Colorful letters of the alphabet

Letter Names vs. Letter Sounds: Are Both Created Equal?

There is no denying the importance of letter and sound identification for developing readers, but are
both skills of equal importance? For many students, the ever-popular Alphabet Song is their first real
exposure to the alphabetic principle. But a quick analysis of the song reveals some missing components:
letter sounds. Do the letter names really matter? Let’s take a quick moment to consider the association
between the letter name and the phoneme (sound) it most commonly represents. Of the 26 letters,
here are the 14 consonants that include the phoneme (sound) in the actual name: B, D, F, J, K, L, M, N, P,
R, S, T, V, Z

The 5 vowels will only include the phoneme (sound) in the name when they represent their authentic
“long” sound as seen in the following words: a, I, she, cute, and open.

The research of Dr. Linnea Ehri confirmed what many of us suspected: students must learn the names,
sounds, identify both upper and lower case, and the formation of all 26 letters. These foundational skills
are a prerequisite for the development of automatic word reading (Ehri & Roberts, 2006). So what
comes first? The chicken or the egg? Or rather: does the evidence indicate a preferred order for
teaching letter names vs. sounds?

Let’s look at a few summarized points from the research of Dr. Theresa Roberts (2021):

  • Learning letter sounds (LS) was not dependent on first learning the letter names (LN) (Roberts,
  • 2021)
  •  The authors were surprised to find that children could learn the LS and LN together in the same
  • lesson (Roberts, 2021)
  •  No effect was identified teaching LN before LS (or vice versa) (Roberts, 2021)
  •  BUT teaching LS first produced greater letter sound learning for groups receiving the most PAL
  • (Paired Associated Learning) instruction and practice. (Roberts, 2021)

So where does this leave us as reading instructors?

In addition to the above evidence, Dr. Ehri also found that students who received Letter Sound and Leter
Name instruction using Embedded Pictographs (the name of each picture begins with the sound of the
letter and the pictured objective helps secure the letter-sound association in memory) were more
secure with their LS and LN knowledge. This information is clearly impactful to reading instructors who
historically, have posted Anchor Pictures for the alphabet with a key picture that starts with the letter
sound BUT whose shape is unrelated to the letter. This seemingly simple adjustment in our instructional
practice could have key benefits for our developing readers.

Luckily, Ready Reader Decodables has got you covered. Our Alphabet Letter Sounds: Embedded Picture
Mnemonics Bundle has over 300 pages of activities that promote the Alphabetic Principle. Perfect to
print and post in your classroom, this product contains flashcards of each letter with the key word’s
illustration embedded in the shape of the letter. Developed with the scientific evidence in mind, this
bundle is a great addition to a pre-k, K, 1 st , or 2 nd grade classroom. You can access the link to download
here.

Thankfully, leading reading researchers have done the legwork for us as we consider the particulars of
our Letter Name and Letter Sound instruction. And though the Alphabet Song remains as many
students’ starting point for letter acquisition, we now know that embedded mnemonics certainly hold a
key place, as well.

Citations:
Ehri, L.C., & Roberts, T. (2006). The roots of learning to read and write: Acquisition of letters and
phonemic awareness. In D.K. Dickinson & S.B. Neuman (Eds.), Handbook of early literacy research (Vol.
2, pp.113-131). New York, NY: Guilford.
Ehri, Linnea. (2020). The Science of Learning to Read Words: A Case for Systematic Phonics Instruction.
Reading Research Quarterly. 10.1002/rrq.334.
Roberts, T.A (2021). Learning Letters: Evidence and Questions From a “Science of Reading” Perspective.
Read Res Q, 00(00), 1-22.

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