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Teaching the Alphabetic Principle

Letter-Sound Correspondences

(Teacher points to letter m on board). “The sound of this letter is /mmmmm/. Tell me the sound of this letter.”

Instructional Design Considerations

Conspicuous Strategies

  • Teacher actions should make the task explicit. Use consistent and brief wording.

Mediated Scaffolding

  • Separate auditorily and visually similar letters.
  • Introduce some continuous sounds early.
  • Introduce letters that can be used to build many words.
  • Introduce lower case letters first unless upper case letters are similar in configuration.

Strategic Integration – Simple Before Complex

  • Once students can identify the sound of the letter on two successive trials, include the new letter-sound correspondence with 6-8 other letter sounds.
  • When students can identify 4-6 letter-sound correspondences in 2 seconds each, include these letters in single-syllable, CVC, decodable words.

Review Cumulatively and Judiciously

Use a distributed review cycle to build retention:


N = new sound; K = known sound

Example (r = new sound; m, s, t, i, f, a = known sounds): r m r s t r r i f a m r


Sounding Out Words

Example: (Teacher points to the word map on the board, touches under each sound as the students sound it out, and slashes finger under the word as students say it fast.) “Sound it out.” (/mmmmmmmmaaaaaaap/) “Say it fast.” (map)

 Instructional Design Considerations

 Conspicuous Strategies

Use the following systematic progression to teach word reading so as to make public the important steps involved in reading a word:

  1. Students orally produce each sound in a word and sustain that sound as they progress to the next.
  2. Students must be taught to put those sounds together to make a whole word.
  3. Students sound out the letter-sound correspondences “in their head” or silently and then produce the whole word.

Each step must be modeled and practiced!!

Mediated Scaffolding

For students to learn and apply knowledge of letter-sound correspondences and use that knowledge to reliably decode words, words must be carefully selected for both (a) the letters in the words, and (b) the complexity of the words.

  1. Letters in words for initial sounding-out instruction should:
  • consist of continuous sounds as these sounds can be prolonged in the voice stream.
  • be ones students know.
  1. Words in sounding-out practice and instruction should:
  • progress from short vowel-consonant and consonant-vowel-consonant (2- or 3-letter) words in which letters represent their most common sounds to longer words (4- or 5-phoneme words) in which letters represent their most common sound.
  • not contain consonant blends (e.g., /st/, /tr/, /pl/) until students are proficient with consonant-vowel-consonant configurations.
  • begin with continuous sounds in early exercises to facilitate blending. Stop sounds may be used in final positions of words.
  • represent vocabulary and concepts with which students are familiar.
Simple Regular Words – Listed According to Difficulty
Word Type Reason for

VC and CVC words that begin with continuous sounds Words begin with a continuous sound it, fan
VCC and CVCC words that begin with a continuous sound Words are longer and end with a consonant blend lamp, ask
CVC words that begin with a stop sound Words begin with a stop sound cup, tin
CVCC words that begin with a stop sound Words begin with a stop sound and end with a consonant blend dust, hand
CCVC Words begin with a consonant blend crib, blend, snap, flat
CCVCC, CCCVC, and CCCVCC Words are longer clamp, spent, scrap, scrimp

Reading Connected Text

Instructional Design Considerations

  • A primary goal of beginning reading instruction is to prepare learners to read passages in order to communicate that print has purpose and meaning.
  • Once students can accurately decode CVC and VC word types, these words should be introduced in short, highly controlled passages.
  • Do not assume that learners will automatically transfer from reading words correctly in lists to reading words in passages. When introducing passage reading, they will need prompts and procedures for transferring word recognition skills to passages.

Conspicuous Strategies

The explicit teaching procedure consists of two components:

  • In the first component, teachers provide direct wording for students to “figure out the word, say the sounds in the word to yourself.” This component generally lasts 1-2 weeks.
  • The second component of transitioning to passage reading involves a modified prompt where teachers give a direction at the beginning of the passage. For example, the teacher says, “Figure out the first word” and then asks students to read the word. Note the prompting to say the sounds is eliminated.
  • A final technique is to increase the pace of word reading. In initial passage reading exercises, allow 3 seconds of “think time” per word. As students become proficient (i.e., reading the passage with no errors), reduce the think time to 2 seconds and later to 1.5 seconds.

Mediated Scaffolding

When introducing passage reading, it is important to:

  • Ensure students can read the words in lists at a rate of one word per 3 seconds.
  • Include only words students can decode in passages.
  • Include repeated opportunities to read passages to develop accuracy and fluency.
  • Make clear the connections between sounding out the words in lists and reading those words in passages.
  • Progress from the highly prompted sight reading strategy to the less-prompted strategy.
  • Reduce the time for sight reading words from 3 seconds to 2 seconds to 1.5 seconds.

Strategic Integration

  • Teach words first in word lists before integrating into passages.
  • Use both the sounding out strategy and sight reading strategy for a few weeks to communicate their connection.