Word and Letter Confusion

The Problem Looks Like…

A reader is looking at an entire word instead of single letters and has trouble finding one letter in a word.

It’s Related to…

Hierarchy of Print

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Word vs. letter may seem like an easy idea, but for some emergent readers it can be a point of real confusion. Even the vocabulary of letter, word and sentence can be confusing especially to children with  language delays.

  • A new reader my learn the meaning of letter, word and sentence in any order.
  • One term is not more essential than another.  
  • Knowledge of one does not indicate understanding of another.
  • Understanding relies on exposure to print, personal strengths in phonemic awareness, language development and visual processing.

How to…

Clarify meaning of letter vs word by using already known words and close visual attention to print.

Use Known Words as Examples

  • Use the readers own name.
  •  Use know sight words

Ask Reader to Look More Carefully

  • Show the reader that words are bound by spaces, letters are not. There are exceptions to this rule with the words “I” and “a”, which offer an opportunity to examine the idea that words contain meaning whereas letters do not.
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Use a Variety of Texts

Ask a new reader to isolate a word, or two, with fingers or two slips of paper


In the book by Connie Dickison, “Turn the Page…It’s Fun!: A Concepts of Print Story”, words are described as follows.

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Now That’s Better…

The reader understands the differences between a letter and a word. When asked to look at the first or last letter they are more likely to look at the letter instead of the entire word. The reader can now begin to use the first letter or ending letters to figure out a new word.