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Learning Letters & Sounds: Pre-A Readers

What is a Pre-A Reader?

The short answer to this question is that Pre-A readers are in the getting-ready-to-read stage (pre-emergent reading stage).

Stephanie, our 3-year-old, is a Pre-A reader.  Pre-A is a term that refers to the book level she is currently capable of reading independently or with a little instructional support from a more experienced reader.

Stephanie Reading 2

At this stage of learning to read, Stephanie is still mostly working on learning:

  • her letters and sounds
  • correct letter formation
  • concepts about print skills such as:
    • knowing where to start reading on a page
    • knowing that we read from left to right
    • matching the words we speak to the written words on a page
    • the purpose of punctuation
    • that there are spaces between words

So reading lessons for her would be tailored to what she needs to become a better reader and be focused on helping her gain a better understanding of these reading skills.  This post will focus mostly on how I have been teaching Stephanie her letters and sounds as well as correct letter formation.

Learning Letters & Sounds

I’ve been helping Stephanie to learn the letters of the alphabet (both uppercase and lowercase) and the sound each letter makes.  There are lots of ways you can teach this:

 ABC Crafts & Activities

You’ll find many creative ideas such as these alphabet crafts and activities just by searching the Internet.  Here are 25 alphabet activities you may want to try.  These are fun, hands-on ways for learning letters and sounds.  I’ll admit I’m not much of an arts & crafts type of mom.  So Stephanie has been learning letters and sounds in other ways.

ABC Puzzles

We have several Melissa & Doug ABC puzzles as well as this puzzle from Scholastic.  Our kids love putting them together.  Puzzles make learning letters and sounds of the alphabet fun.

Learning Letters and Sounds with this Scholastic ABC Puzzle

ABC Treasure Hunts

Just about every preschool sends home a “Letter of the Day” bucket. When your child brings home the bucket, the assignment is to hunt all over the house to find things that begin with the letter of the day and fit inside the bucket.  This is something kids get very excited about doing.

There’s no need to wait until the letter bucket comes home, though.  Stephanie and I do treasure hunts around the house for things that start with our letter of the day all the time!

ABC Games

Alphabet Mystery Box

At our house we play lots of games.  The game you see Stephanie playing in the picture is the Alphabet Mystery Box game purchased at Lakeshore Learning.  I use it with my 1st grade intervention students at the beginning of the school year, too. (You can read more about my teaching job here) .

Learning Letters and Sounds with the Alphabet Mystery Box

The kids take turns reaching into the mystery box, pulling out an item, naming it and trying to place it on the activity board according to the first sound in the word.

The game board only displays uppercase letters, so I chose to add the lowercase letter with a permanent marker.  Lakeshore Learning has so many great ready-made games to play with kids, but many of these games you could easily make yourself as well with items you have in your own home.

Other games I play with Stephanie include:

ABC Go Fish

We have a set of Leap Frog cards that we love to use. You could certainly make a set of your own to use to play this game as well.

ABC Memory

We use the Leap Frog cards and repurpose them for this game.  Stephanie sometimes plays an online version of this game, too.

Learning Letters and Sounds with the ABC Memory Match Game

ABC Song Game

I purchased a Zaner-Bloser handwriting bulletin board set with pictures to use at school.  The set actually consists of perforated cards that I’ve chosen to laminate and use for a number of activities.  One of these includes mixing the cards up and spreading them out on the floor. Then Stephanie and I sing the ABC song and put the cards in ABC order.

Learning Letters and Sounds with ABC Song Game Cards

I Spy

Stephanie loves I Spy!  The kids and I take turns giving clues about an object we see in the room that begins with a certain letter of the alphabet.  We keep giving clues about the item until someone guesses the object. For example, if the object to be guessed is a clock then I would say, “I spy something that begins with the letter ‘c’ (or begins with the /c/ sound ).  It is round, has numbers on it and goes tick-tock.”  The person who correctly guesses the object gets to choose the next object and give the clues.


Kids love magnets and Stephanie is no exception.

Leap Frog Fridge Words

We have some refrigerator magnets made by Leap Frog that all my kids play with while I’m busy in the kitchen.  This particular product has multiple settings.  Once the kids get better at identifying the correct letters and sounds they can move on to building words.  My kids learned to spell words like: mom, dad, cat, get, and fan with the Leap Frog Fridge Words.

Learning Letters and Sounds with Leap Frog Fridge Magnets

EZ Read Soft Touch Magnetic Letters & Alphabet Case

You can find magnetic letters lots of different places.  I’m partial to these soft touch letters because the vowels and consonants are color-coded, and the raised letters are great for kids to practice tracing over with their fingers.

I first began using these letters at school with my intervention students.  I liked them so much that when I began teaching my own kids how to read I purchased a set of my own along with some small magnetic whiteboards.  Stephanie and I play all kinds of little games with the magnetic letters on the whiteboard.

Jan Richardson offers lots of suggestions for making words with kids at this stage of reading in her book, The Next Step in Guided Reading.

Learning Letters and Sounds with EZ Read Soft Touch Magnets

ABC Chart & Tracing Books

In Kindergarten the kids often chant an ABC chart to help learn letters and sounds.  I got this ABC chart for Pre-A readers from Jan Richardson.  I have Stephanie point to each letter, say its name, say its sound and name the object in the picture.

abc chart for pre-a readers from Jan Richardson

I use these ABC charts at school with my intervention students as well.  A good way to keep them in good condition is to place them in plastic page protectors.

Another way to practice letters and sounds is to have the kids trace over each letter with their pointer finger while saying the sound the letter makes in an ABC tracing book.  Jan Richardson provides printable pages you can use to assemble your own ABC tracing book.  Be sure to model correct letter formation!  Here are diagrams to help you if you are planning to teach Zaner-Bloser handwriting or D’Nealian.

 ABC Books

The goal is to get kids reading, so it makes sense to spend time learning letters and sounds in the context of a book!

Bare Books 

When Kayli and Ethan were about Stephanie’s age I began making our own set of ABC books using blank Bare Books.  I divided the books in half.  Each half of the book was assigned a letter of the alphabet.

I took pictures of things that began with the sounds of the letters assigned to the book.  Then I printed and pasted the images on the pages of the book along with a simple sentence using words that are seen often in text (high-frequency words).

My kids love reading these books because the books are personal and about things they know.  You could make your own books using a stapled book of paper and magazine pictures, photos, or kid-drawings.

Nonfiction Alphabet Readers

If you don’t want to spend the time making your own ABC books, there are all kinds of books like these ones published by Scholastic that you could use as well.

Learning Letters and Sounds with Nonfiction ABC Readers

Stephanie loves to read these books.  After reading them together Stephanie takes them to bed with her during nap time or in the evening before lights-out.  Since the books have supportive pictures and predictable text, she knows most of them well enough that you can hear her “reading” them in bed to her babies and Brown Bear.

If you choose to purchase these nonfiction alphabet reader books, there are some practical ideas to help you teach beginning reading concepts listed inside the back cover of each book.  It’s a nice added bonus.

Using Technology to Learn Letters & Sounds

There are a number of online websites and iPad apps that do a great job of supporting kids at this beginning stage of learning to read:


This is one of our favorite websites.  It has lots of easy-to-use, interactive activities for children in the early stages of learning to read.  The website is free.  The iPad app consists of two parts.  The ABC section shown below is free, but the rest of the app activities do cost a minimal fee.  The iPad is easy for little ones like Stephanie to navigate, so we think it’s well worth it to invest in apps like this one.

Learning Letters and sounds with Starfall iPad app

abc Pocket Phonics: Letters Sounds & Writing + First Words

Another favorite iPad app of ours is this one from abc Pocket Phonics.  Stephanie practices letter tracing while learning the sounds the letters make.  This app lets her practice building words by dragging and dropping them on the page, too.  Once the word is built correctly, an image of the word appears below the word.  This app is fun and engaging.

Learning Letters and sounds with ABC Write iPad App

There are lots of apps out there for kids to use in the Pre-A reader stage.  Be sure to check them out.  If you know of other great iPad apps for Pre-A readers like Stephanie, let me know.  I’m always looking for fresh ideas to try with my students and my own kids!

Next Steps

Hopefully you’ve found some practical ideas for teaching Pre-A readers about letters and sounds from me sharing what I’m doing with Stephanie!

I’m helping Stephanie learn the way words work and concepts about print by reading to her and reading with her.  You can read about that in my post, Pre-A & Emergent Readers: How to Teach Reading Behaviors and Concepts About Print.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • K April 5, 2013, 12:30 am

    Hi, where did you purchase the nonfiction alphabet readers set? Thanks!

    • Karen April 5, 2013, 1:07 am

      I bought them through a Scholastic Book Club order, but they are available from Amazon as well. Here you go…http://www.amazon.com/Nonfiction-Alphabet-Readers-Collection-Informational/dp/0545554268

      • Karen April 5, 2013, 1:11 am

        I just realized the price tag on the books with the link I shared. I did not pay that kind of money for these books! Let me look around and see what I can find for you…

      • K April 5, 2013, 1:13 am

        Hi, I saw the Amazon set but it says pre-order not available yet & it is several sets for over 80 bucks. How much were they through Scholastic book club order & how do you order through there? Do you have a link? Do you have to be teaching to order through them? I’m trying to find these to use as homeschooling resources. Thanks for the quick reply!

        • Karen April 5, 2013, 1:31 am

          Right now it looks like the only way to get them (just one copy per book title vs. the 6 copies per title on Amazon) is through the book clubs. I submitted a customer service request with Scholastic to see if there is a way for my readers to directly purchase items I’m featuring. In the meantime, I’ll e-mail you about how we can maybe get a set to you. Let me see what I can do…

          • K April 4, 2013, 8:55 pm

            If not, could you purchase & do a transaction via PayPal or ebay?! How do you become a book club member? Can homeschoolers do this? Also, how much does the set cost through the book order? Thanks so much for the help! These are exactly what I’m wanting & so glad you have them featured & showing what is included inside them!

            • Karen April 4, 2013, 10:05 pm

              I’ve asked all your questions to Scholastic and am awaiting a reply. But, yes, if nothing else works out I am able to make the purchase for you and do the transaction via PayPal.

  • K April 4, 2013, 9:00 pm

    Also, where did you find the zaner bulletin board alphabet set? I sure love that alphabet mystery box too!! I hope Lakeshore still sells that version! So cute & lovely incorporation of a variety of activities on your page! Will be following & bookmarking for sure! Thank you!

    • Karen April 4, 2013, 10:08 pm

      The bulletin board set and the Mystery Box are both from Lakeshore. I’ve been trying to add links directly to the products where you can purchase them when I can. I’m not ready to monetize my site yet, so it’s a little bit harder to find the right links for the items I’m trying to feature. But keep asking your questions and I’ll see what I can do to help you out! I really do want families to be able to access all of the great resources I am using!

      Thanks for your kind words about the post! I’m just getting started, but already I have so many ideas for how to help families that want to teach their kids to read! Stay tuned!