Why is the Alphabetic Principle Important?


alphabet letter tiles in scooped hands

This blog post is the second in a series on the Alphabetic Principle. Simply put, the alphabetic principle is the understanding that letters and letter groupings represent the sounds of spoken language. In order to read, students must know that letters represent sounds and when blended together, these sounds become words.

What is the best place to begin teaching my students?

We always like to start with assessing what the students already know so we suggest starting with a Letter Name and Letter Sound assessment. When giving this assessment, it’s important to observe students’ automaticity with both letter names and letter sounds. Listen also for the students’ pronunciation of the letter sounds. Are they ‘clipping the sounds?’ ( /p/ not /puh/) Do they need to say the keyword in order to recall the letter sound?

I gave my students the Letter Name and Letter Sound Assessment, Now What?

After giving an assessment, it’s important to analyze the data. Our FREE Letter Name and Sound Assessment includes “Guidelines for Analyzing”. The comprehensive list will give you lots of ideas on what to look for so you can target your instruction.

Do some students know the letters but have difficulty recalling them with automaticity? Try fluency grids.

Do other students confuse visually similar letters? Incorporate a multisensory component such as tactile writing.

Do your students know letter names and sounds and can recall them with automaticity? They are ready for the next step…please read on!

My students know the letter names and sounds. Is that enough?

It’s a good start, but don’t stop there. This is where the fun begins! Students need explicit instruction on blending the printed letters into words. This is known as decoding (breaking the code of the alphabet) and it’s how students learn to read. Side Note: Remember for emergent readers, you should continue to build phonemic awareness. If students are not able to blend a sequence of sounds into words, they definitely won’t be able to do that with print. Oral skills precede written skills. For more ideas on developing phonemic awareness, click here.

Do I have to wait until my students know all their letter names and sounds before teaching them how to blend words?

No, you don’t have to wait. Once students are able to recall a set of letters and sounds with automaticity, you can introduce them to the magic of decoding by tapping. Students must have mastery of at least one vowel before they can blend words.

Let’s say you’ve introduced the letters c, a, t, p, g, and s. Students could be taught to tap: cat, sat, sag, sap, tap, pat, tag, and cap. If students are unable to hold onto a sequence of three sounds, a technique known as successive blending or continuous blending is a powerful scaffold.

My students can decode three-sound words, now what?

An important part of the alphabetic principle is automaticity. It’s one thing to be able to tap out each word, it’s quite another to be able to decode fluently. Fluency leads to comprehension. Once students are able to tap three-sound words, it’s important to encourage them to ‘keep their voice on’. Here’s a short video about keeping your voice on.

And, students need lots of opportunities to apply their blossoming understanding of the alphabetic principle to connected text. As students encounter words in decodable texts and they can successfully decode words. This solidifies their understanding (and trust) in the alphabetic principle.

Check out or TPT store for resources in phonemic awareness, spelling, and decodable texts. All our resources align with the science of reading!

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