National Reading Panel

TEACHING CHILDREN TO READ:
An evidence-Based Assessment of Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction

The value of mnemonics for teaching letter-sound relations to kindergartners is supported by evidence. In a study by Ehri, Deffner, and Wilce (1984), children were shown letters drawn to assume the shape of a familiar object, for example, "s" drawn as a snake, "h" drawn as a house (with a chimney). Memory for the letter-sound relations was mediated by the name of the object. Children were taught to look at the letter, be reminded of the object, say its name, and isolate the first sound of the name to identify the sound (i.e., "s" snake -/s/). With practice they were able to look at the letters and promptly say their sounds. Children who were taught letters in this way learned them better than children who were taught letters by rehearsing the relations with pictures unrelated to the letter shapes (e.g., house drawn with a flat roof and no chimney) and also better than children who simply rehearsed the associations without any pictures. Application of this principle can be found in Letterland (Wendon, 1992), a program that teaches kindergartners letter-sound associations. In this program, all the letters are animate characters that assume the shape of the letters and have names prompting the relevant sound, for example, Sammy Snake, Hairy Hat Man, Fireman Fred, Annie Apple. The task of learning the shapes and sounds of all the alphabet letters is difficult and time-consuming, particularly for children who come to school knowing none. The relations are arbitrary and meaningless. Techniques to speed up the learning process are valuable in helping kindergartners prepare for formal reading instruction. The motivational value of associating letters with interesting characters or hand motions and incorporating this into activities and games that are fun is important for promoting young children’s learning. If the task of teaching letters is stripped bare to one of memorizing letter shapes and sounds, children will become bored and easily distracted and will take much longer to learn the associations.

—National Reading Panel Report of 2000, 2-125