TIP 1: Children require an awareness of the small or individual sounds at the beginning of words in order to be in a good position to start learning the alphabet sounds.
Page 5 of the whole school literacy strategy outlines when initial sound awareness should be ideally instructed. The short response is the term before an alphabet sound program is introduced.
- When children are able to ‘hear’ and ‘say’ the initial sounds in words only then does the alphabet sound system make sense. This does seem logical, as the alphabet symbols represent sounds and if children cannot ‘hear’ and ‘say’ the beginning sounds in words, then learning the alphabet is inevitably going to be more complicated.
- For example: When a child can identify that ‘sun’ starts with a ‘sssss’ and ‘tap’ starts with a ‘t’ it is then an ideal time to introduce the alphabet symbols that correspond with the sounds that the child is aware of.
Too often the alphabet is introduced without prior explicit attention to initial sound awareness. As a result of this approach:
- A proportion of children will make the connection that the alphabet represents the sounds they can ‘hear’ in words.
- A proportion of children will struggle to acquire the alphabet sounds (or will acquire a letter naming dominance). In addition the skill of blending is even more difficult to acquire, and hence the transition to reading is inevitably a challenge.
PLD produces a program (devised by speech pathologists) aiming to prepare ALL students for alphabet success or which can be used for remediation with older students who are already experiencing difficulties learning the alphabet. Preparing for the Alphabet targets initial sound awareness – a child’s ability to “hear, say and think about” sounds at the beginning of words. The program develops a ‘readiness to learn the alphabet’ and targets two steps:
- The continuant sounds – ssssssss, mmmmmmm, nnnnnnnn,rrrrrrrr, zzzzzzzz etc. These sounds are largely “long and often ‘noisy’ sounds. These are identified by the blue borders on the cards.
- The stop sounds – b, p, t, k, r, j etc. These sounds in contrast are typically short and soft. These are identified by the red borders on the cards.
You will notice that not every alphabet sound is represented in the pack. The reason being that once you have targeted or presented sufficient initial continuant sound activities, which of course differs for each child, children can typically hear all initial continuant sounds.
The same process is true for initial stop sounds. More exist than have been represented in the program. Once sufficient activities have been presented children can generally ‘hear, say and think about’ all initial stop sounds.
This program does not include vowels, as vowels primarily occur in medial positions. Of course some words do commence with a short vowel, but typically you will find vowels in medial positions of CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant words). Hence in the next two packs in the range: Preparing for Reading and Preparing for Spelling, vowels are emphasized as students are required to focus not just on an initial sound, but on initial, medial (hence the vowel) and a final sound. The product support video that is on this resource page Preparing for the Alphabet may also assist greatly in understanding this set.
TIP 2: Use this quick assessment to determine if a child is ready to start using the alphabet or to understand why a child may be experiencing difficulties.
This 1 minute progress check can be used to determine if this essential skill of initial sound awareness has been adequately developed for the next area of instruction, the alphabet sounds and blending. In a preventative sense, the screen will determine those students who are ready to start learning the alphabet and those who require the prerequisite to be further developed. For older students who are already being presented with an alphabet program but for whom they are already experiencing difficulties, the screen typically explains why they are experiencing difficulty.
TIP 3: Teach the alphabet sounds rather than the letter names.
The fastest pathway into literacy is knowledge of alphabet sounds and phonic sounds. Students require alphabet knowledge in order to embark on the process of learning to read and spell. However, rather than letter naming ability, letter sound knowledge is the more important skill for entry into formalized literacy learning. For further information on why alphabet sounds are important and how to teach, see HERE. (this needs to link the the new blog I wrote: Alphabet Sounds)
TIP 4: Teach the alphabet sounds using a structured synthetic phonics approach.
Structured Synthetic Phonics (SSP) is the gold standard approach to teaching literacy, of which PLD is one of the recommended evidence-based programs recognized by AUSPELD. PLD integrates within this approach a multi sensory component to teaching the alphabet (see Alphabet the Multisensory Way), particularly for young literacy learners and children who are older and are having difficulty learning the alphabet sounds. Attention to the mouth movements involved in producing the sounds of letters heightens children’s attention to the sound structure and supports the organization of the letter symbols in spelling and the decoding of the symbols in reading. The combination of attention to the oral, auditory and visual aspects of the alphabetic letter symbols significantly accelerates the acquisition of the earliest reading and spelling steps.
TIP 5: Combine instruction of the alphabet with a focus on blending and letter formation.
As PLD’s whole school literacy strategy outlines, following instruction in initial sound awareness, you can then commence alphabet instruction with a focus on blending and letter formation and later on segmenting.