As we finish up a school year, and prepare for the next one, I wanted to re-share my top 5 favorite blog posts from the 2019-20 school year! Today we have #2 – Teaching the Alphabet!
Learning the alphabet is one of the major concepts that all kindergarteners must learn. There are many different philosophies and styles on ways to teach the alphabet, so I thought I would share with you my ideas. A lot of these ideas are based on my experience, the Fountas and Pinnell Phonics system, and years of professional development around phonics.
Teaching the Alphabet Holistically
There is a lot of research out there, including a whole book (feel free to use the amazon affiliate link to get a copy), on not using the Letter-A-Week method. Children don’t learn the letters in isolation, they learn them first with things that are meaningful to them, like their names or labels in the classroom. They learn them all together. Plus, some students already know most of the letters or all of the letters, so making them wait 20 weeks before they learn the few letters, they need to learn is not beneficial to them at all. If you want more research check out this blog post.
Starting with Student Names
Students learn so many phonological skills from simply learning their names. Children learn best when concepts are related back to them, and what better way than with their own name! I start this name study by reading the books Chrysanthum and The Name Jar (more on that in this blog post) and then making a few class books based on how many letters are in their name.
Once we talk about the number of letters in each name, we start to discuss the letters that start our names and finally, the letters inside of our names. I love to make class books based on the letters that start their name after reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. They also make a crown with the first letter of their name and they decorate it. Once they have learned letters from their own name, they start to recognize letters in their friends’ names. All year long they know they can go to the sign-in chart or students’ nametags to see the letters that start their friends’ names.
Order of Alphabet Skills
I went over the order of my phonics instruction in this blog post (there’s a freebie too!). After teaching letters inside of student names, I start with uppercase letter names. I do whole class activities, like Jack Hartmann videos, I play I Spy where students find the letters around the room, and Alphabet yoga (click here for amazon affiliate link). I also do activities like using picking magnetic letters and matching them to a paper chart, and sorting letters by their formation (this is a great start to handwriting instruction as well).
After learning the uppercase letters, I provide lots of activities for matching uppercase and lowercase letters. This helps to connect what they know (the uppercase letters) with the unknown (the lowercase letters). After this, I focus mainly on letter sounds, starting with beginning, going to ending, and finally with the middle sounds.
Even after the explicit instruction, I embed letter activities into everything I can, especially morning meeting messages, greetings, and activities. I also include it in play when I can with alphabet blocks, alphabet letters in sand, movement breaks, and more.
Assessment of Alphabet Understanding
So how do I ensure that all my students know their alphabet? I do monthly or bi-monthly checks with all of them on letter and sound identification. I keep track of their progress and if they aren’t making as much progress as their peers, then I pull them for small groups or intervention groups and do more consistent practice with the letters they are struggling to learn.
Continuation of Alphabet Practice
In my small groups, I have several go to games and activities that can work on all the skills of uppercase identification, lowercase identification, and sound identification.
I call out a letter and then the children have to find it on our alphabet and cover it up. You can also play “I Hear” and say a sound and have the children cover up the letter that makes this sound. Another extension to this is to add in a sand tray and have them trace the letter once they have found it. This is great for handwriting and it’s also great for kinesthetic learners. You could also put in an alphabet chart for tracing so that they can practice writing the letter.
I love to give my students a variety of cards and puzzles to match with. I also add in that they have to say the letter or the sound before they can claim the match for themselves. Another variation on this is to play Go Fish or Memory!
Kaboom (There are other names for this too)
To play, you just write letters or sight words (or other phonics focuses) on popsicle sticks. The children pick one stick out at a time and have to read the word or identify the letter or say the letter sound. If they say it correctly, they get to keep the stick. Then you keep taking turns pulling sticks and reading them until someone picks a kaboom stick. Everyone then has to put all their sticks back and say “Kaboom!”
Learning the alphabet is one of the most important things to learn in kindergarten and it sets the foundation for reading and writing. Children learn it best naturally and holistically, but a few students need more individualized, consistent practice. You can teach the alphabet explicitly, embed it throughout the day and within fun activities, and give more intense practice for those who need it. What activities do you love for teaching the alphabet?
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