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Alphabetics: Research and Teaching Strategies

Research Digest No. 5 defines alphabetics, provides suggestions for assessment and instruction, and lists additional resources and references. You will find the PDF under the “Alphabetics” heading.



102 Most Common Non-Word Syllables

This two-page document provides over 100 regularly-used, non-word syllables used in English. Knowing these common word parts or "chunks" can improve students' accurate recognition and decoding of multi-syllable words. The list is from THE SOURCE: A Curriculum Guide for Reading Mentors (see full description and download link below), which also includes other ideas for teaching syllables and the 322 Most Common Syllables in the 5000 Most Frequent English Words!


Alphabetics - Challenges & Possible Solutions

NEW [updated October 2018] Common alphabetics instructional challenges and solutions developed by Minnesota STARs and Trainers.


Alphabetics Instruction for STAR/EBRI Volunteers

This handout describes what STAR/EBRI volunteers “need to know” about evidence-based and explicit alphabetics instruction. It also provides a routine for teaching the English letter-sound-syllable patterns that will help students read and spell words alone and in text.


Beginning Alphabetics Tests and Tools (BATT, 2015)

Beginning Alphabetics Tests and Tools (BATT) was developed by Marn Frank, ATLAS Literacy & STAR Coordinator and Kristin Perry, Hmong American Partnership ESL teacher and ATLAS Consultant. It was also piloted by a group of MN ABE/ESL reading teachers, who contributed their insightful feedback, teacher-tested tools, and inspiring testimonials.

BATT strives to provide a ‘principled’ system for ABE/ESL teachers wanting to develop their students’ knowledge of Roman alphabet letters, English letter-sound patterns, sight or high frequency words, and transfer of those letter-sound-word skills to text fluency and comprehension. This 71-page resource includes: (1) teacher-friendly tests for determining known and unknown skills, (2) evidence-based reading instructional practices, orders, approaches, and five lesson plans* for teaching unknown skills, (3) teacher-tested lists of other activities and materials, and (4) time-saving teacher resources.

*Aligned with four Reading Standards: Foundational Skills (K–5) from the Minnesota Academic Standards (MDE, 2010) and Career and College Readiness Standards for Adult Education (OCTAE, 2013).

Please contact Marn Frank with any questions about BATT content or resources.


CCRS and the Reading Foundational Skills

In Minnesota ABE’s 2016 Professional Development (PD) Survey, a number of instructors wondered if the College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) address beginning literacy skills. Over the past two years of getting to know the CCRS for Adult Education, the answers from Marn Frank, ATLAS Literacy & STAR Coordinator, have included yes, no, and yes!

The documents below describe Minnesota's combination of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) + CCRS Reading Foundational Skills 1-4, at Levels K-5. The result is a complete and clear sequence for teaching alphabetics and fluency to adult readers at Beginning and Intermediate levels. ​Reading research and practice recommend balanced literacy instruction – emphasizing BOTH print and meaning-making skills.

  • OverviewWhere in the CCRS World are Alphabetics and Fluency?
  • Download - Reading Foundational Skills (RFS) 1-4, K-5
  • Download - CCRS RFS Resources: This document provides links to FREE professional development, instructional, and audio/visual resources – all from Minnesota ABE practitioners!

CCRS Reading Standards: Foundational Skills K-5

Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR) - for Educators - offers FREE, reproducible student activities aligned with Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Reading Foundational Skills (and other ELA standards). They are organized by grade levels (K-5), provide teacher pages outlining objectives/materials/steps, and include student pages without a childish appearance (aside from perhaps pictures and larger font). They align with College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) Reading Standards: Foundational Skills K-5: alphabet knowledge & phonological awareness (RF.2.), letter-sound correspondences, syllabication patterns, affixes, & roots (RF.3.), and reading with sufficient accuracy and fluency (RF.4.).

Note from FCRR: All educators are welcome to make print copies of the Student Center Activities as long as modifications are not made, the materials will only be used for non-profit educational purposes, and the copyright remains the same. The resources on our site may be linked to but not reposted, reproduced, modified or copied to other sites.


Intermediate Word Study (2012)

This ATLAS-supported resource includes: (1) a public domain test for identifying students' approximate grade level performance in word reading or decoding, (2) a series of 'mini-lessons' for teaching multi-syllable decoding with compounds, syllable types and rules, common suffixes, prefixes, and roots, and (3) an appendix of student handouts.

Download - Intermediate Word Study

The following short PowerPoint slide show provides background and guidance for using Intermediate Word Study. It offers a preview of the research, intended ABE/ESL student populations, and suggested use of the testing, teaching, and resource pages.

Download - Using Intermediate Word Study PPT

Making Sense of Decoding and Spelling: An Adult Reading Course of Study

This scripted, ready-to-print, curriculum package is designed to improve accurate and fluent word reading and word spelling. It is useful for Intermediate level students.


Morpheme Matrices (2018)

This resource was developed for ABE/ESL teachers working with students who are ready to move beyond phonics and simple words. It focuses on morphological awareness; how morphemes such as prefixes, Latin roots, Greek forms, and suffixes combine or assemble to form multi-syllable words and sometimes change meaning, part of speech, or usage. It was recently expanded from 10 to 25 matrices, which can be taught sequentially (in high-frequency order), selectively and partially (as time allows), or as standalone lessons (when student attendance is irregular).

Download - Morpheme Matrices

The following short PowerPoint slide show provides background and guidance for using Morpheme Matrices. It offers explanation of ten key decoding terms, examples of a Latin root and Greek form matrix, and explicit instruction for using morpheme matrices to assemble academic or scholarly words and families.

DownloadUsing Morpheme Matrices PPT

Sound City Reading

This phonetic reading program website was recommended by two Beginning ELL teachers from Minneapolis Adult Education. It offers FREE PDF files of phonics books, workbooks, wall charts, flashcards, games, and activities at five levels. The program is "designed to be used in a sequential fashion, from the readiness level [Learning the Alphabet] through second grade" [Basic and Advanced Phonics Patterns]; however, it is also useful for older readers at beginning levels. Although the accompanying pictures often include children, they are not childish. The author, Kathryn J. Davis, gives permission to teachers, tutors, parents, and schools to download, save, and print any or all of the files. She continues to add and improve audio and video files to support her print resources. There is also access at the top to Reading Street stories, tests, and worksheets.

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Stellar Alphabetics Ideas

These “stellar” (meaning outstanding) ideas for alphabetics instruction were collected from participating MN STAR administrators and teachers during 2009-2012. Note: Some of the contributors’ original wording was reduced or revised for clarity and consistency.


Story by Story (2008)

This resource was developed for Beginning ABE students needing (and wanting) systematic and contextual phonics instruction; however, it has been successfully used with many Beginning-Intermediate ESL students. It includes a model of explicit phonics instruction, an informal phonics assessment, 115 sequential and "adult-authentic" stories at approximate grade levels 0.5-2.5, forms for tracking story completion and spelling progress, and an oral fluency rubric.

Copies are available from LDA Minnesota in print ($25) or PDF ($15) formats.

Purchase a copy of Story by Story from LDA Minnesota >>

If you questions about ordering, email LDA or call 952-582-6000.

There are also are 12 interactive, multi-media, online versions of Story by Story to use for FREE. They were developed by Charles and Pam LaRue and provide illustrated listening/fluency activities along with writing/typing exercises for short vowel and consonant digraph sound patterns.

Access free online versions of Story by Story >>

Teaching Analogy Phonics (TAP, 2015)

There are three evidence-based or proven approaches for teaching English letter-sound patterns or phonics to children and adults: synthetic (combining different patterns), analytic (separating into patterns), and analogy (comparing similar patterns). Synthetic is most common and used in many published instructional materials. Analytic is less common but can be a valuable practice activity. Analogy dates back to colonial times and teaches reliable and decodable “chunks,” which can be generalized to many other words.

Teaching Analogy Phonics, a new and FREE alphabetics resource from ATLAS, provides reading teachers and tutors with convincing background information and testimonials, a lesson plan model and template, other reinforcement ideas, and many (over 100!) common or sequential phonogram and word family lists for immediate analogy phonics instruction. It has great potential for ABE and ESL readers - if basic oral language and Roman alphabet skills are present.

Download - Teaching Analogy Phonics

The following short PowerPoint slide show provides teacher background and guidance for using Teaching Analogy Phonics. It provides explanation of key terms, a brief review of history and research, and an explicit daily or weekly lesson plan for teaching analogy phonics with onsets and rimes (or phonograms).

DownloadUsing Teaching Analogy Phonics PPT

THE SOURCE: A Curriculum Guide for Reading Mentors from Just Read, Florida!

This resource was developed for teachers or volunteers working with children; however, sections of Part 1, Ideas for Building Readers, may be very useful for adult alphabetics instruction.

  • Chapters One and Two explain reading development and ten research findings.
  • Chapter Three explains reading difficulties and four basic principles for effective intervention.
  • Chapters Four and Five cover phonemic awareness, phonics, and decoding (or syllabication) skills.
  • Chapter Seven covers word building with prefixes/suffixes and includes word lists and games.
  • Pages 69-112 present one-syllable phonograms and related multi-syllable words (or word families).

NOTE: Chapters Nine and Ten and Part 2 are not well aligned with best practices for adult reading instruction.