Z is for Zigby the Zebra

Emergent Literacy

Meg Wilson


Rationale: This lesson will help children identify /z/, the phoneme represented by Z. Students will learn to recognize /z/ in spoken words by learning a meaningful representation (falling asleep) and the letter symbol Z, practice finding /z/ in words, and apply phoneme awareness with /z/ in phonetic cue reading by distinguishing rhyming words from beginning letters.



*Primary paper and pencil

*Letter Z in capital and lowercase form for display

*Picture chart with embedded letter over the zigzag and tongue tickler:  

 “Zigby the Zany Zebra Zipped a Zillion Zippers.”

*Zigby Camps Out book (HarperCollins, 2002)

*Phonetic Cue Reading Cards: ZIP, ZOO, ZOOM, ZAG

*Picture Cards: zebra, zoo, zero, zigzag, rainbow, cat, money, and skunk.

*Assessment worksheet identifying pictures with /z/: http://www.kidzone.ws/kindergarten/z-begins2.htm.



1. Say: Our written language is a secret code. The tricky part is learning   what letters stand for – the mouth moves we make as we say words. Today we are going to work on spotting the mouth move /z/. We spell /z/ with the letter Z (display the letter Z on the white board in capital and lowercase form.). Z looks like a zigzag (have picture card with zigzag and the letter Z embedded over it), and /z/ sounds like you are falling asleep.

2. Let’s pretend we are all falling asleep. What sound do people falling asleep make? Yes, /z/, /z/, /z/. To make this sound, put your teeth together. Then touch the tip of our tongue above your top teeth. There should be a tickling feeling between your teeth as you say /z/. Act like you are falling asleep- as you say /z/. Show the students how to look like you are falling asleep. Okay, everyone practice acting like you are falling asleep while making the /z/ sound.

3. Model for the students how to think about the beginning sounds in words, and have them try. Do I hear /z/ in zebra or monkey? /z/.. I hear /z/ in zebra. (Remember to act like you are falling asleep. They should do it with you). Do I hear /z/ in zipper or shoe? /z/… zipper. Now have the students try. Do you hear /z/ in zero or two? Do you hear /z/ in zoo or farm?

4. Now let’s try a tongue twister (written on chart). “ Zigby the Zany Zebra Zipped a Zillion Zippers.” Everybody say it three times together.  Now say it again, and this time stretch the /z/ at the beginning of the words. “Zzzzigby the zzzany zzzebra zzzipped a zzillion zzzippers.”

5. (Have students take out primary paper and pencil.) We use the letter Z to spell /z/. (Display the capital and lowercase letter Z on the board.) Model how to make a capital Z on the board. (In this lesson, I refer to the top line of the primary paper as the rooftop, the middle, dotted line as the fence, and the bottom line as the sidewalk.) We are going to learn how to write the letter Z. What does the Z say? Class responds: /z/ while acting like they are falling asleep. To make a capital Z, you have to zig across the rooftop (to the right), zag down through the fence to the sidewalk, and zig back to the right across the sidewalk. Repeat the steps while the students make a capital Z on their paper as you model how to write another one of the board. Have them practice 5 more times on their paper as you continue to repeat the steps and walk around the room to check to make sure everyone is writing Z correctly. After they have mastered the capital Z, model how to write a lowercase z. Explain that you do the same thing zig, zag, zig as the capital Z, but this time you start on the fence instead of the rooftop. Have the students practice writing lowercase z 5 times while you repeat the steps and walk around the room to make sure everyone is writing z correctly. After they have finished practice writing the capital and lowercase Z, have students tell you the steps used in writing those the capital and lowercase Z to check for comprehension.

6. Then tell the students that you are going to hold up picture cards. Some of them will start with the /z/ sound and some of them do not. When I show the picture to you, I want you to act like you are falling asleep if the picture starts with the /z/ sound. If it does not, I want you to shake your heads no. Then I will model an appropriate response for the students. For example, here is a picture of a zebra. I am going to act like I am falling asleep because the word zebra does start with the /z/ sound. The picture cards I will be showing the children are zebra, zoo, zero, zigzag, rainbow, cat, money, and skunk.

7. Next we are going to read a book called Zigby Camps Out. Booktalk: This book is about a zebra named Zigby that gets a package in the mail from his aunt Zandra. What is in this package? We will have to read and find out. Remind students to act like they are falling asleep when they hear the /z/ sound throughout the book. Model this procedure by reading the title Zigby Camps Out and having the students listen and make the /z/ sound after I say Zigby. After reading the book ask students if they know any other words beginning with the /z/ sound.  Have students write their word using invented spelling on a piece of paper and draw a picture of it. Display their work.

8. Have word cards with words beginning with the /z/ sound. Show ZIP and model how to decide if it is zip or tip: The Z tells me that I am falling asleep, /z/, so this word is zzzz-ii-pp, zip. Have students try some: ZOO: zoo or boo? ZOOM: zoom or loom? ZAG: zag or tag?

9. For assessment, distribute the worksheet. Students are to complete the partial spellings and color the pictures that begin with Z. Call students individually to read the phonetic cue words from step #8.

Assessment worksheet: http://www.kidzone.ws/kindergarten/z-begins2.htm.



1. Adams, Marilyn. Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print - A Summary. Champaign: Center for the Study of Reading Research and Education Center, 1990.

2. Paterson, Brian.  Zigby Hunts for Treasure. HarperCollins, 2002.

3. Shell, Hilary. Zippy at the Zoo. http://www.auburn.edu/academic/education/reading_genie/odysseys/shellel.html.


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