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How Can I Teach Literacy Skills in PreK? (Part 1: Overview & Whole Group)

I’ve recently received questions and seen more discussion around what high-quality literacy instruction looks like in PreK. Below I will outline a simple plan for introducing the foundation for word recognition skills. This is a very similar outline to how I taught in my own PreK classroom, and hope it helps those teaching PreK now. It was one of favorite ages to work with–you get to lay a strong foundation for literacy and language in playful ways before they even start kindergarten!

Thinking back to the Simple View of Reading, a student’s reading comprehension depends on their ability to pronounce the words on the page (decoding or word recognition) and their ability to understand language (language comprehension). This post will focus on laying the foundation for decoding, or word recognition. A key understanding for students to begin their reading journey is the alphabetic principle–the idea that words are made up of sounds, and those sounds can be represented with letters.


  1. Choose a scope and sequence to introduce letters. This can be from your phonics or handwriting curriculum. The University of Florida’s Literacy Institute (UFLI) has a scope and sequence available here, if you or your school doesn’t have one currently.
  2. Introduce a new letter-sound correspondence every 2-3 days. This may be a longer or shorter interval depending on the time of year, your context, population of students, and the specific letter-sound correspondence in which you are working.
  3. Plan a whole group introduction, a small group practice, and playful centers to reinforce learning. The whole group introduction is outlined below, and the small group and centers will be discussed in a future post!

Whole Group Introduction

Before the first lesson, talk to the students about what you will be teaching them, and why. Say something like, “Did you know all the words I’m saying are made up of different, little bitty sounds? We’re going to learn about those sounds and how to write those sounds on paper! This will help you to read books and write notes to your mom and dad and grandparents and friends! I can’t wait to teach you the first sound we use to build words and how to write it on paper.”

Review Previous Sound-Spellings

After the first day, I’d review previously learned sound-spellings during this time. Learning these sound-spellings to automaticity is hugely important for accurate word reading, and reviewing each days helps improve retention and automaticity. Only review the sound-spellings you have explicitly introduced, so the first lesson would not have any cards in this pile yet. Make sure to shuffle the pile after each practice so they aren’t memorizing the order, but have to attend to the letters on the card. This is a fast paced, see and say activity, and should take only a minute or less. Provide the sound if students have trouble remembering, have them repeat, then move on.

Note on the letter-sound flashcards: I used this deck that includes the 70 most common graphemes in the English language (and lists the most common sounds associated with each on the back) pre-laminated and classroom size, but you can make your own with large flashcards as well. The school’s goal for PreK was the students learn the most common sounds for the 26 letters; however, I was able to differentiate and teach commons digraphs and vowel teams once I had students ready. The reason I like these grapheme cards is because I prefer ones that do not include a separate picture, as there is research that indicates a “blocking effect”–students look at the picture instead of the letter(s) on the card, and, therefore, don’t learn the letter-sound correspondences as well. If you have cards in which the picture is embedded into the letter (also called embedded picture mnemonics–an example shown below from this Ehri and colleagues study) this seems to improve achievement and students seem to encode the sound-spellings better. Remember, any grapheme deck you choose should be introduced in the order of your scope and sequence.

Introduce the New Sound-Spelling

Next introduce the new sound-spelling.

For example, if the sound-spelling you are introducing is /s/ = “s”, you could say, “Listen carefully. I’m going to make a sound, then it will be your turn to make the sound. /sssssssssssss/. Your turn! (Students: /sssssss/) Can you wiggle your arm like a ssssssnake? A sssssssnake says /ssssssss/”

“Did you know we can write this sound down, on paper?!? It’s called the letter “s”–can you say “s”? …Watch me write down the “s”, then you’ll get to try!” Teacher models 3 while saying /sssssss/. I would also play the game with them “thumbs up or thumbs down” and have them “judge” my handwriting. I’d model it correctly, then make an error (write it with the wrong orientation or place on the lines) and have students determine if I made a mistake. They loved “being the teacher” and helping me fix it. Then, they try on their own–usually with their fingers on the carpet or a mini dry erase board. We will work on this more in small groups.

Briefly Apply the New Skill

Finally, I played them either the corresponding storybots video or alphablocks video and instruct students to write an “s” on their dry erase board each time they hear a word with the /ssssss/ sound. If it’s later in the year, I’d have them sound and write the whole word phonetically. To accomplish this, I’d let them listen all the way through, then play it again and be sure to pause the video every few seconds to let them “write down” and call out words they hear with the /ssssss/ sound.

The next blog posts will focus on how small group instruction can look, playful centers, and general classroom tips for increase practice opportunities in meaningful ways throughout the day, including the morning meeting.

This PreK student sounded and wrote independently “chickens are adorable” in her science journal in the spring of PreK. We were incubating and hatching baby chicks at the time.

5 thoughts on “How Can I Teach Literacy Skills in PreK? (Part 1: Overview & Whole Group)

  1. Hey Tiffany—
    This is great stuff! Lots of good info and resources here!
    I was wondering about recommending 70 grapheme/phoneme correspondences to PreK kiddos. Seems like a lot to me. If they could walk into K with 20, I’d be thrilled.
    Your thoughts?

    Dr. Kathleen J. Brown, Director
    University of Utah Reading Clinic in the College of Education
    5242 South College Drive
    Murray, UT 84123
    801-265-3951 (clinic)
    801-541-4594 (cell)
    801-265-3620 (fax)



    1. Hi! So the deck I linked/used above includes the 70 most common graphemes, but the our goal/the school’s goal when I taught PreK was to ensure they left the year learning all the most common sounds of the single letter graphemes (26 letters). Many I had that year vastly surpassed that by the end of the year, most were reading at a beginning of first grade level (common digraphs, words with blends, etc), a couple could read chapter books, and all could at least read CVC words. I did have a small class size (13 kids), invested families, and a teachers aide half day. The deck I linked above can be used with any scope and sequence the teacher/school is using, though! Thanks for the question and reading, and I will be sure to edit the blog to be more clear 🙂


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