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 every.single.day.  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!!  

27 comments:

  1. Amazing! All kinder teachers need to take note <3

    ReplyDelete
  2. OH MY WORD. I think you were my savior this morning. I teach first grade in Washington state. Many of my students do not attend preschool and even more do not even attend kinder as it is not state law to attend school until age 6. This year I started my school year with a letter sound/name assessment as always. 14% of my kids knew letter names and sounds! 14%. Needless to say I am freak out mode and now teaching kinder catch up in two weeks flat so that all my babies can be ready for first grade standards in october! Again FREAKING OUT! I was so happy to see your post this morning about alphabet. I am going to following your ideas. I told my kids we would have an ice cream party if they all knew their letter sounds in 10 days. Again remember I teach first so hopefully they can catch up! Please let them catch up! I only have 2 kids thats know 90% of their sounds and names. The rest know about 5-6 letter names or sound! WOW. I would love to see/hear about your detailed plans. I know your posting tomorrow, but if there is anyway I could get your ideas sooner I would love that as I am in survival mode at this point! My email is rain_chick2001@hotmail.com if you are willing to email me some of your ideas maybe before they get posted. :) I know we are all busy.

    Also totally feeling an AMEN with your belief about NOT teaching 1 letter a week. That made me smile. Looking forward to hearing from you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well bless your heart!!! That sounds really discouraging, but don't get down!!! You can do this! I totally understand the feeling, but you will get them there!! I will try to email you this evening if I can!!!!

      Delete
  3. I agree wholeheartedly with this, HOWEVER....our district's curriculum IS to teach one letter a week. Now thankfully my district is also not a stickler on following the curriculum to the T, so I have lots of freedom to manipulate it and make it work (as long as it follows common core that is). I just get stuck though. I've never gone past one letter a week. I would really appreciate your feedback on what you would do from end of October/ Early November to the rest of the year. What does your phonics instructions look like at that point? Thank you so much! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Such a good question, Kay! I should have mentioned that even though I was formally introducing three letters a week during small group instruction, I had one "anchor letter" each week throughout the year. This anchor letter comprised a very small portion of phonics instruction, but it was a great way for me to spiral and review throughout the year and I integrated activities specific to that anchor letter into our daily instruction {shared reading/writing, literacy tubs, etc.} I totally understand how easy it is to get stuck...and that's OKAY!!!! You ultimately have to do what's best for you and your kids and what works in YOUR classroom. This is just what's worked for me through the years. There's no one way. Every classroom is different. What works for me might not be the best fit for every classroom dynamic.

      All that to be said, my phonics instruction is based on the needs of my kids. I use my state required standards {Texas hasn't adopted the CCCS, we have TEKS} to plan required objectives for the entire year. We dig DEEP into those. Even the alphabet. I truly believe in the importance of review & repetition. We don't skim the surface. I also use my weekly assessments & observation to drive instruction....if I notice they're struggling with certain phonemic concepts, we dig deep into those during our block of phonics instruction. We constantly review learning throughout the year so that they have a great foundation before moving forward. We don't just quit the alphabet after all of the letters have been introduced. The only way to get them to the point of automaticity is to continue learning about it until it finally sticks and becomes a "second language", so to speak.

      That was long winded, but I hope it answers your question :)

      Delete
  4. LOVE it & Amen :)
    We group it in a similar way and use the letter of the day activity pages for home reinforcement and small groups. Thank for sharing what works and the products!
    Jen

    ReplyDelete
  5. I NEED to know more about the alphabet mnemonics! I have been searching high and low for something like this, and I can't find anything on youtube, or google. Please let me know where I can find the chart, actions, etc.... Thanks so much, Jenny rjbwilson@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would also like to know more about the alphabet mnemonics. I use a lot of technology and have recently been exploring american sign language to help add in a movement when we learn the letters and sounds. If you could please let me know where to find the mnemonics because I think it would be extremely beneficial to my students. I have tried searching for it but have not had much luck

      Delete
    2. I use the phonics dance to incorporate movement and song into the ABC. They have the videos on youtube and the powerpoints online.

      Delete
  6. Such awesome information! I didn't realize that there were other ways to present the alphabet than letter of the week because that was what I was used to seeing other teachers do (I only taught second.) I am going to have to remember this for the next few years as my daughter gets old enough to work on letters. Thank you for the detailed explanation and the video. That just makes so much sense to help children really "get it!" PS - your little guy is too cute in that video!

    Sara
    Sara J Creations

    ReplyDelete
  7. Love the little video. We do several of those motions, but I picked up a couple new ones! Thanks girlie!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Our school adopted Fundations last year which introduces 2 letters a week for 12 weeks. We've learned 6 letters/sounds so far, and there are kiddos who have not picked up on any of them. They are still figuring out what school is about, still in that "play" mode. When you put letter activities in centers, the kiddos will work on them, but still not know the name of the letter. How do you make sure they are learning/hearing/sounds the names of the letters?

    ReplyDelete
  9. LooooooooooooooooooooVVVVVVeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee this post Cara.THANK YOU. #LetterOfTheWeekIsHorrid

    ReplyDelete
  10. So when do you fit in time to practice letter formation and handwriting of the alphabet?

    ReplyDelete
  11. Loved your post Cara! It's so great to see that other teachers feel the same way that I do about teaching the alphabet. It should not take all year long to learn all of the letters and sounds. When I first started teaching kinder, I took it slow, but last year, I taught 2 letters per week and was done in a few months. Then it was on to reading CVC words, Super E words, digraphs, etc. The possibilities are endless once they know their letters!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Love, love, love this post! We use Zoo Phonics. The kids already know their letters and sounds through K. We've been working on them for 11 days. They pick them up so quickly with a motion attached to them. I am amazed. I love your ABC pack. We use it daily. Your son is adorable too! :)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Thanks you for sharing! I love all your posts but I REALLY loved this one! I have some sweet and low firsties that are focusing on letters...and I've always taught first grade!! I am constantly asking myself, "What would a K teacher do?!"

    Thank you , thank you, thank you!!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thank you so much for sharing! This is a fantastic post and it provides a lot of good information. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Such fabulous ideas... thank you SO much for sharing! I do have a quick question - I know you said you introduce the letters in a different order following the McCracken order - when you introduce the sounds and motions do you simply follow ABC order for those and do 3-4 a day before you start formally teaching the letters in a different order?

    Hopefully that makes sense! Thank you again for sharing :) :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. What is the motion for "a"? I think I am missing it... I love this BTW!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hi Cara! Thanks for the blog post! I am looking for more information on alphabet mnemonics as well! Is there a video or chart for the motions? Thanks so much! jenlcarp@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thank you so much the sharing the video! I have known about the motions but never knew them. I can't wait to start teaching them!!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Great post! Do you know where I can find a list of the motions for each letter??
    Thanks,
    Janice
    www.prekpartner.com

    ReplyDelete
  21. Wow! Thanks for the detailed information. I'm just wondering how you get two hours of small group time in every day? I teach all day K and I don't have that much time to spare. Do you have to use a district adopted ELA curriculum? We do. Also computer lab three times a week for Imagine Learning. I have been teaching K for over ten years and am still trying to figure out independent centers so that I can teach small groups and haven't been able to. Our class size has been reduced from 32+ to a maximum of 28 students. No aides and no regular parent help. I use zoo phonics motions and review every letter, every day in whole group but love your small group approach. I especially liked the motions, cues that you are using. Did you make those up or do they come from a program? Can you share those or put on TpT? They seem to make a more meaningful connection than zoo phonics. I love how you asked your son why he was doing the motions. Thanks!!

    ReplyDelete