The genetic code is thought to have developed from an early system of RNA-dependent peptide synthesis. To investigate one kind of template-like peptide synthesis that might emerge from an RNA world, we constructed highly reactive aminoacyl phosphate oligonucleotides as adaptors that bound to RNA guide sequences. The reactive aminoacyl groups mimic a chemistry found in modern protein biosynthesis. Guide sequence interactions with adaptors were borrowed in part from universal contacts seen between tRNAs and rRNA. With these constructions, di- and tripeptides formed in a single guide sequence-dependent reaction. The order of amino acids was not random but directional in a way consistent with substrate reactivities. No ribosomes or ribozymes were required. Thus, aminoacyl phosphate adaptors and RNA guides could, in principle, have been intermediates in the transition from the RNA world to modern template-dependent protein synthesis.