Z is for Zeke's Zany Zebra

Emergent Literacy
Haley Davis


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.


1.   Primary paper and pencil

2.   A tri-fold display board with “Zeke’s zany zebra’s name is Zipper” written on it, words and pictures of objects that begin with the letter z (zoo, zinnia, zipper, zigzag, zero, zucchini), a picture of Zipper the zany zebra, and a picture of Zeke.

3.   Zigby Hunts for Treasure by Brian Paterson

4.   Worksheet for assessment where student’s can color in the pictures that begin with the letter z. (zinnia, zebra, zucchini, zigzag, zero, zoo) 

5.   A large cut out upper and lower case letter Z.

6.   Sticky tact




1.      Review previously taught phonemes and graphemes. "Do you all remember what sound the letter a makes? Remember a says /a/. Can you give me some words that start with /a/? Perfect!  What sound does the letter b make? Great Job! /b/ Can you give me some words that begin with the letter b? Talk about both the grapheme and the phoneme and ask students to think of words that use that phoneme.

2.     Stick the upper case letter Z on the board.  “Does anyone know what this letter of the alphabet is?” “This is a really cool letter of the alphabet and its name is Z.” Explain that the letter z says /z/.  “/z/ sounds like Zipper, Zeke’s zebra. 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 of zipping your zipper—by using your fingers to pretend you are zipping up a zipper on a coat - as you say /z/. Show the students how to make the zipper motion, keeping one hand at the bottom and the other zipping the zipper. “Okay, everyone practice zipping their zipper while you make the /z/ sound. Good job zipping those zippers!”   

3.     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 shoe? /z/... I hear /z/ in zip. (Remember to zip your zippers. They should do it with you.) Do I hear /z/ in zoo or farm? /z/... zoo. Now you try. Do you hear /z/ in zebra or tiger?  Do you hear /z/ in zero or two?”

4.     Go to the display board and show the students the tongue twister, Zeke’s Zany Zebra’s name is Zipper. Read the tongue twister aloud and make sure you show them the picture of Zeke and Zipper. Be sure to stretch the /z/. “ZZZZZeke’s zzzzany zzzzebra’s name is ZZZZipper.” Then have the students read the tongue twister with you while zipping their zippers every time they hear the /z/ sound. “Now we are going to read the tongue twister together. Be sure to zip your zippers every time you hear /z/. Ready? Go. ZZZZeke’s zzzzany zzzebra’s name is ZZZipper. Way to go stretching those z’s and showing those zippers!”

5.     Show the students the pictures of things that begin with the letter z (on the display board). “Can anyone tell me what this is a picture of (pointing to one of the pictures on the board)?” “That’s right this is a picture of a zoo. Great Job! The word zoo has the letter z in it. Do you hear the /z/ when I say zoo?” (Make sure the students are zipping their zippers) “What about zebra? Zucchini? Zero? Wonderful, I saw lots of children zipping their zipper when I said zebra, zucchini, and zero. Good job! Can you think of some words that begin with z?” (Wait for student responses)

6.     Ask students to get out their primary paper and a pencil. Explain that we use the letter z to spell /z/. (Make sure to use the display board to show the letter) 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/.”

7.     Finally, read Zigby Hunts for Treasure and have the students zip their zipper when they hear the /z/ sound. “Now I am going to read to you a book and I want you to zip your zippers every time you hear the /z/ sound!”  

8.     For assessment, distribute a sheet with pictures on it and have the students color the pictures that begin with the /z/ sound and leave the pictures that don’t begin with the /z/ sound uncolored. Make sure to take down the display board before doing the assessment.


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. Adams, Jennifer. Z is for Zaxby the Buzzing Bee.  http://www.auburn.edu/rdggenie/innov/adamsel.html

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