Working with Letters, Sounds and Words in our Classrooms


Working with letters, sounds and words are important components of literacy instruction in our classrooms.

Emergent students need explicit and incidental instruction around the alphabet and sounds, to improve their alphabet knowledge and phonological awareness.  Conventional students need to learn how words work.

Below is a checklist I use with teachers in working through the letters, sounds and words literacy block in their classrooms.

For emergent students

In this block, emergent students need to build two skills:

  • Alphabet knowledge
  • Phonological awareness

Are you:

  • Providing them with alphabet books?
  • Focusing on the whole alphabet or at least on two letters a week?
  • Using students’ names as a basis for early alphabet knowledge?
  • Pointing out letters and print in the environment?
  • Talking about letters and their sounds when you encounter them in every day activities?
  • Providing opportunities to play with letter shapes and sounds?
  • Explicitly referencing letter names and sounds in shared reading and writing activities?
  • Using mnemonics such as food, people and actions for difficult letters?
  • Doing letter sorts or initial letter word sorts?
  • Covering onset rime?
  • Doing auditory word sorts (no text)?

For conventional students

In this block, conventional students need to build two skills:

  • Increase the number of sight words
  • Learn how to decode and spell unfamiliar words for reading and writing

Are you:

  • Using a word wall?
  • Introducing 5 high frequency words and/or keywords a week, for weeks 1 – 7 of terms 1, 2 and 3?
  • Doing activities to consolidate word wall words every day?
  • Encouraging students to use the word wall in writing and reading?
  • Doing Systematic Sequential Phonics or Making Words?
  • Doing Guess the Covered Word?
  • Doing keyword sorts – visual, auditory or spelling?

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For further information, please see the following blog posts:

Word families and onset rime: Early literacy instruction with learners with CCN

Letter of the Week: Resources for Older Students

Balanced Word Instruction: Supporting Students with CCN to Crack the Alphabetic Code


And click here to download the checklist above as a handout.

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Comments (4)

  1. Alicia Ylias


    Hi Jane,
    Thankyou for your easy to read information for teaching emergent literacy! I am wondering with students at the stage of emergent literacy are we using word walls and sight words or waiting to introduce these when they are moving to a conventional phase of learning?
    I was under the impression that we do introduce them?


    • jane


      HI Alicia, we definitely wait until students are conventional to do word level tasks, such as using the word wall to teach sight words. This blog post has a description of the different tasks we would do with emergent and conventional students. Hope that helps. Jane

      • Alicia Ylias


        Thankyou Jane. Have loved reading all your research! The impact it has made on the teaching of the students in my class has been fantastic. The children are more engaged and happier! So glad to see for the children. Thanks so much 🙂

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