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What Do You Do With a Child Like This?

What do you do with a student who doesn’t have any letter sound correspondence?

First, remind yourself he is a writer.

Our first thought might be to support him too much. When we do this we communicate to the student that he can’t do the work without us. This is not the type of workshop environment we want. Enable him with tools and visuals to do the work and OWN it himself. As he progresses into a more mature writer the level of independence and confidence will build. A child who does not already have letter sounds is ready to talk and draw. Let him build his oral story, while anticipating his written words. Here is an example scenario of pulling the words out of the writer:

Teacher, pointing to the picture, “Tell me your story.”

Student, pointing to the picture, “We are at the beach.”

Teacher, “Are you in this picture? Is that you? I can see the sand. Tell me that story again and listen for some sounds. What do you hear?” This oral rehearsal is key because without it he may lose his story. Even when you are quite certain he won’t hear any letter sounds to correspond with a written symbol, it is important to attempt this step. Make it a part of your verbal routine when working with a writer who has a verbal story and a picture but no letters. Offer a tool such as a letter/sound chart or alphabet strip to support the use of letters and sounds.


“We are at the beach.”

A student will likely begin to write letter like symbols or a few letters from their name to represent their story. If the picture is a support, the student will be able to retell the story. We need to communicate that writing carries a message. Just because he is the only one who understands the message does not lessen it, you will help build it.

What do you do with the student who is beginning to write letters?

If the child writes a string of letters while demonstrating no correspondence, go back to the picture. Have him lay on his belly, all the way on his belly, to support his writing muscles. Model the parts of the picture that need work, a sticky note works well. Use a letter/sound correspondence chart and assist the child in its use. Work on one letter sound.

Student telling his story, “Chloe was running to the house.”

Teacher, “You have a good start here. What word do you want to work on? House? Okay, say house.”

Notice, I did not stretch any sounds in the word “house.” I want the student to do this. If this groundwork has not been laid you may need to model stretching the sound prior to giving away the support.

Student, “House. /h/” (When a letter is between two slash marks it represents the sound the letter makes).

He writes a “t.”

This is okay. Don’t be frustrated by what he doesn’t know. Point to the letter “h” on the chart and start there. Don’t do this word by word or you will overwhelm the student. Teach him the letter “h” and its sound. Have him share his story. Point out the strengths in his picture and have him tell his story to the class. Celebrate. A picture and a letter is a start and it all starts somewhere for each individual child. This student learned more than the letter “h” today. He learned that you value his stories and he is a writer.

Below is a kindergarten writing sample of a student with a string of random letters. He knows there should be letters somewhere on the page. I used this piece for inspiration when writing the above scenario.


“Chloe was running to the house.”

What do you do with the student who is beginning to associate a letter(s) with a word?

Encourage the child to say the story slowly. He may begin to hear one or two letter sounds he knows. Then for the remainder of the story support the rehearsal with a next step.

Using a highlighter, make a line where the word should be, modeling left to right, as the student retells the story to you. Make sure they are watching you and notice that you are drawing a line per word as it is spoken. Then, as you point, retell the exact words as the student told them to you and emphasize the position of those words. Next, allow the student to point and rehearse the verbal story again. IMAG1922

Go word by word together and have the student write one letter or two depending on how many sounds the child is corresponding. Hopefully, he has the beginning sound for each. This will support the readability of the story later when the child goes back to re-read and share with others.


These tips are meant to help you support some of the earliest writers. To determine where your students fall you need to monitor the work they are producing independently. Look at a recent piece of their writing. Label or chart how many students are in each of the above categories when looking at the students who have little or no letter/sound correspondence. When you are able to monitor students and see what groups are forming within these small skill sets, you can more easily pull aside the small group to work on the next step strategy.  To see an example form for monitoring this kind of learner go to: Monitoring Student Work: Beginning Letter/Sound.

Betsy Hubbard View All

Daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, and writer.

7 thoughts on “What Do You Do With a Child Like This? Leave a comment

  1. As I am working with these young writers this post comes at a most opportune time. To celebrate these writers (which they are in spades!!) by scaffolding them in such a clear way is great. I’ll share this with my kindergarten teachers as they foster the writing love.


  2. Very specific and helpful post, Betsy. I think sometimes we feel either stumped because it seems like there is nothing to work with or overwhelmed because there is so much to work on with these writers. You really hit the sweet spot here to find a perfect instructional step! Thanks!


  3. I love this post Betsy. It is a wonderful example of teaching the writer where they are, honoring what they can do and nudging them along to the next step. Thanks for sharing the process!


  4. You validate each child at whatever stage they are at in the development of writing. Too often teachers look at student’s work and they can’t see any evidence of a story. I love these posts because it changes the way one can look at beginning student work. Thanks Betsy!


  5. Betsy I love how you support this writer’s independence and recognize where he is in his process of learning it write. It takes real skill and sensitivity to pinpoint what a child can already do who is such an early writer. Thanks for a great post!


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