What is a letter sound?

What is a letter sound?
By the end of EYFS your child should know the sound each letter makes. Find out how your child will be taught letter sounds in school and how you can support learning at home.

What is a letter sound?

Teachers often talk about children knowing their letter sounds. This literally means that when a child sees a letter, they are able to say what sound it makes.

By the end of Reception, children should be able to make the correct sound for each letter of the alphabet. They should know each letter in both its small and capital form.

Foundation Stage teachers usually have all the letters of the alphabet on display in the classroom, along with pictures of objects that begin with each letter. Some schools follow a teaching programme that involves learning a song for each letter of the alphabet. Teachers will carry out various activities with the children to help them learn their letter sounds:

  • Collecting or grouping pictures of objects that all start with a particular letter. A child may be given a piece of paper with the letter 'T' on it, then asked to look through a box full of pictures, picking out the pictures of objects that start with a 't'. They may be asked to look for objects at home starting with a certain letter.
  • Singing alphabet songs to encourage children to match a spoken sound with a written letter. A really good one is 'If you're happy and you know it' which can be adapted to any letter of the alphabet. For example: if you are learning the letter 'y' you can sing: 'If you're happy and you know it, yawn like me'. This could be accompanied by the teacher pointing to the letter 'y' on the board and the children miming yawning.
  • Some teachers may have large models of letters that they can play whole class games with, for example: they may get the children to sit in a circle and then put various objects in the middle. They may choose one child to hold a letter and then see if they can pick out the object in the middle that starts with that letter.
  • Activities on the computer that involve children hearing letter sounds and picking them from a list, or being given a picture and being asked to choose the letter that object starts with.

Once children have learnt their letter sounds they will then start to write the letters themselves. Teachers may carry out the following activities to support this learning:

  • Encouraging children to write a certain letter with their finger in a sand tray. This can be a good activity to do with children before you encourage them to pick up a pen and start writing.  It can also be good for children who find gripping a pen difficult.
  • Giving children a lined piece of paper or lined mini-whiteboard with a particular letter written on it. Children need to copy the letter a few times, making sure they are forming it correctly and keeping it on the line.