All About the Alphabet

When I hosted a little Coffee Talk a few weeks ago, one of the things a few of y'all wanted to know about was how I introduce the alphabet to my Kinder friends.  Instead of answering with a little blurb, I felt like this was a concept that deserved a lot more than just a little explanation.  So let's get started, shall we?!

Before I start, I think it's important for you to know that I wholeheartedly DO NOT believe in "letter of the week" alphabet instruction. Although letter identification and letter to sound relationships should be taught systematically and thoroughly, the sequence and spacing of instruction doesn't need to be drawn out.  We need our babies to crawl before they can walk and that crawling process shouldn't last for the majority of the year.  I mean shoo...we practically want them running by the end of the year, y'know?!

So let's move them from crawling to walking pretty quickly.  It can be done effectively without being rushed.  I've seen it year after year.  And year after year it amazes me each and every time.  

You know at the beginning of the year {in Kindergarten} our babies come in pretty much all over the board.  Some of our kids are reading chapter books...some of our friends can identify most letters of the alphabet...and some of our sweeties don't even know the letters in their names.  I always have a mild panic attack at the beginning of each year wondering how in the world I can possibly teach them all.  How will I bring my emergent learners into the same playing field as my readers?!  How will I differentiate learning so that my sweet & lows aren't lost and my high flyers aren't bored?!  The struggle is real! {and they all said AMEN}.

I feel like the alphabetic principle is the most urgent literacy skill to introduce and implement at the start of each school year.  Research has proven that the difference between good readers and readers who struggle is their ability to use letter to sound relationships to identify and read words.  If we're stuck teaching a letter of the week, how in the heck are we supposed to get them reading fluently and independently by the end of the year?  
At the beginning of the year, I tell my kids, "I'm having an ALPHABET PARTY and you're ALL invited!!!"  Naturally, I'm completely dramatic about this and the kids just go a little wild.  Then we have to tap the breaks thismuch.  I basically quote my Texas brother, Robert Earl Keen, and tell them "the road goes on forever and the party never ends."  We'll be using the letters in the alphabet forever and we'll need to be ready to party with them  Then we get the party started.

At the beginning of the 2nd week of school, I introduce the mnemonic strategies {motions/cues/pictures} we use for each letter of the alphabet.  The purpose of incorporating these strategies into our alphabet instruction is to help the kids make connections and improve their ability to remember the letter to sound relationships. When I first introduce these motions, I go through about 3-4 and then practice {always with the alphabet linking chart}.  Then 3-4 more...and practice them all again.  Then we practice those 6-8 a few more times and then brain break.  We switch it up a bit and then do a totally different activity and then revisit the linking chart and motions again.  I know how short those attention spans can be...especially those first few weeks.  We do a lot of introduction and acting out that 2nd week...and lots, and lots, and lots of practice.

I asked my little guy to help me show y'all what I'm talking about with the motions.  He does this in is class, too.  If you do watch this, let's keep in mind that this child is ALL boy.  Ohmydear.  There is no such thing as sitting still or keeping his hands out of his pants.  Bless his sweet soul.  #sorrynotsorry

Of course, we would've been doing this little exercise WITH the linking chart, but I was doing good just to get him to cooperate with me for that brief 3 minutes.  I didn't want to push my luck. #bribedwithcandy #noshame 

After we practice this for about a week during our whole group block, we incorporate it into our small group instruction, too.  This is when I do my explicit alphabet instruction and activities.  I formally introduce about 3 letters per week {following the McCracken order}.  I've followed the McCracken sequence for the last 13 years and it seems to work well with my kids.  

Here's a sample of how it all breaks down during small group....

I'm going to post a detailed description of my small group instruction tomorrow, so if you're interested in seeing a more "in depth" look of small group letter/letter sound activities & instruction, make sure to check back tomorrow.  It's more than just introducing and reviewing :)

Right now you might be shaking your head and thinking I speed way too fast through the alphabet and my kids surely don't learn a darn thing.   I can assure you that they do!  Between targeted small group instruction and daily review and repetition of the linking chart & motions, my babies learn those letters & their sounds quickly!  In fact, I would say that 18 out of 20 kids have learned and mastered all of their letters and letter sounds by the end of October/early November and they definitely ALL know their letters/letter sounds by January {assessments}. There are very rare occasions when this isn't the case and in those instances there are usually medical reasons why retention isn't possible.

Let me just tell y'all my favorite success story from last year. One of my favorite successes of my 13 years in the classroom for that matter.  I had a lot of friends last year who struggled with letter recognition and letter to sound relationships.  It was pretty significant.  I had several friends who had little to no working knowledge of the alphabet at all.  They weren't able to write their names let alone identify them {or any of the letters in their names for that matter either}.  One little friend in particular...we'll call her Matilda Jane...was really struggling.  I was so worried about her.  She came into Kindergarten knowing only 4 capital letters...none of them in her name.  Matilda Jane was very shy and terrified of taking risks, so I knew that the familiar repetition of activities and instruction would help her to feel more comfortable in the learning process.  I saw her grow a little every day.  At first, I didn't see progress like I had hoped.  But then Matilda slowly started to come along.  She had mastered all of her capital & lowercase letters {recognition} and letter to sound correspondence by the end of October.  I remember that specifically because it coincided with our Book Parade and I had a special Halloween treat saved just for her for her amazing accomplishment.  

Reading was a different story.  It took a little bit longer to make those connections.  We continued to review the alphabet and those letter to sound relationships pretty much every day before guided reading and then applied that to making words and manipulating sounds.  At mid-year assessment time,  I was THRILLED to have her reading independently on a 2 {B}.  I mean, if y'all only knew how hard we worked to get there, y'all would've been just as proud of her, too!  By the end of the year, she was independently reading on an 8.  AN 8!!!!!  My sweet Matilda Jane!!!  She read so fluently...her comprehension was flawless...and she made the most amazing text to self connections.  She blossomed into such a great reader!!!  I'm not saying she never would've achieved that goal if her alphabet instruction was different, but I think it would've been a little bit more challenging to get there.

My kids use the motions with the linking chart until they've reached the point of automaticity with their letter to sound relationships.  I give each of my kids a quick alphabet assessment every Friday afternoon to make sure they are retaining and recalling the letters that are formally introduced during small group instruction and to see what they're picking up through repeated exposure.  The assessment is super quick.  I basically just call them up to the teacher table one at a time {while the rest of the class is occupied in Friday Free Centers} and then I have my kids go through a separate set of capital and lowercase letter cards and tell me the name of each letter and the sound that it makes.  I only give them about 3 seconds per letter because the goal is automaticity and I'm using these little assessments to guide my small group instruction for the following week.  If they are able to recall the letter and sound, I'll write down the date next to the corresponding letter on their check sheet.  If not, I'll just leave it blank and use that info to plan.

I also make sure to have lots of alphabet resources available in the classroom.  These are prominently displayed and/or kept in areas of the classroom that are easy to access.  I want my kids to become responsible for their learning and use these resources when they get "stuck".

Those desk plates are my favorite.  I love that they have picture cues for each letter. I keep a set of the letter books in my alphabet station.  This is in a pretty easy-to-access area in the classroom and the kids know they can use these as a resource any time they need.  

I have a million and one of these linking charts around the room at any given time.  I keep one in all of my literacy tubs, my kids keep one in their guided reading folders, and I have a small group set I keep at my teacher table.  You probably have them, too!  If you don't, or if you just want a new set, you can download it HERE.

I also love these anchor charts and so do the kids.  I will bring them out when I introduce a new letter and keep it displayed on my white board next to my teacher table.  After the week is over and the 3 letters have been introduced and reviewed, I add the letters to our alphabet anchor wall.  

So this is a basic little overview of how I introduce and sequence my alphabet instruction.  For the rest of the week, I'll be posting a little more about what I do to help my kids master this skill as well as some of my favorite whole and small group activities!!  

Apples, Apples, EVERYWHERE!

How many of y'all felt a little shift in the weather this past weekend?!  Us?!  Notsomuch.  My Facebook feed was full of friends in other cities and states talking about the gorgeous fall weather & pictures of pumpkin spice lattes, infinity scarves, boots, fires in the fireplace, and weather report screenshots reading temps between 50 & 70.  Lucky you.

I lie.  

While I'm looking forward to Fall and all the nostalgia and comfort it encompasses, I don't want the weather to change.  I'm a summer girl all the way.  Okay, okay.  I could do without the 90 degree temps.  But I'd love for it to stay above 75.  Please.  

With the change of seasons impending, I couldn't wait to recap some of my favorite apple themed activities for you today.  My kindergartner came home last week talking about the apple fun he had in class and couldn't wait to tell me how much he "kind of" loved his apple tart on Friday.  Bless.

One of my favorite things to do with ANY theme is to incorporate it wherever I can in the classroom.  The easiest places to incorporate a theme...IMO....are in literacy and math stations.  Here are a few little apple activities my kids engaged in during our apple themed fun.  We did these in both K & 1st.  You can grab them for FREE HERE.


I included this little packet of fun in the mix last year and my kids loved it.  I loved that I had so much to choose from, too!

Before beginning our apple themed fun, we always do our little KWL.  These are scary looking, but they get the job done :)

I also have my 1st graders complete this little response sheet and add it to their reading notebooks.  Click HERE or on the pic to download {free}.

We also love our labels.  It's about this time of the year when we've recently introduced the concept of labeling and we're trying to integrate this skill in as many areas as we can.  Labeling apples {or Johnny Appleseed} is always one of my favorite activities.  I don't know why.  I love the way they all turn out.  I cut out all the pieces of the apple and then show my kids how to assemble them on their own.  Then I leave the pieces in a station and have them assemble their own and then label.  

Making applesauce with my class is another seasonal favorite.  I love the way it makes my classroom smell and I absolutely LOVE the experience it gives my kids....many of whom never have or never will get to do this again.  They talk about this all year long!!!  Then I bring home the very few leftovers I have, heat it up, and serve it over ice cream....for myself.  Sorry boys, mommy can't stop eating!!!  No applesauce for you! {said in my best soup nazi voice}

I also give my kids the recipe to take home to their parents just in case they want to try and recreate the deliciousness at home.  A gesture I'm sure my parents are thanking me for {NOT} as they quietly usher it into the trash can ;)

An apple taste test is imperative!  Such a simple yet meaningful and fun activity to do with your kids!  I'm all about creating experiences for them that help them to make connections, compare & contrast, analyze, etc.  Anything involving some type of food will usually get the job done and this is usually the first of the year that we get to work with food in both math & literacy.

After our little taste test, we graph the results.  This is a great springboard for introducing pictographs and analyzing than/less many more/ get the idea.

Those darn delicious yellow apples!  They "win" every time!!  My personal favorite?!  Honeycrisp!!!!!! {of course, it's also the most expensive....WHY?!?!?!?!}

When we graph, I'll give each of my kids a unifix cube that matches the color apple they liked best.  I have them help me create "graphing towers" with them for comparison purposes.    Since graphing can get a little messy, the towers help them to tell me how many more/fewer and we also use them to discuss various scenarios..."What if 3 more people liked green apples?!  How many people would like green apples then?!?", etc.

I like to display the class graph with their personal graphs {from Deanna Jump's Apple Unit} and a little apple craftivity.  

The craftivity, of course, matches the color apple they chose as their favorite.

Around this time of the year we're also learning about our 5 senses, so I take this opportunity to integrate that learning with apples.  I have my kids investigate apples using their 5 senses.  THey LOVE this!!!!  As they're investigating, I write their words on a big ol' anchor chart.  After we've gone through all 5 senses, we talk about how these words DESCRIBE apples.  This is a great springboard for introducing descriptive words {adjectives}.  

After creating our anchor chart, my kids draw their own apple, color it, and then write a little sentence using one of their descriptive words.  For first graders, you could have them write more than a sentence  ;)


The day after our descriptive writing activity, I like to follow up with a little five senses review.  I write all of the words we brainstormed on index cards and have the kids sort them into their matching categories.  They love this and it gives me the opportunity who's still riding the bus down struggle street with the concept of five senses.

Then we follow up with this little interactive printable...great for 1st graders to do independently and a good little activity to do with your Kindergartners in a whole/small group setting. I have them add these to their science notebooks.  You can download yours HERE {free} or click on the pic.

Speaking of science, check out these awesome apple experiments!!!!!

We also LOVE investigating apples in lots of different ways.  I give each of my kids an apple investigations booklet and we complete each page as a whole group.  This is one of their favorite activities through our unit of learning!  So engaging and fun!!!

You can grab your investigations booklets HERE.

Of course, anything art related is always fun and this has been a class favorite for the last 5 years.  Contact paper apple window clings!  Just cut out the apple shape and leave a cut out in the middle for your clear contact paper.  Place the apple cutout on top of the contact paper and then give your kids torn pieces of tissue paper {I use red, green, & yellow} and teach them how to fill the empty space in the middle of the apple by overlapping their tissue paper.  Once they're finished, cut around the outside of the apple {cutting off the excess contact paper} and then hang!  They turn out so pretty and the kids love it!  It's a great little fine motor activity and a good opportunity for building vocabulary and practicing listening :)

We always end our apple unit with a little culminating activity...another fun taste test. Can't you tell I love anything that involves food?!  This is what I brought in last year...

Sarah Cooley has the cutest little Apple Tasting Party packet that gave me the inspiration for this activity.

And then we graphed our favorite ways to eat/drink an apple...after tasting it all, of course.

You could get a lot more creative with that than I did.  I grabbed what was convenient for me. You could be way more ambitious and bake for your kids :)  Or you could just call it a day and treat yourself to Dairy Queen's new Apple Pie blizzard after it's all said and done.  Not that I've had that or anything...I'm just sayin' ;)

I display the graph with the their little ap'PALS' from my Apple Antics packet.

Is there anything I'm forgetting?!

I'd love to know what I'm missing and what I can add to my ever growing collection of apple themed fun!!!

Tutorial by Request

In yesterday's post, I added this little picture of an example of what my name cards look like that I add to my Word Wall and use for various name activities at the beginning of the year....

A few of you said you didn't know how to make that in Power Point and wanted to know how it was done, so I put together this little tutorial and I hope it helps you out!!!

I forgot to mention that I used KG PRIMARY PENMANSHIP as my font for these name cards.
I do hope this helps to clear up any questions you had about creating name cards in Power Point.  I've been using PP for the last 10 years because it's the easiest for me to use.  There are probably a million different ways to do this on a million different platforms, but this is what works for me :)