Learning the alphabet is a fundamental piece in preschool literacy, but do you know what experts say about how to teach letter recognition in preschool? The research might surprise you!
Being able to recognize letters and the sounds they make is essential for literacy development and academic success. Teaching letter recognition isn’t all that complicated, but it does take careful planning and implementation to ensure lasting results.
Read on to discover our best tips for mastering the nuts and bolts of teaching letter recognition! With our foolproof strategies and fun letter activities, you can have your preschoolers thriving in their alphabet activities in no time.
How to Teach Letter Recognition in Preschool
To set your preschooler up for success in reading, it’s essential to teach them the basic building blocks of letter knowledge — recognizing and recalling letters. Knowing letter names – as well as their specific sounds – will give your little learner a strong foundation on which to grow their literacy skills!
At the earliest stages of reading instruction, one of the most critical concepts to master is alphabet recognition and recall. That’s the ability to be able to see a letter and give it’s name. This includes letter sounds, too.
It’s is a basic concept to master, but one that cannot be overlooked or rushed through. Letters and sounds absolutely MUST be memorized and understood for children to be prepared in learning how to read.
In fact, children who learn letter names and sounds at an early age (like in preschool) have higher reading achievement.
Weak letter sound knowledge is known to cause difficulties in translations from reading to speaking, and is an important component to pay attention to in order to help children learn to read.
The reason why is because children who have strong letter recognition skills, who can quickly recognize and name the letters of the alphabet, have an easier time learning their letter sounds. Their brain doesn’t have to work as hard because letter and sound recognition is automatic.
This means they have an easier time learning how to read.
Read More About the Importance of Letter Recognition Skills
The Right Way to Teach Letter Recognition
There are so many options available for teaching letter recognition. That’s good news because then you have a lot of resources for teaching letter recognition, and therefor a lot of activities at your fingertips to meet the various needs of your preschoolers.
Letter Recognition Instruction Should be Explicit and Systematic
No if, ands, or buts…
We know far too much about the science of reading and how children to read to risk being anything but explicit and systematic.
How to Teach Letter Names and Sounds in Preschool
Regardless of your teaching approach, direct instruction in early literacy is a necessity. While alphabet exploration is important in preschool and should be encouraged, a formal introduction is just as important.
The National Reading Panel has confirmed time and time again the importance of this, as well as the biggest expert names in educational research. Here’s what this means.
- Explicit alphabet instruction – The teacher directly tells the children letter-sound correlations through a time set aside specifically for letter learning.
- Systematic alphabet instruction – This is when children learn one letter name and sound at a time and instruction gradually progresses through every letter of the alphabet.
Exposure to letter names and sounds is not enough. Below are my favorite research based resources for teaching children how to read.
How to Teach Explicitly and Systematically
Like math skills, reading skills must be taught in a specific order, building upon layers and layers of learned knowledge and practice. This is how to teach letters in a systematic way.
- Use a proven curriculum, like the Daily Lessons in Preschool Phonics curriculum. Here are the features:
- daily explicit lessons telling you exactly what to teach,
- done in a systematic order so you don’t have to guess when to teach it,
- using strategies proven by experts to be effective so you know how to teach it
- Follow the scope and sequence provided in the Daily Lessons in Preschool Phonics curriculum.
Tips for Teaching Letter Recognition to Preschoolers
In addition to following a systematic phonics curriculum, and teaching explicit phonics, here are some tips for teaching letter recognition and getting your preschoolers ready to learn to read!
1. Exposure to the Alphabet Helps Develop Letter Recognition Skills
Students need to be exposed to reading activities and letters in print.
A lot. It’s going to feel a little excessive.
But your classroom needs to provide a literacy-rich environment with both letters and words. The day should be steeped in cross-curricular literacy activities. Here are some ideas.
- Label everything.
- Labeling isn’t just for ease or organization; it has many purposes in early literacy. Labeling helps preschoolers become familiar with language used in their everyday lives by helping them understand the different purposed print serves. Label toy and supplies bins, cubbies and shoe racks, etc. And of course, do lots of name recognition activities, too!
- In case you missed the end of that last tip, I’ll say it again: Use your preschoolers’ names in print as frequently as possible.
- Names are meaningful to preschoolers and they naturally will gravitate to that kind of literacy exposure.
- Books don’t belong on just the library shelves.
- Have more than just a “library” of books. Instead, books should be strategically placed throughout the classroom, in every preschool center. For example, add thematic picture books to your science center. Keep math picture books in the math center. Even the art and dramatic play centers should have books.
- Point out letters with which the children are already familiar.
- Show preschoolers how the label on the bin of crayons starts with the letter c and it makes the /k/ sound. Point out familiar letters on the covers of books during circle time and then search for those same letters within the book. Help them understand that letters work together to make sounds that turn into words, like the sounds in our names.
- Make picture books inviting to preschoolers.
- This means to make your preschool literacy center inviting and interesting and thought provoking. It should have a variety of letter manipulatives and alphabet puzzles, as well as interesting alphabet books. Use preschool friendly alphabet printables so children can learn letter shapes along with sounds.
- Try our free alphabet printables.
- These beginning sound puzzles are always a hit, and we love including these alphabet letter formation cards in our writing center or our sensory table.
More About How to Increase Exposure to the Alphabet
2. It Requires Practice, and Lots of It
Preschoolers require a lot of letter recognition practice. A lot. Simply following a letter of the week program with a handful of the same alphabet worksheets each week is not enough.
In fact, those alphabet worksheets should be scratched for a system that have been proven to be effective.
Along with following a systematic letter curriculum here are some other ways help your preschoolers get in more letter recognition and sound practice.
- Set aside time each day to teach phonics.
- The Daily Lessons in Preschool Phonics curriculum is designed to take only 15-20 minutes each day. That’s easy to fit in, no matter how tight your schedule is. And when you’re following a systematic curriculum that explicitly teaches letter names and sounds, that’s all the time it takes!
- Set aside time each day for preschoolers to enjoy the literacy center.
- The Daily Lessons in Preschool Phonics curriculum includes weekly printable alphabet activities to be used in the literacy center. These printables feature letter formation, letter identification, and beginning sound skills.
- Use age appropriate activities that are interactive.
- When teaching gets repetitive, (and phonics instruction certainly can be), our enthusiasm dwindles and our teaching becomes subpar. Combat this by offering preschoolers learning activities that really excite them! For example, The Daily Lessons in Preschool Phonics curriculum offers Alphabet Friend songs with actions to get preschoolers singing and moving while learning the alphabet.
- Pull aside struggling students for an extra 5-10 minutes of practice.
- Small group practice should be done at least daily. Repetitive practice will reinforce the letter names and their sounds, while making the memorization process fast and easy. And there’s no need to create new lessons or activities, just reteach that day’s lesson from The Daily Lessons in Preschool Phonics curriculum.
- Remember the importance of letter recognition in early literacy. It is absolutely a necessary skill for reading success.
3. Use Letter Recognition Assessments to Further Guide Instruction
I’ll never for get my first principal who asked me in my interview, “How do you implement data driven instruction?” He didn’t just want a definition, he wanted me to spell it out. He wanted to know that I would know how to help students struggling with letter recognition, in addition how to help students who excelled.
Because data driven instruction is that important.
That’s why The Daily Lessons in Preschool Phonics curriculum offers a review week once a month, so preschool teachers can continually assess, both formally and indirectly, their students’ letter recognition skills. There are additional printables included just for review weeks. You get:
- letter drills
- letter writing assessment
- “I Spy” beginning sound worksheets
- Seek and Color worksheets
- Phonics bingo games
These review activities and letter recognition assessments are exclusive to The Daily Lessons in Preschool Phonics curriculum.
Related Reading About Phonics Development in Preschool
I’m Sarah, an educator turned stay-at-home-mama of five! I’m the owner and creator of Stay At Home Educator, a website about intentional teaching and purposeful learning in the early childhood years. I’ve taught a range of levels, from preschool to college and a little bit of everything in between. Right now my focus is teaching my children and running a preschool from my home. Credentials include: Bachelors in Art, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction.