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What Is Letter Recognition

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Updated on
Modified on September 28, 2023

Learning to read is a vital skill that doesn't always come easy to each student. Some children can experience difficulty for different reasons, ranging from decoding to text comprehension. However, there are also a variety of strategies to successfully perform reading interventions with students who may be struggling with the basics of reading. Learning some of these basics, such as letter recognition, and why they are important can help provide a better understanding of why reading interventions and good strategies are important to implement in the early years of learning.

Recent literacy statistics for children and adults are shocking, and they can be linked to early difficulties with reading. Therefore, reading interventions may be necessary alongside foundational instruction. One place to start with reading interventions is to focus on alphabet recognition with students. Alphabet recognition, also referred to as letter recognition, is something parents and teachers alike can help with. From traditional strategies like reading classic books to newer ideas involving art and technology, a strong emphasis on letter recognition can help with reading interventions for students struggling to read and can ultimately help shift some of the troubling literacy statistics in a more positive direction. 

What Is Letter Recognition?

Letter recognition is one of the necessary pre-reading skills essential for successful reading. This skill involves a child being able to eventually recognize all letters of the alphabet with autonomy and ease. Within letter recognition, students should be able to identify the letters’ names, sounds, characteristics, and formation (both uppercase and lowercase).

Letter recognition is vital in both instruction and intervention in early childhood development. In their article “Developing Early Literacy Skills: A Meta-Analysis of Alphabet Learning and Instruction,” Shayne B. Piasta and Richard K. Wagner discovered “School-based instruction yielded larger effects than home-based instruction” and “small-group instruction yielded larger effects than individual tutoring programs.” Their study went on to conclude “In its synthesis of more than 60 studies from the early reading literature, the present study demonstrates a significant impact of instruction on children’s alphabet learning. Effect size magnitude depended not only on the type of alphabet knowledge assessed, but also instructional factors such as skills taught, setting, grouping, and duration.”

Why Is Letter Recognition Important?

Letter recognition is very important for reading instruction and intervention. The letters of the alphabet are the building blocks of future reading comprehension of a child and eventual literacy of an adult. Alphabet recognition follows phonemic awareness closely as students begin to connect sounds to their written letters and break down words into their individual sounds. Because these two things work together, intentional strategies need to be put into place that can build a strong foundation or intervene in areas of need. 

In her research of incoming kindergarten students from low-income families, Stephanie Wehry discusses the importance of letter recognition in childhood development before schooling even starts: “The emergent literacy model embodies more than reading readiness and is used to describe the acquisition of literacy on a developmental continuum. The model provides a picture of the acquisition of literacy that occurs from early childhood rather than beginning at kindergarten and further suggests literacy skills develop concurrently and interdependently.” This further points to the fact that alphabet letter recognition is important from before school to life after school. Therefore, educators need to do their best to intervene for students who may be behind and to set students up for future success in the classroom and beyond. 

What Are Reading Interventions?

Reading interventions can be provided for a number of reasons and in a number of ways. Some reasons may include socioeconomic factors like low-income living or learning disabilities like dyslexia. Reading interventions must go beyond just repetition and memorization tactics. Instead, reading interventions need to be strategic with their instructional practices and approaches

Reading intervention is also sometimes referred to as Response to Intervention, or RtI.  RtI involves a cycle of research-based instruction, academic intervention, monitoring of student progress, and reframing based on data and results. These interventions have different tiers or levels of student needs that navigate how teachers should respond. Programs like Targeted Reading Instruction help equip teachers and parents alike with reading instruction and intervention through professional development and online coaching. 

Reading interventions are best broken down by essential components of reading. This includes phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. It is important to strategically incorporate exercises that address these categories as early in the learning process as possible. Within these categories, children will practice letter recognition, the formation of uppercase and lowercase letters, and eventually the construction of words. The impact of direct instruction of the essential components of reading in small groups during reading interventions has “helped students grow in their reading abilities by increasing their self-efficacy.”

Reading Interventions Best Practices

While many teachers know how to teach reading instruction, it can sometimes be hard to make sure all the necessary steps are taken when it comes to intervention. There is not necessarily one best method, but instead, there are several good practices for reading interventions. Reading interventions include intentional steps at the beginning, middle, and end of a cycle. During a reading intervention, teachers must  properly assess the needs of their students when it comes to reading. More and more organizations are focusing on equipping teachers with the skills needed to master the basics of reading instruction and respond to students in need.

Some instructional approaches of reading interventions may include scaffolding and shaping. Scaffolding is when an adult assists a child to complete a skill as they work to gain independence in their performance . Shaping involves more of a breakdown of a skill or knowledge into its smallest parts. Then, teachers can build on each smaller element as they work toward the greater whole. Usually, a combination of scaffolding and shaping works best in interventions. Students need scaffolded assistance on each small part of reading. For example, teachers may break down letter recognition in its smallest parts and use individual or small-group scaffolding techniques to address the letter name, sound, and shape. 

11 Strategies for Letter Recognition

While there are a plethora of strategies and activities a teacher can implement based on teaching styles and learning styles, there are a few overall teaching practices to keep in mind when it comes to teaching letter recognition. First, letter sequences do not have to be taught in alphabetical order. In fact, the most common approach instead is to teach letters based on frequency of use first. For example, the letters “s” or “t” may be taught well before the letters “x” or “q.” When it comes to the content, teachers should consider what will be most prevalent and useful for the next steps of reading. 

Along with the content, teachers should be strategic when considering the formatting of the lesson plan itself. Letter recognition activities should involve whole-group, small-group, and individual practice. Lesson plans should also employ a variety of strategies to reach all learning styles. Also, incorporating some daily practice or routines into lesson plans will allow students to become familiar with a pattern or structure of learning. 

Today, letter recognition is more than just memorization and flashcards. There is not necessarily one best way to teach letter recognition, but strategies involving repetition, exposure, creativity, and engagement are proving to be vital in reading instruction and intervention. 

Use Repetition

Studies have shown that students sometimes need to hear things repeated at least three times before they truly “hear” it. One great teaching strategy for this is to follow the “I do, we do, you do” model. This may include the teacher modeling the letter names and sounds for an auditory step. Then, students may repeat the name and sound as a whole class, allowing a moment of practice and potentially making mistakes in a low-stakes environment. Finally, students then end by practicing on their own, perhaps through a kinesthetic activity like tracing or drawing.

Label Everything 

Labeling everything around the classroom can help expose students to more words and letters in their everyday routines. This way, students are seeing the letters of the alphabet in each part of their lives and can begin to connect the letters to their shapes and sounds during every moment of the day.

Read Books

This one might seem obvious, but reading a large number of books helps to reiterate sounds and letters while increasing exposure to them. Even if students have not yet learned all the letters of the alphabet, they still need to be exposed to the letters and sounds every day, and one of the best ways to do this is simply through reading more.

Practice Handwriting

Letting students practice writing letters and words should start as early as possible. Even if students don’t know all the letters and sounds yet, they should still practice handwriting letters and words. This strategy, however, should be very open to progress over perfection. For example, if a student is asked to write the word “cat” and they only write the “c” and the “t,” this should still be seen as practice even though the word wasn’t spelled perfectly. 

Sing a Song 

Lyrical activities have historically been shown as an effective way to learn and memorize new information. Everyone knows some version of the ABC song, which likely goes back to the earliest years of school. Using other creative chants or songs can help students learn to recognize letters and even help them memorize challenging information. Teachers can either create their own, or they can find some engaging songs online through platforms like YouTube or Spotify.

Be Hands-On 

Using multisensory activities can activate multiple parts of the brain that can help students with their learning. For example, some hands-on stations may include alphabet sensory bins, sand to trace letters in, playdough, blocks, or other fun options. According to Kylee Bilodeau’s article, she argues,“Naturalistic and fun activities are important at the emergent literacy age of development.”

Create Art 

One activity that is always fun for children is creating art. This can range from coloring sheets of images for each letter, to creating alphabet collages, to class word walls, and more. Another popular art activity often used with letter recognition is the implementation of dot markers. 

Make Crafts

Arts and crafts can get creative with different items or objects beyond the common paper, pencil, or paint. For example, students can use pipe cleaners or popsicle sticks to make letter shapes. Teachers can also make use of common household items like cookie trays and magnetic letters to practice letter recognition. 

Play Games 

Some good old-fashioned games like alphabet bingo, a name game, or I-spy always make for great activities. Games like alphabet bingo allow students to practice isolated letter recognition. Name games involve students discussing words that include certain letters or sounds. I-spy encourages students to use their visual cues to help them practice their skills. 

Reduce Stress

Many of the activities above can reduce stress for students, such as art or music. However, more elevated and innovative strategies such as animal-assisted therapy can be used to reduce stress as well. In this strategy, students may practice reading to animals during reading intervention rather than reading to adults or their peers. By replacing a potentially stressful audience with a more “receptive” one, students are able to focus more on their knowledge rather than on their performance.

Go Digital

Using digital resources is not only helpful in this day and age, but it also incorporates another type of skill children will likely use in their future. Whether it is the incorporation of a teacher using a SMART board or students using iPads, going digital has been proven to show growth in letter recognition. However, technology cannot replace the teacher. One study’s results presented the conclusion that “ a combination of technology-driven lessons and teacher-driven lessons could be the best course of action for future practice.”


Dr. Jan Hasbrouck, leading researcher, educational consultant, and author, once said, “The brain has to be changed. The brain has to rewire. Areas of the brain have to be repurposed to learn to read, write, and spell. And the earlier we start that process, the better it is.” This rewiring and repurposing can be accomplished with reading instruction and intervention at an early age. A strong foundation of letter recognition and the implementation of reading interventions are vital in the early years to set students up for successful futures of literacy. Voyager Sopris Learning® provides resources and solutions for teachers that can help with teaching the fundamentals of literacy.