Using a Color-Coded Alphabet to Teach Reading and Spelling

Using a color-coded alphabet, such as red consonants and blue vowels, to teach students how to read and spell, is an excellent multisensory tool which helps children to learn the different types of letters and letter clusters inherent in the English language.

Color coding can help students to learn the names of the various types of letters and letter groupings in our English alphabetic system (consonants, vowels, digraphs, blends, chunks, vowel teams, suffixes, prefixes). Below is a sample of a word building exercise, utilizing red consonants and blue vowels. The word 'bag' is represented by two red consonant letters and one blue vowel. The word is also represented below in our Color Coded Sound Blocks, in a red-blue-red pattern (CVC):


Through the use of color coding, children learn that certain letters typically occur in various and predictable patterns, and that vowels consistently make certain sounds in varying patterns and positions. Utilizing a color coded alphabet system can help children to recognize basic spelling patterns in words, making reading and spelling in English more predictable.

Did you know that there are 6 basic syllable types in the English language? You probably already recognize most of the 6 syllable types. They are common spelling patterns that we use every day. Check your knowledge here:

The Closed Syllable (CVC), as in 'cat'

The Magic E Syllable (VCE), as in 'cake'

The Open Syllable (CV), as in 'hi'

The Vowel Team Syllable (VV), as in 'boat'

The Consonant-LE Syllable (C-LE), as in 'maple'

The Bossy R Syllable (V-R), as in 'car'

The Lil' Reading Scientists Literacy Solutions TM Orton Gilligham Curriculum utilizes a color-coded alphabet system to teach the varying letter patterns in the English language, as follows:

Consonants are red: b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z

Short Vowels are blue: a, e, i, o, u

Long Vowels are pink: a, e, i, o, u

Digraphs are purple: ch, sh, wh, th, ck

Chunks are black: an, am, ang, ank, ing, ink, ong, onk, ung, unk

Bossy R is brown: ar, er, ir, or, ur

Vowel Teams are orange: ea, ai, ay, ee, ey, eigh, igh, ou, ow, oy, oi, aw, au

Suffixes are green: s, ing, er, r, ed, d, ness, ful, ment

Prefixes are light blue: pro, pre, de, un

Silent E is yellow: e


Here are pictures of Lil' Reading Scientist TM Word Building Boards, utilizing this color coding:







Using a color coded alphabet system helps children to recognize words in their component parts, and calls attention to various letter types and the Syllable Types. The color coding highlights the salient features of the words. Here are some examples of how color coding assists students in learning to see patterns and consistencies in reading and spelling (i.e. the 6 Syllable Types):

Closed Syllables (CVC): mat cat rat hat

Vowel-Consonant-E Syllables (VCE): bake kite rule poke

Open Syllables (CV): go hi we

Bossy R Syllables: car fur her horn bird

Words with Digraphs: wish duck ship whip

Words with Vowel Teams: boat rain play bee

Words with Suffixes: wishing sinking

Words with Prefixes: pretend refresh

With a color coded alphabet, the salient features of words just pop out! The purple Digraphs are very visible! The brown Bossy R letter clusters just jump right out! The long vowels are visibly pink, while the short vowels are visibly blue! The suffixes and prefixes are highly noticeable, making it easy to see the base word. A color coded alphabet system enables students to actually 'build' words out of their component parts - i.e. the letters and the letter clusters.

'Constructing' words from letters and letter-clusters is what spelling is all about!

'Deconstructing' words from their letters and letter-clusters is what reading is all about!





Dr. Maria Montessori utilized a color coded system for vowels and consonants (red consonants and blue vowels). Montessori students begin word building with the Moveable Alphabet, and start with words in the CVC pattern (red, blue, red).

Anna Gillingham, creator of The Orton Gillingham curriculum materials, used salmon vowel cards and white consonant cards, in her Phonics Drill Card Pack. By differentiating the letter types by color, children have a clear view of the organizational structure of the English orthography system.

Not only does a color coded system help students to understand their letter options - it also helps students to see patterns in words. The CLOSED SYLLABLE (CVC) has a red, blue, red pattern. The MAGIC E SYLLABLE has a red, pink, red, yellow pattern. The OPEN SYLLABLE has a red, pink pattern. The CONSONANT-LE SYLLABLE has a red, red, yellow pattern. An alphabetic color coding system makes it easy for students to see and learn the six syllable type patterns inherent in our English language.

Here are three pages from the Lil' Reading Scientists TM Student Literacy Rules Notebook, which demonstrate three of the six syllable type patterns, utilizing our Color-Coded Sound Blocks and our Color Coded Letter Tiles (L to R: Bossy R Syllable, Open Syllable, and Consonant-LE Syllable):








Each block above represents one sound. Thus, the word 'car' has two sounds: the red /c/ and the brown /ar/. The color patterns clearly represent the patterns of the syllable types. The Lil' Reading Scientists TM Color Coded Sound Blocks are used as an additional multisensory tool, to make the syllable patterns highly visible to students when word building.

Utilizing the Color Coded Sound Blocks in an Orton Gillingham lesson serves three purposes:

1) Students can clearly see the color patterns, which represent the 6 syllable types

2) Students are forced to think in sounds, as opposed to alphabet letter symbols, when using the Color Coded Sound Blocks, as each block represents one sound heard in the target word

3) Once students learn the color coded system, the act of word building with the Color Coded Sound Blocks brings word building to a higher level of abstract thinking, by requiring students to extrapolate what they know about sounds, sound sequencing, and letter and letter-cluster sound correspondences, into an exercise of pure phonemic focus.

Many students with reading difficulties have specific trouble with hearing, isolating, sequencing, and manipulating the phonemes (sounds) in words. Utilizing a color coded alphabetic system, along with the Color Coded Sound Blocks, implores students to think in sounds, and to break down words into their component parts, while reinforcing the visual aspects of patterns that create the foundation of the English language.

Jenelle Erickson Boyd, M.Ed., CDP, Author of this BLOG, is a Certified Reading Specialist, a Certified Dyslexia Practitioner, a Certified Teacher of Pre-K-3rd Grade, and a Certified Montessori Educator. She is an avid advocate of children with reading difficulties, and is an educational consultant for schools, and a speaker at educational conferences. To contact her, please email at

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