Emergent Literacy

“Growl like a Grizzly Bear”

Elizabeth McGee

Rationale: This lesson focusses on the phoneme /r/, which is symbolized in the letter r. The student(s) will practice listening and identifying /r/ in spoken words with the scaffold of words that are connected to the sound (e.g. growling really sounds like RRRRRRR) and using the letter symbol r as a cue. They will practice finding /r/ in words and exercising phoneme awareness with /r/ in the activity of differentiating rhyming words with different beginning letters (e.g. ran: Do you hear /r/ in ran or van?). 


  • lined paper
  • No. 2 pencil (preferably not mechanical)
  • visual aid of a tongue tickle
  • Dr. Suess’s Alphabet Book
  • picture of the growling bear with the /r/ phoneme imbedded within
  • word cards with rhyming words
  • (for assessment) enough puppets for each student participating


  1. Introduction to the letter r and sound /r/ in Dr. Suess’s book: “Here is a Dr. Seuss book. Have you read one of his books before or had one read to you? [Pause for responses.] I have, and in being exposed to his writing I’ve noticed that he likes to play with words and letters and sounds. Have you noticed that? [Pause for responses.] Let’s turn to a page in this book and see what he does to play with a letter and sound. [Turn to Rr page and read it.] What letter and sound do you think he was playing with on this page? [Pause for responses.] Yeah, it’s r, and the sound for that is /r/. Guess what, we are going to play with that sound today, too!”
  2. “When you talk to me, and I talk to you, our words, our language, is made up of sounds. Those sounds are made by special movements in our mouth. Today, when we learn about the sound /r/, we are going to be giving special attention to what our mouths are doing. First, let’s look at the letter symbols for the /r/ sound. [Retrieve card without revealing it.] Do you have any predictions for what the letter that says /r/ is? [Wait for answer. Then show card.] Now we know that when we see this symbol, the sound is /r/.”
  3. “We are going to be grizzly bears growling, /r//r//r//r//r/!! [Make growling sound, very ferocious.] Notice how your mouth is positioned when you make the /r/ sound. I notice it, but I have to admit that it’s hard to understand exactly what my mouth is doing on the inside. [Repeat /r//r//r/ sound.] I can feel with my tongue that the middle part is raised to the roof of my mouth and is widened to be touching the sides of my teeth. [Repeat /r//r//r/ sound.] Oh, there’s more that my mouth is doing, specifically at my lips. It’s kind of coming in on the corners, almost like a pucker, but not that much. Growl with me, and see if you can notice those things with the tongue and lips. /r//r//r//r//r/“
  4. “Let’s practice finding the /r/ sound in words using the shapes of out moths as part of our clues! I will go first. I’ll say brain. Brrrrrain. I’m not sure if I heard it, so I’m going to slow down. Bbb-rrr-aaaiiii-nnn. Oh! I felt it that time when my tongue touched my teeth in the middle and my mouth came in a little. Your turn. Try finding /r/ in trim. [Child makes attempt.]”
  5. “I have a fun tongue tickler for us to play with. [Retrieve chart.] ‘Robert the grizzly bear growls in the forest.’ Let’s say it together now. [Say together.] One more time. [Say again.] Let’s say it again, except this time let’s stretch out the /r/ sounds. ‘Rrrrrobert the grrrrrizzly bearrrr grrrrowls in the forrrrrest.’ That was tough, but y’all should be proud of yourselves for listening and feeling for the /r/ sounds. If you’re ready for it, we’re going to see if we can say the tongue tickler separating the /r/ sounds instead of stretching them out. ‘/r/obert the g/r/izzly bea/r/ g/r/owls in the fo/r/est.’” 
  6. “Whew! Thank you for reading that funny tongue tickler with me. Let’s take a stretch break. [Stretch break].”
  7. “We’re going to take a tiny break from pronouncing and listening to the /r/ sound. We’re just going to write the letter symbol. Do you remember what we said the letter symbol was? [Wait for answer; provide if necessary. Show card once answer is given.] Here’s some paper and a pencil. [Pass out materials.] Together, we are going to practice writing this letter symbol one time. When you’re done, just give a thumbs up so that I know, and then we’ll alls share. [Wait and share.] Beautiful letters! Let’s practice writing three more in the same way. Give me a thumbs up when you’re done. [Wait and share.] Great! You are really becoming an expert on the letter r.”
  8. “Since you are quickly becoming experts, I’m going to ask your expert opinion of some words. I will say some words, and you will tell me which ones you hear the /r/ sound in.”
  • ran or fan
  • plum or drum
  • split or grit
  • nay or ray
  • wave or rave
  1. How did you know which words had the /r/ in them? [Brief discussion.]”
  2. “You must be very proud of your growing understanding. To close we are going to help our friends [puppets] find some objects in the room that they like! This is Rowdy Robert and Reasonable Renee. They like things that have the /r/ sound in them. They need your help to find those kinds of things in the classroom. I’m going to give you about five minutes to help your friends find things with an /r/ sound in their name, and then come back to me and we’ll discuss the things we found. Ready? Okay, go find things for your friend!” [Wait five minutes. Call back to circle for discussion. Discuss while taking notes on individuals’ findings to assess understanding.]


Some activities and sequencing: 

Vvvvacuum with Vicky” by Courtney Boyd. 

Assessment activity:

Graves, M. F., Juel, C., Graves, B. B. & Dewitz, P. (2011). 

Teaching Reading in the 21st Century: Motivating All Learners, Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Introductory Literature:

Seuss, Dr. ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book (Random House, 1963)

Image Original (without phoneme insertion)

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