Strumming N N N on the Banjo

by Susie R. Rogers

Emergent Literacy Design

Fall 2011

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


·Chart with tongue tickler: Benny bent the string on his banjo.

·Primary paper and pencil

·Drawing paper and crayons/markers

·Eric Carle's Pancakes! Pancakes! (Aladdin 1990)


·Each child will have already made a shoebox banjo with rubber bands to strum /n/ in this lesson

·A worksheet for each student with pictures of objects that use the /n/ phoneme, and some that do not.

Procedures: Carry out the lesson in detail through steps

1. Explain why the new idea is valuable.

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're going to work on spotting the mouth move /n/. We spell /n/ with letter N. We can say the letter N when we strum our banjos!

2. Review/teach background knowledge about the sound.

Let's pretend to play banjo, so strum along with me as we say /n/, /n/, /n/. [We play together and say /n/] Notice where your tongue is? [Point your finger to the roof of your mouth as your tongue makes the /n/ sound] When we say /n/, we push our tongue on the back of our teeth.

3. Explain how to use new strategy.

Let me show you how to find /n/ in the word pancake. I'm going to stretch pancake out in super slow motion and listen for my banjo. /P/ /A/ /N/ /K/ /A/ /K/. Slower: Ppaaannnnnncaaaaaake. There it is! I felt my tongue pressing hard against the back of my teeth, and I can hear my banjo in paNcake.

4. Model the new strategy. Solve an actual reading problem with a talk-through. Show and explain how to solve problems using the new idea.

Let's try a tongue twister [on chart]. Benny bent the string on his banjo. Everybody say it three times together. Now say it again, and this time, stretch the /n/ sound each time we hear one. “BeNNY beNt the striNg oN his baNjo.” Try it again, and this time break it off the word: “Be/n/y be/n/t the stri/n/g o/n/ his ba/n/jo.”

5. Engaging activity with student practice under teacher guidance

[Have students take out primary paper and pencil]. We use letter N to spell the sound /n/. Capital N looks like peaks of a mountain where some country communities play the banjo. Let's write the lowercase letter n. Start just below the middle of the street. Bring your pencil straight down to the sidewalk, then arch it back up to the middle of the street. Then, make a little curve that looks like a round hill. I want to see everybody's n. After I put a smile on it, I want you to make nine more just like it.

6. Call on students to answer and tell how they knew: Do you hear /n/ in drink or slurp? Band or sport? Day or night? Spotless or nasty? Never or always? Say: Let's see if you can spot the mouth move /n/ in some words. Strum your banjo if you hear /n/: Many, angry, lions, heard, antelopes, run, into, the, brush.

7. Whole texts- read connected book.

Say: "Let's look at a book with the letter N. The author, Eric Carle, tells us a story about a little boy who is really hungry for some flat kind of cakes. This story uses a lot of N’s. Can you guess what kind of cake he is craving?" Read Pancakes! Pancakes!. Go back and choose one page that you liked a lot, and ask the children to strum on their banjos every time they hear /n/ in a word. Then, have the class make up a creature called the Narg-on-nanny-nizzer, and have each student write their creature name with invented spelling and draw a picture using the drawing paper and markers/crayons. Display their work under a banner that says “The N Creature.”

8. Show the word cards that were made with words from the book. Model how to decide if words are either pancake or pamcake, pam or pan, no or on, etc. The N tells me to play my banjo, /n/ /n/ /n/, so this work is pa/n/cake! You try some: HEN: hen or hem? NEED: mead or need? CHURN: churn or chirp? SPOON: spool or spoon?

9. Assessment

For assessment, distribute the worksheet of picture options. Students are to work in groups of 3-5 to look at the picture (with the word under each picture) and strum their banjos if there is an N in the word. Then, they can circle each object with an N. They should each have individual worksheets, but can work together in finding which words have N. Call each group and see if they discovered all the words with N.


Bowman, Rachel. "Slither Like a Snake with S." Retrieved from

Guyton, Katie. “Whistle While you Work.”

Murray, Dr. Bruce. “Brush your teeth with F.” Retrieved from

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