Z is for Zaxby the Buzzing Bee

Emergent Literacy

Jennifer Adams


Rationale: This lesson is designed to teach emergent readers to recognize the grapheme z in written words and the phoneme /z/ in spoken words.  The students will gain this knowledge by listening and repeating the spoken phoneme /z/ as well as practicing writing the upper and lower case grapheme. Marilyn Adams reports that the best predictors of reading success are letter recognition and phoneme awareness.


Materials: Primary paper and pencil, poster with “Zaxby zipped and zigzagged through the zoo” written on it, Zigby Hunts for Treasure by Brian Paterson, picture worksheet for assessment with pictures of things that start with /z/ (zebra, zero, zoo, zipper) 



  1. Review previously taught vowels and consonants. "Do you all remember the consonants and vowels we've studied so far? Remember a says /a/, e says /e/, and b says /b/. What does a say? e? b? Good!" Talk about both the grapheme and the phoneme and ask students to think of words representing those phonemes. "What is a word that starts with /b/? What about /a/? /e/?"
  1. Write the letter z on the board.  Explain that the letter z says /z/.  “/z/ sounds like Zaxby, a buzzing bee who zips through the air. To make this sound, put your teeth together. Then touch the tip of your tongue above your top teeth. Turn your voice box on. There should be a tickling feeling between your teeth as you say /z/.” Make the hand motion for Zaxby—by putting your thumbs together and wiggling your fingers—as you say /z/. Show the students how to make the buzzing bee motion. “Okay, everyone practice their buzzing bee while you make the /z/ sound. See it’s like a buzzing bee! Good job making those buzzing bees buzz!” Tell them to make their buzzing bees every time they hear you say a word that has the /z/ sound.  
  1. Model to the students how to think about the beginning sounds in words, and then have them try. “Do I hear /z/ in zip or clip? /z/... I hear /z/ in zip. (Remember to make buzzing bee motion. They should do it with you.) Do I hear /z/ in zoo or too? /z/... zoo. Now you try. Do you hear /z/ in Zaxby or Teddy?  Do you hear /z/ in zebra or hippo?”
  2. Get out the poster with the tongue twister written on it: Zaxby zipped and zigzagged through the zoo. Read the tongue twister aloud. Be sure to stretch the /z/. “ZZZZZaxby zzzzipped and zzzzigzzzagged through the zzzzoo.” Then have the students read the tongue twister with you and make their buzzing bees every time they hear the /z/ sound. “Okay class, now we are going to read the tongue twister together. Be sure to make your buzzing bees every time you hear /z/. Ready? Go. ZZZZaxby zzzzipped and zzzigzzzagged through the zzzzoo. Great job stretching those z’s!”
  3. Talk about words that begin with the letter z and write them on the board. “There are many words that start with the letter z such as zebra and zoo. Oh, I think I saw some bees buzzing when I said zebra and zoo. Good job! Can you think of some words that begin with z?”
  1. Ask students to get out their primary paper and a pencil. Explain that we use the letter z to spell /z/. 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, the bottom line as the sidewalk, and below the bottom line as the ditch.) “Now we are going to learn how to write the letter Z. What does the Z say again? (Class responds: /z/) That’s right! /z/. I can tell you’ve all been listening! To make a capital Z, you zig across the rooftop, zag down to the sidewalk, and zig back to the right.” Repeat this saying while the students make a z on their papers as you write another one on the board. Have them write ten more on their papers. Walk around the room and observe to make sure each student understands. Then show them that to write a lowercase z, you do the same zig zag zig but you start on the fence instead of the rooftop. Have them try ten lowercase z’s.  “Now remember boys and girls, when you hear /z/ in a word, fireworks should flash in your head reminding you to write the letter z. Fireworks should also flash when you see the letter z in a word, reminding you to say /z/.”
  1. Finally, read Zigby Hunts for Treasure and have the students make their buzzing bees when they hear /z/. “Now we are going to read a book that is full of z’s. Remember what we do when we hear the /z/ sound!” (Do the buzzing bee motion.) 
  1. For assessment, distribute a sheet with pictures on it and have the students color the pictures that begin with the /z/ sound and x out the pictures that do not start with the /z/ sound.


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, 2003.

3. Pender, Nicole. Zigby Zigzags. http://www.auburn.edu/rdggenie/connect/penderel.html

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