How to Increase Letter & Sound Fluency in Kindergarten

Hey there, friend. I hope you happened upon this post with intentions of helping your students to increase their letter and sound fluency- because I’m totally about to drop that bomb. I will describe an incredibly easy approach that will boost student engagement (whether you’re a teacher or home-school parent) and help your students master their letters and sounds. Best of all, I’m going to give you all the tools you need to implement it as soon as TODAY.

Hundreds of teachers have tried this method and ATTEST that it is powerful and effective. Don’t believe me? Check out what these TEACHERS had to say after implementing this routine.

Understand the WHY

Before I jump into the strategy and the incredible result I personally found using this method, I want you to understand WHY it works. If you’re a new teacher or have a bad habit of buying things because they look “cute,” you need to hear this. Take it from me- a TpT purchase junkie- not everything that looks wonderful actually is. So, before anything else, I want you to understand WHY this works, and I want you to create a habit of finding the WHY behind all of your choices in the classroom.

Engagement is key. Successful instruction hinges from one vital factor: Engagement. 100%, without a doubt- nothing else is more valuable in learning any skill than the simple act of being engaged with the content. Here’s a truth bomb: You could have a Ph.D in Education,but without engagement from your students, your knowledge is impractical in the classroom. Sorry to hurt you like this- but it isn’t about what you’re doing- it’s about what they are doing.

So, when considering any type of new instruction or resource- we should first ask an essential questions: Will it engage my students? If the answer isn’t a solid and confident “YES!”- pass that up and look for an alternative. Remember, no instruction is effective without engagement.  

Why this approach works. The approach I’m about to share will engage your students and here is why– it includes a combination of several engagement strategies including:

  • routine
  • movement
  • chanting
  • visual support

This single activity also nurses all three learning styles: kinesthetic (movement), auditory and visual. All of these components together create a multi-sensory experience that primes students to retain knowledge. Now that you know why it works, let me tell you more about it.

The Routine was Born

Bad Results Create Great Change. Like most great things in my life, I discovered this approach after a big failure. I was a new teacher and I was following the teacher manual and district curriculum map like a religion. Unfortunately, my students were not retaining their letters and sounds the way I had hoped. I assessed them at Christmas time and discovered less than half of them had mastered their letters and sounds. Time was winding down and I needed to move on to more advanced skills, but I just couldn’t. So, I searched for help and found some of the best advice ever.

A simple solution. An incredible Reading Specialist (who I still go to for help today) suggested that I add motions to our letter/sound practice to help students remember them. Along with her advice, I decided that this skill is so important to the success of my students, I would practice ALL letters/sounds each and every day. This would be a daily routine . This is where the idea was born- and it is honestly one of the greatest decisions I made for my students.

After practicing for only two weeks, I noticed that my Kindergarteners (specifically my struggling learners) were already latching on and internalizing information I had been drilling in their heads for months! I was astounded at the result and later assessments proved what I saw was truth: this approach works. I didn’t need to see the percentages on my data collection tool, but it sure felt good to have found such a simple solution to a problem that had been ailing me.

A Look at the Routine

This video is a little outdated, but the routine is still the same! In this video, I am using the SMARTBOARD resource, but you can find a video of my kids using the posters right HERE.

Implement it Today

If you are interested in trying this approach, you can begin as soon as today. Even if you are already past your letter study, consider doing it anyway. You’ll notice the more your students practice, the quicker they can access this knowledge when decoding and reading words. You can’t go wrong with extra support and more fluency.

Step 1:  Prepare your visual support and letter motions. You’ll need posters for student viewing during the routine When I began, I printed two sets: one for my wall to display permanently and one for flashing during our morning routine. Since then, I have created a Smartboard version (much easier to handle) for student viewing. If you need a FREE poster to use, continue down the post and grab one! I’ve got you, friend!  Enlarge it and use a pointer to bring attention to each letter. Alternatively, you can easily create your own motions using any set of posters you may already have. 

Now that you have your visual support, prepare the motions you’ll use. Create your own or get a FREE Reference Sheet for the motions I use below. Practice them enough to memorize them before attempting to teach them to your students. This is the backbone of this approach, so be comfortable with them yourself.

Step 2: Teach the procedure. On the first day of this routine (ideally, the first day of school), I explained to my students that in our classroom, we use a lot of “secret signals.” They are secret because not everyone knows how to do them… mostly just ninjas. J “Even our letters have signals! Isn’t that awesome! Today we will learn a few of them.”

I go on to explain that each letter makes a sound, and we make the sound while we do the signal. Explaining the short sound for Aa goes something like this: “The first letter is A. A makes the /a/ sound.  Our picture for Aa is apple. Have you ever had an apple? What does it look like when you eat it?” (Students demonstrate.) “Perfect! While we pretend to eat an apple, say Aa, apple, /a/,/a/,/a/. Great! Let’s practice that again!”

Tip: I constantly remind students to focus on the actual letters when we go over them to assist in this identification. Later on, I remove picture support and shuffle letters to ensure students are using the symbols to identify the letter, not just the picture support. Read more about this in Step 4.

I go on to teach my students 5 letters/sounds that first day. After teaching each individual letter, I would go back and repeat all preceding letters until all 5 were taught. I did 5 new ones each day (while repeating all previously taught) until we had covered them all. This may seem overwhelming at first, but the introduction isn’t the key here- it is doing it routinely that will help your kids master them.

Step 3: Make it a routine. I love routines and have written several posts to help others harness their power. They make my life easier but superior to that- routines boost student engagement and make children feel safe in their learning environment. So, add this quick routine to your daily schedule and do it every day, religiously. This skill is that important and this strategy is beneficial enough to take care of that need.

Don’t be in any rush to move beyond this step, but when you’re positive that students need more challenge during your routine, you can take it one step further by providing more rigor.

Step 4: Provide rigor in the routine. After your students have mastered the original routine, consider making it more challenging. My first year of using this approach, I didn’t change anything until my students were ready to move on to the Blends & Digraphs routine. It wasn’t until the next year that I realized my original routine needed more rigor. My students memorized the routine going from A to Z, and some students relied solely on the pictures. Now, my routine progresses like this:

  • Phase 1 —->Introduce letters/sounds & signals. Review in sequence each day.
  • Phase 2 —-> Review backwards. This is helpful when teaching the complicated concept of before and after.
  • Phase 3 —-> Shuffle cards and review in random order.
  • Phase 4 —-> Remove picture cues. At this point, we want to ensure students can identify the written letter along with it’s sound. Begin in sequence from A to Z, then move to backwards and randomly ordered.

The amount of time spent on each phase deeply depends on your students. I recommend spending the MOST time on Phase One because we need the FUN and ENJOYMENT factor out of the routine before we make it too challenging for our students. Win them over with the fun first, and then sneak in the rigor. <3

Get your FREE Resources HERE!

Are you ready to give it a try? You surely don’t have anything to lose! Download my FREE Alphabet Poster and Signal Reference here! These are the motions and images you see in the video, so implementing this strategy will be as easy as can be.

Final Words of Advice

Once you see the power that a little movement can add to your Letter/Sound instruction- try it in other areas too. I use this same approach in almost every area of my teaching- even when teaching my CLASS RULES. Your students will love the extra fun- I promise!

Teacher Friend, please check in!

I want to hear from you, friend. Leave a comment and tell me how you teach letters and sounds. What pro-tips do you have to share that may help a fellow reader? Share it in the comments below or collaborate with us in the PRIMARY TEACHER FRIENDS Facebook Group!

God bless you, Teacher friends.

5 thoughts on “How to Increase Letter & Sound Fluency in Kindergarten”

  1. We use a similar routine using gestures. As our abc charts and images are standard for all elementary grades It will be good to use the same gestures among the classrooms like yours. Some of our images are different. One thing we started after assessing was to use mixed up ABCs which is just a random order but still using images. We are also starting sign language but think I will use just the letter for this one. Thank you for showing how you use it within your classroom.

    1. seekerofsunflowers

      Thank you for sharing your knowledge here, Sharon! I hope to hear more from you in the future! I’d like to try sign language in my own classroom. I did it as a child and although I forgot most of it, it sure made me feel special to show people that I could do it. 🙂

  2. I’ve been using this technique ever since I found it on your website. It works wonders, the kids pick up the alphabet sounds so quick! It’s fun without pulling teeth. Thank you so much for this technique!

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