What Letter and Sounds Do They Know?
You might be asking yourself, “How do I get started?” The toughest part of beginning anything new is taking the first step. The first thing you need to do when you start teaching a child how to read is to find out what they already know. This has many purposes, but most importantly, it saves you both a lot of time. When a child is learning the alphabet, there is no need to teach letters they already know. Teach the ones that they don’t. If a child is struggling with reading at school and you assume that they know all of their letters and sounds and you skip this step, you may be skipping the cause of their struggle!
How Do You Find Out What Letters & Sounds They Know?
First, you need to find out if they can identify the letters of the alphabet. You would be surprised at the number of struggling readers in first grade that cannot identify all of the letters of the alphabet. I use a Letter & Sound Assessment sheet with all of the letters mixed up and out of order. The child’s copy has Uppercase letters on the top section and Lowercase letters on the bottom. The Recording sheet has columns to check if the letter is known, if the sound is known, and if they can tell you a word that starts like that. If you would like a FREE copy of the Letter & Sound Assessment forms that I use, sign up below and get a copy sent directly to your email inbox.
Since it takes quite a bit of time to do all of those steps, I usually only assess one thing at a time. You will find that young children don’t have the ability to concentrate on a mental task for an extended time before they are exhausted. Your results will not be as accurate if you insist that they continue after they have shown they’re tired.
Give Specific Directions
So, the first time through, I ask them to tell me what the things on this page are called. If they don’t know, I tell them they are sometimes called letters or the alphabet. Then I ask them to tell me the name of the letters going from Left to Right. I show them what that looks like by pointing to where to start on the Left and show where they will go on the Right. Then I tell them that when they get to the end of the row, they will return back to the Left and start on the next row. I show them how they can use their other finger to hold their place so they don’t get lost. I never assume that they understand directionality. If they skip lines, make a note of it and show them where to go.
I also never read or say any of the letters names during the directions. If they get to a letter that they don’t know, I tell them that they can say “skip” and go on. I would much rather they skip an unknown letter then just guess. I need to know if that letter is a confusion or an unknown. If they seem tired when you finish the 1st time through, either take a break or stop the assessment for the day.
On the second time through, I ask them to tell me the sound that the letters make. It stands to reason that if they didn’t know the name of the letter they may not know the sound, but that’s not always true. So, I have them try them. If they knew all of the Uppercase letters, then just ask for the sounds for those, not both the Uppercase and the Lowercase. The opposite is also true. If they knew mainly Lowercase letters then use those. Doing both is unnecessary. If a letter has more than one sound, I ask them if they know the other sound that the letter makes.
An example of that would be the letter Aa. It says long /a/ and short /a/. If you can tell that a child does not know any or many letter sounds, it is sometimes best to have them look over the list of letters and see if there are any letters that they know the sound for. There is no reason to go through the entire list if it looks like sounds are an unknown. That would be exhausting for both of you! If they seem tired when you finish the 2nd time through, either take a break or stop the assessment for the day.
The third time through, I ask them if they can tell me the name of something that begins with that letter. I give them some ideas such as animal names, people they know, pets, food, colors, etc. Once they start, I no longer provide any prompts. If they didn’t know any sounds, this step will need to be postponed until a later time. If they only knew a few sounds, you could ask them to give you a word for only the letters that they told you a correct sound for.
That’s a great start! If your child doesn’t know at least half of the alphabet, then you don’t need to go on to the next assessments. You will focus your instruction on teaching the alphabet first, beginning with the letters in their name. If they do know most of their alphabet, go on to Step 2: How many words do they know!
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