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Learning to Read

Learning the Letters
September 5, 2013 By M. J. Maynard

"A,b,c,d,e,f,g..." That song may be running through your head these days if you have a young learner. It is necessary, obviously, for your child to have thorough letter knowledge before much progress can be made in reading.

I have encountered people who have mistakenly thought that their child knows letters simply because they can sing the alphabet song. Not a bad start, but letter identification goes much farther than that. Children need to be fluent and flexible in their knowledge of letters. When I was teaching school, our particular reading system held the philosophy that the students needed to know the alphabet as well as we adults do.

So, how do you help your child get to the place of quick letter identification? Here are some pointers:

  • It is better to teach the easier, more common letters first. "M" and "S" are good starters for most children. Also, the letters in their name should be learned right away.

  • Learn one or two letters at a time, and gradually introduce new ones while reviewing the knowns.

  • There are a lot of letter features that we experienced readers take for granted, but a child needs to learn to look at them. Details like the height of a stick can determine whether a letter is an "a" or a "d." Also, don't forget that the printer's "a" and "g" can be confusing. They need to know that this is a different way that those two letters can appear.

  • When two letters are easily confused or reversed, make sure one of them is strongly established before the next one is introduced. Lower case "b" and "d" are classic examples for this. After one is learned really well, they can usually compare and see the differences in the new letter.

  • Magnetic letters on a cookie sheet or upright surface (such as the refrigerator), are a great teaching tool. Letters can be sorted by color, upper and lower case, and features like sticks and circles. An internet search can lead you to an educational supplier for these. They will be useful later for sight word and spelling word practice, so they are a worthwhile investment.

  • Help your child become flexible in letter identification. Find the letter your are working on in many places in books and the environment. Commercial teaching games are very helpful, and you can also come up with your own letter activities.

  • Remember that a huge percentage of what we read is in lower case letters, so must of our teaching time should be spent on practicing them.

So the song, "A,b,c,d,e,f,g...," might be a little annoying in your head right now, but just remember that learning the letters well is the right step on the journey to becoming a good reader.

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