Should We Teach Letter Names?

By Dr. Timothy Shanahan Last updated 2024/05/27
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In early instruction, many educators wonder if we should teach letter sounds or letter names first. Dr. Timothy Shanahan unpacks this issue.

Curriculum Connection

B2. Language Foundations for Reading and Writing
This article supports the teaching and learning of alphabetic knowledge (B2.2).
Grade(s): K 1
Topic(s): Alphabetic Knowledge


  1. The research does support learning letters early (Ehri). When students are able to identify and name letters, then we can begin to explicitly teach letter sounds and spellings.

  2. Shanahan’s blog is definitely one worth reading and following! Like Vicki said “The letter name never changes and acts as an anchor since it is constant.” Also, many of the letter names include a cue to the most common sound. Many of our little ones are also starting school with recognition of several letters and their names that we can build on at the same time as building knowledge of sounds.

  3. If we really want students to grasp the alphabetic principle, we need to present and represent letters in many ways; the ae lphabet song, letter names, letter sounds, and connect them all. The letter name never changes and acts as an anchor since it is constant.

  4. Dr. Shanahan’s article regarding connecting letter names and sounds for children reminds us of the importance of providing our students with a rich learning environment and using the environment as ‘third’ teacher. Our youngest learners need to see letters in their environment and to explore with the printing of letters.
    Opportunities to name and print letters should be embedded in our daily practice in both Kindergarten and Grade 1, leading the way for future success in reading and writing.
    Thank you, Dr. Shanahan for the reminder of the importance of exposing our youngest learners to both hearing sounds and seeing letters each day.

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