Effective Practice Guides

Print and Alphabet Knowledge: Know

Goals for Preschoolers

  • P-LIT 2. Child demonstrates an understanding of how print is used (functions of print) and the rules that govern how print works (conventions of print).
  • P-LIT 3. Child identifies letters of the alphabet and produces correct sounds associated with letters.

Teaching Practices

When talking or signing with children, use their home or tribal language if you are able.


Point out and name letters in the environment; associate correct letter sounds with known words.
Parvani, age 4, rolls out some playdough on the kitchen table as if she were making cookies. She reaches for the basket of alphabet cookie cutters and chooses a /p/. Ms. Lorr, her family child care provider, comments, “You chose a /p/ like in your name, Parvani. Which letter are you going to choose next?” “An /s/ like in sun,” says Parvani. “I’m going to bake lots of sun cookies.” 

Lead children in writing about a shared experience; demonstrate functions and conventions of print while writing.
Ms. Jansen introduces a small-group activity, “Today we’re going to use our thinking muscles to write a story about our visit to the bodega. Who can tell me what we did first?” Josefina says, “First, we got the walking rope so we would be safe in traffic.” Ms. Jansen says, “Okay, let me write that down so we can remember what happened that day. Where should I start on the page?” Several children say, “At the top.” Reynaldo says, “Over there,” while pointing to the left side of the paper. 


Offer alphabet props, games, puzzles, stamps, charts, and books that encourage children to learn the alphabet in English, and for dual language learners, in their home languages.

  • Some children’s home languages use non-alphabetic writing, such as Chinese, and others' may not have a written form. These children would not be expected to identify letters of the alphabet or produce corresponding sounds in their home language.1

It’s late in the year and many of the children in Ms. Young’s class are almost or have already turned 5. They have enjoyed using the many English and Spanish alphabet props, singing alphabet songs, and reading alphabet books. She thinks it’s time for something new. Today, she introduces a new project. “We’re going to write our own alphabet book. When we’re finished, I will make copies so everyone can take it home.”

Provide a variety of paper and writing tools children can use in their play scenarios and for other writing purposes.
Last week, Winona’s ookomisan (grandmother in Ojibwe) visited the class to show the children how to make dream catchers. She left behind paper plates, beads, feathers, string, and other materials so the children could make more dream catchers if they liked. Today, several children ask Ms. Reston to take photos of their dream catchers and then print them. They plan to write thank you notes on the back of the photos and ask Winona to deliver them.


Learn and use the words for letters of the alphabet, and corresponding examples, in the children’s home languages as well as in English.
“Francois, your name begins with /f/,” says Ms. Drew. “I wonder what else begins with /f/.” “Fleur,” says Francois. “It does,” responds his teacher. “And it sounds like flower. There’s an /f/ at the beginning of flower, too.” 

Encourage children to write or dictate stories or explanations to go with their work.
In the writing center, a file stand of journals sits on a shelf alongside a basket of pencils. Petra, age 5, reaches for her journal. It’s easy to find because it has her photo on it and she wrote her name on the cover. She takes it to a nearby table and sits with her teacher, Mr. Dane. He says, “What are you going to write about today, Petra?” She says, “Today, I have a long story. I will write some and then I’ll tell you and you can write it. Then I will draw a picture to go with it.”

1Administration for Children and Families, Office of Head Start (ACF/OHS), Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework: Ages Birth to Five (Washington, DC: Authors, 2015), 47, https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/elof-ohs-framework.pdf.

Last Updated: December 3, 2019