters that make up words represent separate spoken sounds, and that to read a word they must first identify the most common sound of each letter, then blend the sounds together. This figure provides the most frequent spellings of the 44 English sounds, as well as keywords to guide pronunciation. It is important to teach the most common sound for each letter first.

Though teachers often teach one letter a week, introducing letter sounds in alphabetical order limits the number of words the students can form, thus limiting their ability to practice using the alphabetic principle to read and write. A better strategy is to teach letter-sound associations that can be combined to make words that children can read and understand. The combination of a vowel and a few consonants—for example, /m/, /s/, /a/, /t/—allows children to form several words. Teachers should begin by teaching sounds that are easy to articulate. Continuous sounds, such as /m/ and /s/, are easy to say and hear because the sounds can be held without distortion, whereas stop sounds, such as /p/ and /b/, are easily distorted. It is not practical to teach all the letters with continuous sounds before any with stop sounds, because some stop sounds appear often in books for beginning readers. If a student is having trouble, teachers should focus on letter-sound relationships that are easier to pronounce.

During initial instruction, teachers should separate confusing letter-sound associations, such as letters that are visually or aurally similar, and determine that students have mastered one before teaching the next. Visually similar letters can differ in the vertical direction of their extensions (b/p, d/q), their left-right orientation (b/d, p/q), and their top-bottom orientation (w/m, u/n) (Blevins, 1998). Aurally similar letters include /b/, /p/, and /d/. As with visually similar letters, aurally similar ones should be separated to help students learn each as a distinct sound.

The following is a common sequence for introducing letter-sound correspondences:

1. Initial consonants (m, n, t, s, p)
2. Short vowel and consonant combinations (-at, -in, -ot)
3. Blends (bl, dr, st)
4. Digraphs (th, sh, ph)
5. Long vowels (eat, oat)
6. Final e (-ake, -ute, -ime)
7. Variant vowels and dipthongs (-oi, -ou)
8. Silent letters and inflectional endings (kn, wr, gn, -es, -s) (Blevins, 1998)

The number of letter-sound correspondences teachers introduce each week will vary based on the students, but two per week should be adequate for most. Teachers should remember to select letter-sound relationships that will allow the students to form words.

Here is a basic lesson for introducing letter-sound correspondences once students have learned letter names and forms:

1. Hold up a letter card and tell students the sound. Say, “This letter is A. The sound for A is /a/.”
2. Ask students to tell you the name and then the sound. Be sure they know the difference between the two.
3. Ask students to write the letter as they say the sound.

If students at the beginning of first grade know none or only a few letter names, teachers should teach both the letter names and sounds simultaneously.

Vincent Law
Vincent Law
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