Early Reading Instruction: New Research

A Few Key Points from: Reutzel, D. R. (2015). Early Literacy Research Findings Primary-Grade Teachers Will Want to Know. The Reading Teacher. 69(1). 14–24.

  1.  Phonemic Awareness VS Rhyming and Alliteration Activities
  2. Alphabet Knowledge LN-LS – Instruction and Pacing
  3. Alphabet Learning Order-What the Research Shows

Early literacy development is among the most fleeting yet vitally important phases of literacy development. All primary-grade teachers intuitively know that if young children get off to a good start, they will rarely stumble along the path of academic progression. On the other hand, if they do not, these young learners often struggle throughout their school careers (in Reutzel, 2015).


 Phonemic Awareness VS Rhyming and Alliteration Activities: What the Research Shows

  • reading skill is better predicted by phonemic skills than rhyming skills
  • 4- and 5-year-old children taught segmentation and blending experience significantly greater gains in phonemic awareness and letter-sound knowledge than children taught with rhyme and alliteration activities.

 Phonemic awareness instruction has been shown to produce greater improvements in awareness and future reading achievement in young children than time spent on rhyming and alliteration.  Despite the allure and fun of rhyming, songs and poetry activities in the kindergarten classroom, research has not yet uncovered any strong evidence to show rhyming as a “developmental precursor of young children’s full phonemic awareness.” The author does not argue that rhyming and alliteration activities be abandoned, rather that the focus and emphasis should be primarily on phonemic awareness instruction –blending, segmenting, and manipulating phonemes.

teaching sight words

 Alphabet Knowledge LN-LS – Instruction and Pacing

Alphabet knowledge is the single best predictor of later reading and writing success (National Early Literacy Panel).  

Research has shown that letter-a-day instructional pacing was significantly more effective than letter-a-Week pacing in promoting students’ mastery of the alphabet letter names. Reutzel states that the most effective alphabet knowledge instruction requires no more than 12-15 minutes per day and is multicomponential, meaning that lessons should include learning activities that require letter recognition, naming, associating the symbol with a sound, writing, discriminating the letter to be taught from other letters, and categorizing letters into upper- and lowercase. (For more info on letter a day see previous post New Insights into Letter Learning )


Alphabet Learning Order-What the Research Shows

Recent Research has also identified new findings about the order(s) in which young children develop their knowledge of the alphabet and how teachers can most effectively help them to do so. Six evidence-based alphabet letter learning orders have been identified, through which young children may acquire knowledge of alphabet letter names and sounds.

 1. Own-name effect.

States that young children most easily and quickly learn the letters found in their given or first names. The strongest effect is for the first letter in the first name, such as J for Jamal.

2. Alphabetic-order effect.

Letters at the beginning or end of the alphabet are learned more quickly and easily than those letters ordered in the middle of the alphabet.

3. Letter-frequency effect,

The more frequently letters appear in printed materials, the more quickly and easily they are learned.

4. Letter-name pronunciation effect.

Occurs when a letter’s sound is heard as the letter’s name is pronounced.

5. Consonant phoneme acquisition order effect,

Young children learn consonant letters’ names and sounds easier when they are mastered earlier in children’s oral language development.

6. Distinctive visual features letter-writing effect.

The letters of the alphabet are recognized through detection of a smaller set of distinctive visual features, which include (1) terminations, (2) straight lines, (3) curved lines, (4) diagonal lines, and (5) intersections

Teaching students to fluently produce this smaller set of distinctive visual features before teaching them how to write all of the alphabet letters has been found to lead to quicker mastery of letter transcription. The production of handwritten alphabet letters activated areas of children’s brains identified as the “reading circuit” more than any other sensorimotor training.

Lesson Template from The Reading Teacher page 17.


Reutzel, D. Ray (2015). The Reading Teacher. 69, (1) pages 14–24
Lesson Template for Teaching 12-Minute Letter Name and Letter Sound
Lesson Objective
Students will learn the name, the sound, and how to write the symbols for the upper- and lowercase letter T/t.

  1. Bag of mixed alphabet letters
  2. Washable markers and lapboards
  3. Copies of enlarged print page
  4. Highlighter tape

Today, you will be learning to name, say the sound of, and write the upper- and lowercase letter T/t. Learning the letter name, the letter sound, and how to write upper- and lowercase letter T/t will help you to read and write many new words.
Letter Name Identification
This is the uppercase letter T. (Write and show the uppercase form of the letter.) This is the lowercase letter t. (Write and show the lowercase form of the letter.) Let’s practice naming this letter. What Is this letterT/t? (Point in different order to upper- and lowercase letter T/t at least three times.)
Letter Sound Identification
The letter /t/ makes the/t/ sound. Say the /t/ sound with me: /t/,/t/,/t/. What is the sound of the letter /t/? (Point to upper- and lowercase letter  T/t/ at least three times, asking students to make the sound of  the letter.)
Sort the Letters
Here are some upper- and lowercase letter T/t (Show bag with 6-8 upper- and lowercase T/t magnetic letters, foam letters, or dye cuts.) They are all mixed in this bag. We need to sort these letters into upper- and lowercase categories. (Begin with a closed sort, and in subsequent review lessons, use an open sort.) I’ll put each letter on the board, and if It is an uppercase letter T, you say, “Uppercase T” if it is a lowercase say “Lowercase /t/ ” (Place letters on whiteboard one at a time for students to identify and sort.)
Find the Letters
Now, let’s see how many letter ts we can find on this page. (Be sure to pick short pages of enlarged  print with no more than four lines of print. Run a pointer underneath the words in each line of print.)  When you see a letter t point to the t. (Call on one student to come up and place a piece of highlighter  tape over the letter t on the enlarged print page. You can also pass out a copy of a 3- or 4-line page from a  children’s picture book and ask students to find a certain number of letter ts on the page using a highlighter pen or crayon. (Using a timer or stopwatch to increase intensity, pacing, and motivation is also advised.)

Write the Letter

Name and demonstrate the proper formation of the uppercase T.

The uppercase letter T starts at the top of the line and goes straight down to the bottom of the line. Then it has a straight line across the top.

Name and demonstrate the proper formation of the lowercase t .

The lowercase t also starts at the top of the line and goes straight down to the bottom of the line. Next make a line that crosses the other line between the middle-and top of the line.

Distribute white boards, gelboards, or lap boards. Ask students to write 3-6 uppercase and lowercase T/t letters and also quickly review any other letters learned. Note which students were successful and which may need additional help in small group settings.)



To request a print copy of the article (TDSB teachers only): Reutzel, D. R. (2015). Early Literacy Research Findings Primary-Grade Teachers Will Want to Know. The Reading Teacher. 69(1). 14–24. Please contact the Tippett Professional Library (TDSB)







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