George Lucas Educational Foundation

Larry the Letter Lion Helps Preschool Students Develop Literacy Skills

Larry, king of letters, guides students through the jungle of literacy as they cement their letter sounds and apply their new skills.

March 27, 2024
Teguh Mujiono / Shutterstock
Larry the Letter Lion helps teach early literacy skills in a fun and engaging way.

Research shows that students who acquire early literacy skills have greater success in reading throughout school. Knowing this, I’m committed to looking for and developing new and engaging strategies and activities that help my preschool students develop these literacy skills. While analyzing course assessments, I noticed that many of my students weren’t identifying beginning sounds and were behind on letter identification. 

During calendar time, I’d added a mini-lesson on numbers to improve students’ number identification and writing skills. Since students perform best in the mornings, I asked myself, “How can I do something similar with letters and beginning sounds that will get students excited about learning letters?” 

Larry the Letter Lion was born.

Introducing Larry the Letter Lion

Larry is the king of letters. He wears his favorite letter of the day on his shiny gold crown. Larry lives in the jungle, where you will find different things that begin with his favorite letter. For example, if he has an “Aa” on his crown, he could have an alligator, an astronaut, an axe, and an apple in his jungle with him. 

I like to use the same letter all week to focus students’ attention on that particular sound, but you could adapt how often you change the letters according to your curriculum. 

To begin our lessons with Larry, I like to activate my students’ imagination.  Incorporating imaginative play into your lessons is a real attention-getter and helps engage young students quickly. I pretend to venture into the jungle with our (fake) binoculars and go on a hunt for our lion friend. Sometimes, I get a little silly and even pretend that Larry sneaks up on me, and I jump and scream in surprise. This really gets my students laughing and focused on the activity.  

Then, I ask students to greet Larry by waving and saying, “Good morning, Larry!” Next, I point out the letter on his crown and ask if anyone can name his favorite letter. Then, we review the letter name and sound.  

Using Pictures to Help Students Develop Literacy Skills

I pull out a mystery bag of Larry’s favorite things. Students get excited to discover new pictures in the bag each week. The pictures inside the bag start with Larry’s favorite letter, so students can practice pairing phonemes with graphemes and identifying beginning sounds in words.  

For images, you can use clip art, realistic images, or pictures of students in your class or other faculty at your school. My students love when they see their picture in Larry’s jungle. When selecting which pictures to include for each letter, make sure they represent the true letter sound and not a blend, glide, or digraph; for example, for the letter S, I wouldn’t include a shark in the mystery bag because it begins with the digraph /sh/ instead of the true /s/. 

As I introduce each picture throughout the week, I give my students clues about Larry’s favorite things that start with his favorite letter. For example, if the picture is an apple, I will say, “This is Larry’s favorite fruit. It can be red, yellow, or green and grows on trees.” Then, students guess what it is. 

Doing this challenges students to draw on prior knowledge and think critically. If they guess things that don’t begin with the /a/ sound, it creates an opportunity for me to explain why it can’t be those things because they don’t have the /a/ sound at the beginning. 

Promoting Collaboration

Once students answer (you can reveal the answer if they don’t guess it), I have them say the sound three times, then the picture word: /a/, /a/, /a/, apple.  Then I have students turn and tell their neighbor two things: what sound Aa (Larry’s letter) makes, and what sound they hear at the beginning of the word apple

This quick, interactive, and intentional instruction keeps students engaged the entire time. As an extension to this activity, I have a few students practice writing Larry’s favorite letter on our ProBoard each day. I allow each student to have a turn every few days. As they write, I can quickly assess which students still need more help with letter formation and can provide any necessary assistance.

Enhancing Engagement

Using Larry the Letter Lion has improved my students’ engagement level, decreased behavior interruptions during this part of our day, and brought to my classroom many laughs and smiles as students’ early literacy skills develop more each day.  

Since I’ve implemented this strategy, my students’ alphabet knowledge, phonemic awareness, and even writing skills have drastically improved. In conjunction with our other instructional time, almost all of my students know all 26 letters and sounds by February or March and are meeting their end-of-year goals regarding beginning sounds. 

Using this strategy helps my students’ literacy skills progress more quickly, allowing me to challenge them further by identifying the middle and ending sounds in words and segmenting sounds in CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words. Ultimately, this allows us to build a stronger literacy foundation, meaning that students are more prepared to begin kindergarten the following year.

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  • Teaching Strategies
  • Pre-K

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