Why we need to teach letter sounds first

Many children come to their first year of school knowing their letters names.  This is because nursery schools and parents teach the ABC song.   They enter Reception and the teacher introduces the letter sounds alongside the letter names.  For many this is very confusing.  When teaching reading we are try to get our pupils to recognised the link between the sound  in a word (phoneme) and the symbol/s that represent that sound (grapheme).  In order to become fluent readers, this is a skill that needs to be automatic.

Why is this a problem?

The problem is that few letter names offer a clue to what the letter sounds are.  Take the letter w.  When you say it the initial sound is ‘d’.

When my 8 year old student spelled the word ‘watch’ he spelled it  YOH.  This because he was saying the letter name ‘y’ (why) for ‘w’ and ‘h’ (aitch) for ‘ch’.

Below is a chart that shows the disparity the initial sound of letter names and the sounds those letters spell.  The highlight letters and the only one where letter names are helpful to locate letter sounds.


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