X Marks the Spot

Emergent Literacy Design

Susan Schaum


Rationale: The most basic element to literacy instruction is the understanding of alphabetic letters, (in other words, letter recognition.) Many children receive prior knowledge at home of the alphabet, but until they are able to make a cognitive connection on their own, the concepts remain foreign. Children are quick to associate letters with certain pictorial references that are familiar to them. This lesson, by using a common theme with which they may already know, will help children to become more familiar with the infrequently used letter X.





  1. State the objective of the lesson to the students in level-appropriate language. Begin by explaining to the students that they can read any single book in the world if they’ve learned the basics of reading. “One of the first things we will need to learn to do is learn a bit about each letter of the alphabet.” You might say, “Today we are going to look at a letter you do not see that often. Even so, it is still an important letter. This is the letter X. It’s hard to think of words that start with that letter, but if you hunt for it, you will find it in the middles and at the ends of other words. It’s almost like hunting for buried treasure.”


  1. Try to associate the letter X with the students’ prior knowledge. Ask the students, “Have you ever heard of a pirate story or seen a pirate movie? When a pirate needs to make a quick getaway, he buries his treasure. Before he leaves, though, he makes a map so he’ll remember where he put it. How does he mark where the treasure is? [Allow time for some responses.] That’s right! X marks the spot!”


  1. Model the letter formation. “Let’s try making our own Xs. Think of an X as the mark a pirate makes when he sword fights. He starts at the top and makes a cut to the right side, going down. When that doesn’t work, he moves his sword over slightly and makes a cut to the left and down like this. [Demonstrate the appropriate marks on a sheet of primary paper making sure the sizes are proportionate to the lines of the paper.] This is how I do it.”


  1. Allow the children to practice this on their on chart paper. “See if you can try. Take your sword (pencil) and make the same marks I did. Very good!”


  1. Have the children find Xs in the sentence on the chart paper. “Listen to this sentence I am going to read to you. Look at each word as I point to it. [Read the sentence slowly and use the pointer to follow along with the text.] ”Now I’m going to send you on your own treasure hunt. Anytime you see an X, that is where our treasure is hidden! Anytime you see an X, raise your hand. I will take turns calling you to come forward. When I call you, I want you pick out the word with the X in it and circle the letter with your finger. As you circle it, please say the letter’s name (X) out loud.”


  1. Question the students to reinforce the concept. When finished, ask the students how they knew which letters were the letters X. Remind them of the strategies for writing the letter and how to remember the name. (“X marks the spot!”)


Note: As a potential extension activity, read Now We Are Six aloud. Whenever you read the word “six” or other words with X in them, emphasize the X sound. Ask them to raise their hands each time they think hear a word that uses the letter X.




You can have the students dictate a brief pirate story to you. Encourage them, through random X word suggestions, to use as many X words as possible. When finished, read the story aloud while they point to each word.




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