Letter-sound correspondence, phonemic awareness, and the development of literacy

Letter-sound correspondence refers to the identification of sounds associated with individual letters and letter combinations. This is the point in a child's development of literacy where phonemic awareness begins to overlap with orthographic awareness and reading.

All of the developmental stages of phonemic awareness prior to this one have dealt exclusively with sounds and sound combinations. Now we start on letters.

Working at the receptive level is easier, so I always start with that to increase the child's chance of being successful. Then I introduce the expressive level and work on both until the child has mastered the receptive level, then I focus on the expressive level.

Receptive identification of single letter sounds

To practice this skill, you can use the same train set or puppet you used for some of the earlier stages. Instead of colored blocks or tokens, however, you'll be using letters. These can be small cards with letters printed on them, alphabet refrigerator magnets, Scrabble tiles, etc. If you prefer something edible, you can also try alphabet soup or Alpha-Bits cereal.

Place a few letters in front of your child (start with three or four, and increase it as your child becomes more comfortable with the activity). Pronounce the sound made by one of the letters, not the name of the letter, and have the child pick up the letter and put it on the train (or feed it to the puppet, or eat it, depending on which activity you are using).

It is appropriate at this stage to include combinations that represent single sounds, such as SH, CH, TH, OY, OW, AY, OE, and so on. You might want to leave out Q and X at first, since they represent 2-sound sequences. Also, keep in mind that the letter C does not have a sound of its own, so if you put it out at the same time as K or S, things might get confusing.

Expressive identification of single letter sounds

To practice this skill, you can use the same activities, but present one letter at a time and have your child make the sound the letter represents. After making the sound, the child loads, feeds, or eats the letter, depending on which activity you are using.

Once your child is fairly comfortable identifying letter-sound correspondences, it's time to move on the the next stage, which is phonetic reading.

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