Letter Sound Learning – Keep it Simple

I was asked recently why I didn’t have an action for each of my alphabet cues.  My answer – I don’t need one!

queen2The power of a picture cue in the shape of the letter has been researched and proven to work.  In their research study, “Pictorial Mnemonics for Phonics”, Linnea Ehri, Nancy Deffner and Lee Wilce state, “The superiority of the integrated-picture group over the disassociated-picture group indicates that only one type of picture works, namely, one that links the shape of the letter to its sound.”1   We have had Itchy’s Alphabet researched and the two Kindergarten classes that used our program significantly outperformed the control group on their post-test assessments.2    It is the picture cue in the shape of the letters that makes the difference.

Further confirmation comes from the 2004 Position Statement from the National Kindergarten Alliance, “Research shows that eighty percent of childhood learning is obtained through vision.”3   If we stop and reflect on how young children learn colours, shapes, animals, foods, etc. it is by relating the word to something visual.  Imagine trying to teach colours without a visual connection!

Our letters are probably the most abstract thing young children will encounter.  Sounds are an auditory skill.  If we can bring a visual/concpig newrete connection to  these auditory/abstract skills, learning will be significantly enhanced.    I truly believe that a picture cue in the shape of the letters is the most effective tool for teaching the letter sound connection and adding actions or other supports may only ‘muddy the water’ for some children.    We must keep in mind that, for our at-risk students especially, memory is usually of concern. GOAT2 The more we ask them to put in that memory and then have to sort through to find what they need, the greater chance of confusion and lack of success.

We need to keep learning as simple as possible, focusing on the key information children will need to  internalize the necessary skills and become successful readers.


1 Ehri, L, Deffner, N, and  Wilce,  L.  “Pictorial Mnemonics for Phonics”, Journal of Educational Psychology, 1984, Vol 76, No. 5, p 880 – 893http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10459880903286763?journalCode=vpsf20#.V0KCSfkrKM8

2 Dilorenzo, K, Rody, C,  Bucholz, J and   Brady, M.   “Teaching Letter-Sound Connections with Picture Mnemonics: Itchy’s Alphabet  and Early Decoding, Preventing School Failure, 55(1), 28 – 34, 2011  http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.optionToBuy&id=1985-09174-001

3 Zaba, J.  (2001) Vision Examinations and Vision Screenings for School-Age Children, Retrieved July 6, 2003 from Kentucky Dept of Education

Palmer, L. (2003) “Joyous Brain Stimulation for Super Readiness” paper presented at the Minnesota Kindergarten Association Conference,      May 2003

Murray, B.  OD.  Personal interview, June 30, 2003 Contact at bgmurray@sbcglobal.net