Please meet Erma Louise, don’t you just love puppets? Oh, maybe that is just me! Erma is named after a famous author, essayist, and TV personality from my mother’s generation – Erma Bombeck. She had a very special way of describing my feelings as a mom, and interpreting life, and making me laugh out loud. Every year I read her essay from her book At Wits End – about her youngest child going off to kindergarten, to my new parents on the first day of school. We all laughed and cried!
Anyway, before Erma actually visits our classroom I tell the children that we have another friend who lives in the castle and will be coming to visit us. I warn them that there is something a little different about Erma and we would not want to hurt her feelings. I explain that Erma has a bit of trouble talking. She often gets stuck on the first sound of a word and repeats it over and over. We would not want to make her feel bad, so we will just do it along with her. My primary objective for this second trip through the alphabet is to help children isolate and hear individual letter sounds at the beginning of words. When Erma Louise “stutters” slowly repeating the sound several times, it draws their attention to that sound.
Many years ago I wrote a set of very silly, short alliterative stories to emphasize beginning sounds. I have NO artistic talent, so I asked parents to illustrate them for me. I ran them off and laminated them, and read one each day that emphasized a letter. Erma Louise helped with this reading – she was very excited and jumped around a lot and always wanted to help me read. At several points in each story there is an opportunity for all children to join in and enunciate the sound we are studying – Erma leads the children to do this “a-a-a-a-a” and then after reading she asks children what words they remember that begin with the sound. I know there are many similar books on the market, there is nothing that special about mine, but I am happy to share what I used. When I was developing my program and gathering materials I had 4 young children at home, and not much money – so I made more than I purchased. You are welcome to share…
1. Once there was an Anteater named Amos who loved adventures. One day Amos Anteater rode in an airplane to Alaska.
2. Amos was very hungry. In Alaska they had apples and apricots and acorns, but no ants. Amos asked and asked but no one knew where Amos could find any ants.
3. Amos went all around and called out his best anteater call: “A-a-a-a-a-a-a! A-a-a-a-a-a-!” (Have children make /a/ sound with you.) He saw an alligator and an aphid, but alas, no ants.
4. Soon he wandered into a forest of Aspen trees. Amos kept calling “A-a-a-a-a-a-a! A-a-a-a-a-a-a!” Then he noticed an axe leaning against an Aspen.
5. Amos Anteater borrowed the axe and chopped down a tree. Inside were an amazing amount of ants! Amos yelled out “A-a-a-ants!”
6. All of the ants came out of the Aspen! Amos was up to his ankles in ants.
7. All the ants formed a line, and let Amos to a big bowl of applesauce. Amos took a taste – and he absolutely adored it!
8. Amos called out “A-a-a-ants!” And all the ants came and shared the applesauce with him! After they ate, they all accompanied Amos Anteater back to his airplane for his next adventure.
Please match the numbered illustration (very simple pictures) with that line of text. I made these into books that I could read, friends of mine just wrote the text on the back of the cards and showed them to the kids. The important thing is for the kids to hear the isolated short a sound, and identify words in the story that begin with A.
We also created paper puppets of the characters in the story. We sent these home asking parents to use them to make alliterative sentences with today’s letter, or use it as a pointer going around the house and looking for things that start with the letter. Here are a few slides of one of the books as I read it:
Here is a link to the complete set of alliterative stories, characters and illustrations. Please click on it if you would like to download them and make them into books.
In more recent years I quit sending home the puppets and instead I sent home little fold up books that emphasized the sounds. I also sent home a lower case letter that matched the upper case letter, and I put them up on the wall
I did not originate the idea of these little letter sound books, but I did change the clipart and words and make them fit my program. Click this link to download the mini books that you would cut and fold:
If you are interested in the lower case letters please click on this link for the masters I used to run off the letters on construction paper.
Along with playing with Erma Louise and listening to letter sounds I read a Lift the Flap alphabet book to the children.
Then I told the children that we were going to each make a Lift the Flap alphabet book too. We made one page each day – the main picture on each page was a tie back to the alliterative story that we read with Erma. The Tiny Fold up book reiterated stretching out the beginning sound, and the final picture in the little book was also the same as the main picture in the Letter Sound Book we made.
I used this alphabet border on the cover and each day we would color in the letter and picture we were working on. Here is a link for the cover:
Letter sound cover
Inside the book the children cut a simple shape that begins with the letter and connected to the alliterative story we read. Then they glued on 3 flaps – I loved this part because it really reinforced how a book opens correctly. The children needed to glue the flaps on so they open like a book.
Inside the flaps the children glued on 3 pictures of things that begin with that sound. The paper I gave them has a choice of 6 things, all of them begin with the sound – I am teaching, not testing at this point. They pick 3 they like and can remember the name of. They also have to cut neatly on the circle and glue them inside the flap right side up. All of that is great for fine motor and thinking about how books really look.
These are the sound choices for M and N – of course I would cut the sheet in half.
Please click here for the circles with clipart for each letter of the alphabet. There are 6 choices for each letter – 1/2 page, except for x and u because I couldn’t find enough pictures that children readily recognized. For those letters they did not have a choice – I only gave them 3 pictures.
This link contains the A-a-a-ant page of the Letter Sound Book and the words for the entire book. You would just cut them apart and tape them at the bottom of the page. I copied these pages onto construction paper because we re-read this book so many times, I realize it is a lot of construction paper, but I felt it was worthwhile. Throughout my alphabet program I always used the same color for each letter – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. A was red, B was orange, etc. and it repeated the pattern.
The biggest part of the learning from this book was derived when each day, every child read the book from the very beginning up to today’s letter – to me or a parent volunteer. We emphasized touching the letters and the word with 1:1 correspondence, this really carried over to other reading we were doing. The children were looking at upper and lower case letters on each page, and really thinking about them because they touched each letter as they enunciated the sounds. I modeled how you can look at the picture if you don’t remember what the word is on the page. Children who were already comfortable with sounds would label each flap with the name of the picture they put inside, most children did not.
Because of all the repeated reading the children were very comfortable listening for the first sound of a word, and also remembering the sounds. As we progressed through the alphabet I put the little picture from the letter sound book on the wall, along with the capital letter and children’s names from the first time through the alphabet, and added the lower case letters as we progressed through the alphabet the second time.
By the end of this book we had a great reference for something that begins with each letter. In Writer’s workshop training I realized that I had too many different charts and references for letter sounds in my room. I decided to build on what they knew so I changed by alphabet chart to match these pictures – I just made it on the computer using cardstock and colored them.
Here is a link for a copy of the wall alphabet that matches the Letter Sound Book:
I also made small charts that the children could use as a writing tool if they had trouble remembering a sound.
Here is a link if you would like to print this chart:
I found that it really made a big difference in my children’s writing. When they had lots of different charts and wall frieze type alphabets they didn’t use them as a reference. When I pointed out that the things on our wall were reminders of the Letter Sound book they used them a lot. At the end of this book they felt very confident with sounds, and using the wall chart or desk sized chart as a reminder.
Here is the letter that I sent out to parents to explain what we were doing and how they could support their child in learning letter sounds.
Basically here is a recap of what we did at school this time through the alphabet:
– Talked with Erma Louise a bit – she enunciated sound and looked for children whose names started with today’s letter.
– Read the alliterative book – remembered and told Erma words we remembered from the book.
– I demonstrated the page in the Letter Sound Book – I think that is very important, not only so visual learners are clear about directions but also because I ended up with a complete copy of the Letter Sound Book (every year!!) After we finished the books and sent them home I still had copies in the classroom as resources. If I had a child who was still struggling I would ask parents to reread it with him/her nightly and I would do the same at school.
– I would also revisit the sign language for today’s letter – and all the ones we had done – for example, if we were doing Letter D in the letter sound book we would review signs for a, b, c,d.
– Each child would do the page in their book then individually (or in very small groups) point to the text and reread the entire book as far as we had gone.
– Gave each child a copy of the lower case letter to cut out and take home.
– Gave each child a tiny fold up book to reinforce letter sounds and give them an opportunity to practice at home.
I really tried to tie things together because we know that the brain learns best when children can make connections. That is why I always used the same colors of construction paper for each letter – A on the wall was red, so was the page in the Letter Sound Book, etc. I also connected the alliterative story to the Letter Sound book, and the alphabet charts we used.
One of the factors that made this program work for me was that if there were still children in my classroom that were working on alphabet recognition, they had a lot more exposure through this repetition. Children who were confident with sounds started using them to write by labeling the flaps of the book. They worked on concepts about print like 1:1 correspondence and how a book opens, and reading strategies like looking at how the picture matches the words and emphasizing the beginning sounds.