I used Alpha the Alligator puppet when I went through the alphabet for the third time each year. The first time through with Rosco, my primary goal was upper case alphabet recognition. The second time through the alphabet I used my puppet Erma Louise and concentrated on introducing each letter sound. Of course children are at all different stages of development so I included challenges and repetition for children who needed them.
When we finished the Letter Sound books and I was ready to send them home, I included this letter to parents:
In this letter I asked parents to help their child find something around the house that begins with the letter sound for each day. I regularly sent home a calendar, and I included the letter for each day on the calendar to help parents keep track.
My objective this time through the alphabet is to introduce phonetic spelling, but I believe that children need a lot of review and reinforcement to internalize concepts, so I did this to review letter sounds. I did not expect every child to bring in an alphabet item each day, I was just looking for a wide assortment of objects so the children would have another chance to hear that beginning sound over and over. I tried to make it a little challenge – when a child brought in something unique I would say – Wow, you’re the only one who thought of that! Every year that is enough to encourage children to try to find something no one else will think of.
I told them that we had another friend from the castle who would like to visit our classroom. We sang this song to encourage him to come out:
Alpha asked if anyone brought anything that starts with A (or whatever letter.) The children were sitting at the circle with the items and I sit on the floor with Alpha – he said each child’s name around the circle – if they had an item they told what it was and set in in front of them so we could all see it. If they didn’t have anything they just said that. After we went all the way around the circle we went back around (not moving – just naming the items) around the circle. I ask the kids to point to the items as we name them, to help keep them engaged. We just named each item around the circle – ant, angel, apple, apron, alligator, etc.
Then we reviewed the sign language sign for that letter. This time I also used a couple of simple sign language books (one is a Sesame Street book – the other I got through a book order) and taught the children a couple of simple signs that begin with that letter. For example, for A we would sign apple and airplane. I did this partly to provide a challenge to children who were already confident with letters and sounds, but it also helped keep children actively involved in what we were doing.
I had several other simple signing books – I will add them at the end of this post.
My district purchased Harcourt language arts materials, and they included a set of alphabet books with photographs of things that start with each letter. I read that book to the class and we talked about which children thought of something that was in the book, which children were “thinking like their friends” and brought in the same thing as another child, and which children thought of something no one else brought. Then we go around the circle again, naming all the items the kids brought.
Next I read an alphabet poem that I derived from a book many years ago. These poems have a very simple format – they name 3 items that begin with the letter, and then one item that makes a rhyme at the end.
A is for alligator
A is for ants
A is for apples
On my pants
I cut and pasted these so they fit on one page and fold up to be a mini alphabet book for each child to take home. I made a slightly larger copy and bound them into a book to make it easy for me to read to the children as we did the alphabet. What I really like about these little poems is that they are a great way to help children learn or reinforce the difference between beginning sounds and rhyme. These are two concepts that we work on around the same time – and it is really common for children to get mixed up.
After we read the poem Alpha plays a game to reinforce this concept even more. He says “I’m thinking of something that starts with H and rhymes with CAT. I use an item that the children have brought – it is one of the items we have been naming over and over and it is still on the floor in front of them. Even so, there are still some children who would say BAT or CAP. It gives a lot of information about how comfortable the children are – you can see who is anxious to give an answer. I don’t tell the kids that I am thinking of an item that they have brought. Sometimes kids will say a different thing that does start with the right letter – I remind them – that does start with H, but it doesn’t rhyme with CAT.
Here is a link to pages that make the fold up books:
I also usually introduce the sight words IS and FOR while we are doing this because they hear them every day!
Then I put Alpha into the castle and show the children a new alphabet book we will be making. I tell them that I am so proud of them because they know all the letter sounds, now we are going to start putting those sounds together to write words. Of course I always have some children who are already confident with this skill, but it is still reinforcing for them to do this.
The first day we begin this book I model what they will do in front of them. I read the cover of the book, and open to the A page. I read the words at the top and talk about the upper and lower case A on the page. Sometimes I still have children working on basic alphabet recognition and I want them to focus on these letters. Every day I ask all the children to put their finger on the dark black A to begin, we track the print and read the words at the top of each page every day – adding another page for today’s letter. That means they are reviewing letter sounds every day, seeing upper and lower case letters, and hearing the letter at the beginning of words again. On today’s page I ask the children what words we will be stretching out – that first day I point out that there is a picture that matches the words on the page -
A is for apple, round and red – and there is an apple by the words.
Then there are 2 more words and a blank line next to each. I use a rubber band and model stretching out each sound of the word ant. The children have already been exposed to stretching out words to hear the sounds in phonemic awareness activities – now they are matching letters to the sounds. In phonemic awareness activities I use my Sally Snail puppet and just stretch the words to hear the sounds – not worrying about spelling yet. In the photo I didn’t have lines next to the pictures but I added them to show the children where to write, not to hold them accountable for writing on the line.
Here is a link to this book if you are interested:
I wrote the sounds I heard and left my book open on the floor the first day or two in case any children are insecure about this. I passed the books out to the children right at the carpet at circle time. I know some children copy what the child next to them writes – that gives them confidence and gave me information about them.
As the children finish writing the two words they bring their book to me (or to a parent if I have a helper volunteering that day.) They just read the 2 words (some just named the pictures), and put the closed book into a tub. Then if they brought an alphabet item that day they went and put it away in their locker.
Because we wrote in the books right at circle time, it took a little longer than the other alphabet activities we do. I loved to do it at the circle though because it was so easy for me to watch their level of confidence, who was copying or insecure, etc. and it also goes faster than if I passed out materials and circulated while they did this at tables. All of these alphabet activities are just one small part of what we did each day, so I needed to be efficient.
I started a game to pass out the books at the circle and keep kids quiet. I had the basket of books, and another basket of pencils. I handed the basket of pencils to the child next to me, (s)he took one and passed it on to the next child. At the same time I was reading the children’s names on the front of their alphabet books and tossing a book to each child across the circle. We made it a challenge – if I got all the books passed out before everyone got a pencil I got to give a silent hooray cheer. If the children each had a pencil before all the books were passed out, they got to give a silent hooray cheer. This really minimizes kids who take forever trying to pick out the sharpest best pencil. Of course I modeled what I wanted them to do – I always said – make sure you get the sharpest very best pencil, so I can win the game! I asked the children to put their pencils horizontally at the top of their books before we pointed to the dark black A and started reading. That way no pencils were in their hands, or in the way of turning pages.
I have found that the children feel so confident beginning phonetic spelling this way. They know the sounds, they can stretch out words, it really goes well. Around this time I liked to show parents what we were working on. I used this technique often to measure how well children were hearing and matching letters to beginning, middle and end sounds of words. I gave them a chart that has pictures along one side. Only a few children did this activity at a time so I could place them far apart to ensure they were not copying each other. If they felt like they needed it they could use the letter sound charts in our room – or look at the chart on the wall.
Here is an example of one of the first pages we used:
The children had to independently name the picture, stretch the sounds and write the word. If they couldn’t figure out or remember what the picture was I helped, the rest they did on their own. It is a simple fast way to see if they have all the correct beginning sounds, if they are using beginning, middle and end – or if they are just guessing sounds still.
I sent home a copy of the letter sound chart along with this letter to tell parents about phonetic spelling.
After we began phonetic spelling I made picture pages like that one often to check on the children’s progress. It gives more accurate information about how well children understand, remember and use letter sounds than their writing during Writer’s Workshop because on these papers they don’t have to think about a story they are trying to tell, or remember their sentence – they are just concentrating on the sounds. Of course this skill is vital to successful writing too – if I know whether or not the child is able to write beginning, middle and end sounds of one word, I know how to help him with his writing more effectively.
More sign language books: