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What are Bonus Letters?

bonus letter poster with decodable reader

There are a few simple rules that students need to learn about reading and spelling words with bonus letters.

  1. Bonus letters are double consonants found at the end of the word.
  2. There are only four consonants that are consistently doubled: f, l, s, and z.
  3. These letters are doubled when they directly follow a vowel in a closed syllable. In other words, these letters are ‘stuck’ to the short vowel.
  4. Bonus letters make one sound.

Read on to find some helpful tips about teaching this phonetic concept.

What is the best way to teach students how to read and spell words with bonus letters?

There’s no way around it. Following a structured literacy format is the most effective and efficient pathway to reading and spelling words with bonus letters!

Structured literacy provides explicit instruction in both reading and spelling.

How do I teach my students to read words containing bonus letters?

In general, students catch onto this concept fairly quickly. Using letter cards, we display a sample word ‘puff’. Then, we point out the double letter at the end of the word. We explain that when two of the same letters are next to each other, the sound is made once. We demonstrate to the readers what NOT to do by saying, “We don’t read puff like this, “/p/…/u/…/f/…/f/, puf-f.” Next, we contrast the correct way to segment and blend, /p/…/u/…/f/ , puff. Finally, students practice reading several more bonus letter words.

What about students who need more practice?

It is helpful to provide a decodable text that they can mark. Students can go page-by-page to locate and star the bonus letters. Once they have finished their hunt, students can reread the text segmenting and blending words as necessary. The stars are a visual reminder that they have encountered a bonus letter. This reminds students that although there are two identical consonants, they work together to make one sound.

Physically marking the text helps students solidify their understanding of bonus letters (starred in orange). Please note, the yellow stars indicate trick words.

Are there any tricks for helping students remember to double these letters?

Spelling words with bonus letters tends to lag behind reading these words. Therefore, it is important to provide plenty of opportunity for practice. The sound to letter grid is a particularly helpful tool. When mapping graphemes (letters) to phonemes (sounds) on the grid, students should put the two bonus letters in the same box. This is a visual reminder that the two letters work together to make one sound.

Reading and spelling with bonus letters are reciprocal skills.

To learn more about sound to letter spelling or phoneme/grapheme spelling, click here.

It’s also helpful to post a visual reminder that students can refer to when reading, spelling, and writing. The Floss Rule (below) is a helpful way for students to remember that the letters f, l, s (and sometimes z) are doubled at the end of short vowel words.

This “Floss Rule” poster is included with our Bonus Letter decodable books.

Looking for some bonus letter resources to help you get started?

Check out our TpT store for kid-tested, teacher-approved books and activities. All our decodable books align with the Science of Reading and follow a structured literacy format. The detailed lesson plans are designed to help the busy teacher save hours of time.

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