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Updated: Jun 12, 2023

The first year of school is crucial for literacy development. It goes by so quickly. Term 2 starts tomorrow here in Western Australia. There are lots of ways you can help the learning to read journey at home. Let’s make this a successful year. Read on to find out more about the alphabet code.

Our language can help our children understand that letters are a written code. Letters and sounds are part of a bigger system. To help children access the alphabet code, it is necessary to teach sounds before letter names.

We must teach children that letters represent the sounds we say. This isn't the end of the story, but it does kickstart literacy learning!

Letters are the visual symbols we write to put our thoughts down on paper. Letters don’t make the sounds — we do — instead of saying em ay pee says map, SAY the sounds slowly as you point to the letters to show how to sound out a word. This will help your child to hear the sounds and blend to read a word.

In the beginning, start with CVC words. All children should start learning the basic code letter sounds A-Z before anything more complicated.

Once children move on to words with complex spellings such as thumb. INSTEAD of saying letter names, as in that’s tee and aitch


Sound out the word together, slide your finger under the letters, and point out the letters that go together — these 2 letters represent the sound — /th/ say it with me /th/.

Reread the whole word.

Fluent readers no longer see the initial sounds or letter names. They always see /th/ as a picture of sound. We want to see automatic retrieval for fluency to happen. Learning to read and learning to spell are two sides of the same coin. But reading a word is easier than spelling. We want children to become automatic in their decoding ability in the first year of school so we can add on explicit spelling instruction later. That is when we will discuss the intricacies of the spelling system and lay a path that shows English spelling is more logical than it first appears.

The alphabet code

There are 44ish sounds (depends on accent) but 26 letters. There are not enough letters to have one-to-one correspondence. The basic code A-Z works together to represent all the sounds we see on paper. Children must develop the ability to understand that sometimes two or more letters represent a sound. We should keep our language flexible when we talk with children about letters and sounds. In the beginning, we teach initial sounds.

The 'TH' in the word thumb is a digraph that we can teach explicitly. Most children will learn to read the grapheme 'TH' before they get the spelling 100% correct. Literacy learning is a journey that takes time to develop. In the first year of school it should be the goal that we help all children become efficient decoders. Explicit instruction is also the best way to work out who requires intervention in year one.

The letter symbol ‘E’ represents the initial sound /e/ as in egg or edge.

As we move on through a sequence, we teach that the letter ‘E’ can also represent the letter name /ee/ as in emu. We should also discuss that the letter 'E' also has functions that will help spelling. As we move beyond a 1:1 correspondence, discussing spellings and morphology will positively impact your learners.

My First ABC activity books are a wonderful way to explicitly teach the initial alphabet code.

A set of 6 activity books to develop phonemic awareness and phonic skills through explicit, playful, repeated practice. The books are the perfect tool for home or school practice — use them to teach code knowledge or for revision and retrieval practice.

Words such as often, sometimes, frequently, and seldom support and teach the idea of frequency — there is more to know — the alphabet is a system, and it will take time to crack it!

We must crack decoding to ensure that all students understand the concept of the alphabet code. This will positively impact spelling instruction from year one.


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