Small Group Alphabet Instruction (AKA - The Longest Post EVER)

Yesterday I posted all about how I introduce the alphabet in my classroom.  I told y'all a little bit about what I do during small group and showed y'all a little sample of what that small group instruction entails....


Now let's go ahead and dive a little deeper.


Before I get started, let's quickly talk about some invaluable resources I've used in my classroom to help teach and reinforce letter recognition and letter to sound linking.  These are materials I use during small group, tutoring, and I keep these out in literacy tubs as well.  This isn't everything I use...it doesn't even really touch the surface...but I've found that year after year these tend to be my "go-to" materials...especially when teaching my struggling learners.


I will refer to some of these things in my plans below, so here's my basic set-up I have at teacher table for teaching the alphabet.




The Alphabet Anchor Charts were one of my most frequently used resources last year and you'll see how I use these in my plans below.



The clipboard, plastic sheet protectors, & dry erase markers are used for practicing letter formation.  I also had the kids write on the table....it wiped perfectly clean!!  Of course, dry erase spots would work just as well.

Alphabet Linking Chart - I keep these EVERYWHERE and I always have a small group set at the teacher table.  In case you missed it yesterday, you can grab your copy by clicking the pic below.



As you saw earlier, I introduce three new letters a week.  This typically starts on the third week of school, but y'all...it's never too late to start :)  Here's what each day looks like.  I'll use the first 3 letters I usually introduce for this sample schedule of activities.

  •  The kids come to the teacher table and each student gets an alphabet linking chart.  We go through the entire linking chart saying the name of the letter/the name of the picture that corresponds with the beginning sound/the letter sound and the motion - example: "A, apple, /a/-with motion"  {Remember yesterday's post...I introduce the linking chart the week PRIOR to starting formal alphabet instruction during small group, so they know how to recite the linking chart by this point}
  • When we finish reciting the linking chart, I tell the kids to take out their magic alphabet finger {pointer finger} and then instruct them with prompts.  "Point to the letter that says /t/.  What letter is that?"  "Point to the vowel that says /a/.  What letter is that?"  This helps me to quickly assess who knows what.  I include letters to review what we are learning at teacher table as well as letters I'm checking to see if they're just "getting" through informal exposure {station activities, reciting the linking chart, etc.}
  •  Collect the linking charts and pass out dry erase markers and a tissue/eraser {an individual white board or dry erase spot if you have those.  A plastic sheet protector on a clipboard works perfect, too}.  I make sure they know they can't touch their materials unless they're instructed.  If they do, they lose their privileges to use them and they have to write with invisible ink {their fingers}.  Sadsville.
  •  Introduce the letter Mm.  Prior to introducing the letter, I make sure to display the letter M anchor chart on the white board next to my teacher table.  I will refer to this several times throughout our lesson.  I use an uppercase and a lowercase letter Mm card {separate from the anchor chart, you could just write them on index cards} to show them the letter and tell them the sound it makes.  We use the letter M anchor chart to take about different objects and words that begin with that letter sound.  I use the alphabet tubs too...these are great for my kinesthetic learners.
  •  I show them how to write an uppercase M following the correct path of motion.  I talk them through it as well.  For example:  "Start at the top and drag a line to the bottom.  Frog jump back to the top.  Slide down to the bottom right and stop.  Now climb up to the top right and stop.  Drag a line down to the bottom."  If there's a right way to do this, I'm probably not doing it.  I made up my own verbiage because it was easier to remember.  I write the letter and talk through it first as they're watching me.  Then I'll ask them to tell me the name of the letter, repeat the letter sound, and then call on a couple of friends to give me a word beginning with the letter M.  I encourage them to use a resource {the anchor chart or linking chart} if they need it OR they can think of ANY word they know that starts with that letter sound.  
  •  Now the kids write the letter with their dry erase markers.  I talk them through it the first time and they have to follow along with me....even if they already know how to write the letter on their own.  I want to make sure they know the correct path of motion.  Then they erase the letter and then write it again by themselves and I monitor for mastery/mistakes/etc.
  •   Now it's time for the lowercase letter.  I introduce the lowercase letter, write it on my white board and talk through the path of motion.   I also review the sound and have my friends repeat it for me.  Now I instruct my friends to pick up their markers and write the lowercase letter.  First they write the letter WITH me as I talk them through it.  We erase and then they write the letter using the correct path of motion on their own.  If they are struggling, we talk through it and write it together again.
  • After writing both the capital and lowercase letters, I have one friend at the table "teach" the rest of the kids how to write the letters...this is just a basic, student led review of what we just learned.  Another friend gets to "teach" the table what sound the letter makes and then he/she calls on the students who haven't had a turn to name words/objects that begin with that sound.  

After this, I usually still have time for a quick activity.  I typically choose activities this time of the year that reinforce letter recognition and letter to sound linking.  Depending on the day here are some of the activities I might choose from....

1.  I start them on their Interactive Alphabet Notebooks this first full week of formal alphabet instruction.  I show them how they're used and put together.  I won't have them do this for every single letter this week.  This will be something that is incorporated into their independent literacy tubs, but first we learn how it works!!  I love using this to reinforce what we're learning at the teacher table.

2.  I printed out the alphabet activities in my A, B, C Easy as 1, 2, 3 packet on colored cardstock, laminated them, and prepped them to use with my small groups.  I made a copy for each student in my small group...so about 5-6 copies per activity.  For the cut and paste activities, I personally cut them myself and then had the kids use the "pieces" for sorting.  Instead of using a bingo dotter for the "dot the letter" activities, I have my kids use seasonal counters or transparent chips. And they use a vis-a-vis for the handwriting piece.

3.  The random games and activities are just that...completely random.  Games & activities I've collected and/or created over the years and I keep them in a drawer next to my teacher table to pull out & use as needed.

  •  The kids come to the teacher table and each student gets an alphabet linking chart.  We go through the entire linking chart saying the name of the letter/the name of the picture that corresponds with the beginning sound/the letter sound and the motion just like we did on Monday.  We do this at the start of small group EVERY.SINGLE.DAY.
  • Alphabet Linking Chart prompts - today I'll give them a set of transparent chips and have them cover up the letters using prompts.  "Cover the letter that comes BEFORE Mm."  "Cover the letter you hear at the beginning of APPLE."  {etc....}
  •  Collect the linking charts and pass out dry erase markers, a white board/sheet protector/etc., & a tissue/eraser.
  • Review the letter Mm.  I review the letters lots of different ways.  Today, I'll say "who remembers the letter we learned how to write yesterday?"  Hopefully they'll remember :)  If they don't, I'll point to the anchor chart on the white board.  If they still can't remember the name of the letter, I'll use a mnemonic cue.  I won't say the name or make the sound, I'll just use the cue and that typically illicits a correct response.  
  • I'll reinforce that letter saying, "That's right!  It was the letter Mm.  Who can tell me what sound the Mm makes? (wait for response)  GREAT!!!  Yes! The letter Mm says /m/.  Great job.  Now who can remember how to write the letter Mm using the correct path of motion?"  At this time they're completely jumping up and down excited to show you they remember...even when they don't.  Cuties.  
  • Instruct the kids to open their markers and write the letter WITH them while talking it out.  I write the letters one at a time.  Uppercase then lowercase or vice versa.  Then I have them write it on their own.  And then we review the sound.  Again.  As they're erasing their letters, I ask them to tell me some words that begin with  /m/.  Then I tell them to put the caps on their markers and sit with their hands in their laps.
  •  Introduce the letter Ss.  So as not to confuse my kids, I'll put up the letter Ss anchor chart on the white board AS I'm introducing it. We discuss the letter sound.  I model and we practice together.  Then we talk about the different objects/words that begin with that sound using the anchor chart.
  •  Model write the uppercase & lowercase Ss while talking through the path of motion.  Then I'll ask them to tell me the name of the letter, repeat the letter sound, and then call on a couple of friends to give me a word beginning with the letter Ss. Again, just a quick review...something to keep them thinking and making connections.
  • Independent letter writing - I write the uppercase WITH them, then they write it independently.  Then I write the lowercase WITH them, and they write it independently.  Then I have them write them both.  
  • To switch it up, I'll throw in yesterday's letter.  "You showed me how to write the letter Ss.  Now show me how to write a lowercase Mm", or something to that effect.  If I ask them to write a different letter, I'll also ask them to give me a word that begins with that sound.
  • Student teach - one friend "teaches" the rest of the table how to write the uppercase/lowercase letter Ss.  Choose another student teacher to tell the kids how the letter Ss sounds.  Then have that student teacher choose the rest of the table to give you words beginning with that sound.
  • Quick activity as discussed in Monday's plans.

  • Recite the alphabet linking chart with motions & point to each letter as you say it.
  • Alphabet Linking Chart prompts - today I'll give them 5 M&M's. (yes, we can use candy...don't throw rocks!!!  you can use goldfish or anything else...that is, if you're allowed to use food for instruction).  I'll tell them that they can eat ALL of their M&M's if they cover the correct letters...no worries, though.  I do help them if they get stuck and no one feels left out.  I'll prompt them to cover the letters using the prompts we used on Monday & Tuesday and then I let them eat their answers :)  If they get stuck, I prompt them to use the anchor charts or show them a mnemonic cue to jog their memory.  I don't want them to be wrong and I don't want to discourage them...the M&M's just help to get them a little excited and it's a special mid-week fun snack :)
  •  Collect the linking charts and pass out dry erase markers, a white board/sheet protector/etc., & a tissue/eraser.
  • Review both letters Mm & Ss.  I'll pass out a little container filled with letter tiles filled with about 8 different letters. Both the uppercase & lowercase letters (Mm & Ss) are in the container.  I tell them to take out their tiles and place them in a straight row (I use every opportunity I can to build and reinforce vocabulary as well).  Then I'll give them prompts.  "Push up the letter you hear at the beginning of "monkey".  Push up the letter that comes after Rr.  Push up the letter that says /s/.  Push up the letter that you write by starting at the top, drag a line down, frog jump back up to the top, etc."  (This is just an example of some prompts I might use.  I always keep an alphabet linking chart displayed at my teacher table as well so that the kids have that as a resource).
  • Pack up the tiles and pass out the markers, white boards, & erasers.  
  • Instruct the kids to open their markers and tell them that we're going to practice writing letters using the correct path of motion.  "Write the CAPITAL/UPPERCASE letter you hear at the beginning of MOUSE."  If I see someone struggling to recall, I'll show them a mnemonic cue and then refer them to the anchor chart.  If they're still struggling, I'll point to the letter on the linking chart and ask them to tell me what letter it is and what sound it makes. I make sure to tell them and practice it with them as well.  I'll repeat this with both uppercase and lowercase letters Mm & Ss.
  • Erase the letters and gather up the markers.  Now I'll have the kids do some sort of sort for me.  It could be a letter sort (sorting M's & S's, both uppercase and lowercase) or a picture sort (beginning M & S words/pictures).  You can do this with hands-on materials (letter tiles, flashcards, picture cards, etc.) or something that you've typed up and made yourself.  Whatever works.
  • If I do have them work on a paper/pencil type sort, I make sure to have them add that to their interactive alphabet notebooks.  
  • Quick activity - optional

  • Recite the alphabet linking chart with motions & point to each letter as you say it.
  • Alphabet Linking Chart prompts - today I'll hand out little square picture chips to each of my kids.  I have a baggie of these for each student at my table. The baggie contains about 4-5 different pictures and I tell the kids that they have to remove each picture from the baggie and cover up the picture/letter on the linking chart that starts the same way.  For example, if they pull out a picture of  a "sock", they have to place it over the "snake".  This is a great little on-the-go assessment and it helps me see who's getting what.  I get individual time with my kids during this activity as I stop in with each student at my table and have them talk out their thinking and then tell me the letter that matches the sound they hear at the beginning of the word/picture.
  •  Clear the charts, bag up the pictures, and then collect the linking charts and pass out dry erase markers, a white board/sheet protector/etc., & a tissue/eraser.
  • Review the letters Mm & Ss.  Today's review is a writing review.  I'll say, "write the uppercase S using the correct path of motion.  Write the lowercase letter you hear at the beginning of moon.  Can anyone tell me any other words that start the same as moon?  What letter is that that you hear at the beginning of moon?", etc.  This is all pretty quickfire.  I help them as needed, but I always encourage them to use a resource first.  
  • Now we erase the letters and close up our markers and I introduce the letter Ff.  I'll pull out my F anchor chart and I'll tell them the name of the letter, the sound that it makes, and then we'll talk about the pictures on the anchor chart that are associated with the beginning sound.  Then we'll brainstorm a few more words of our own.  I'll usually try to draw those pictures on the white board as we brainstorm.  We'll end this quick activity by reviewing the name of the letter and the letter sound.
  •  Model write the uppercase & lowercase Ff  while talking through the path of motion.  Then I'll ask them to tell me the name of the letter, repeat the letter sound, and then call on a couple of friends to give me a word beginning with the letter Ff. Again, just a quick review...something to keep them thinking and making connections.
  • Independent letter writing - I write the uppercase WITH them, then they write it independently.  Then I write the lowercase WITH them, and they write it independently.  Then I have them write them both.  
  • To switch it up, I'll throw in Monday & Tuesday's letters.  "You showed me how to write the letter Ff.  Now show me how to write a lowercase Mm/uppercase S", or something to that effect.  If I ask them to write a different letter, I'll also ask them to give me a word that begins with that sound.
  • Student teach - one friend "teaches" the rest of the table how to write the uppercase/lowercase letter Ff.  Choose another student teacher to tell the kids how the letter Ff sounds.  Then have that student teacher choose the rest of the table to give you words beginning with that sound.
  • Quick activity as discussed in Monday's plans.

  • Recite the alphabet linking chart with motions & point to each letter as you say it.
  • Alphabet Linking Chart prompts - today I'll gather up the linking chart and then pass out a linking chart that has missing pieces {letters, pictures, or both}.  I also pass out baggies that include the missing pieces.  The kids have to determine what letters/pictures/both are missing.  I keep a linking chart on my desk for the kids to use as a resource if they get stuck.  This is also a good anchor activity to include in your dessert tubs or regular literacy stations.
  •  Clear the charts, bag up the pictures, and then collect the linking charts and pass out dry erase markers, a white board/sheet protector/etc., & a tissue/eraser.
  • Review the letters Mm, Ss, & Ff.  I pull up a large pocket chart on an easel for this activity, but you don't NEED one.  You can do it on your table just as easy.  I have a set of alphabet cards {lowercase & uppercase are separate} that I'll prep to show to the kids.  I pull out the uppercase M, S, & F.  I'll show them to the kids one at a time and ask them to tell me the name of the letter and how the letter sounds.  Then I have one or two kids give me a word that goes with the letter.   I'll place the uppercase letter card at the top of the pocket chart.  I'll do the same thing for the other two letters.  Then I'll take the lowercase letter cards and matching picture cards and place them face down on the table in front of them.  I give each of the kids a turn turning over a card and putting it in the matching column on the pocket chart.  If they turn over a lowercase f, they place the card under the uppercase F.  If they turn over a picture of a snake, they place the card under the uppercase S, etc.
  • Now we quickly practice writing the letters using the correct path of motion.  I'll start with the uppercase and lowercase Ff since we just learned those yesterday and I may need to talk them through the correct path and model it again.  I'll repeat the letter, letter sound, and then ask my friends to give me words that match the beginning sound.
  •  Review write the uppercase & lowercase Mm & Ss.
  • Quick activity as discussed in Monday's plans.

In a nutshell, that's how I introduce and teach the alphabet {formally}.  As a whole group we typically recite the linking chart with motions about 2-3 times a day....especially at the beginning of the year.  We won't do this all year long, but I've seen a lot of success when we do this frequently in the beginning.


This is the longest post ever.  I'm applauding you all the way from my little house in Texas if you've made it this far.  Bless you, child.  

I want to reiterate that by NO means do I think this is the best way to instruct your kids.  This is what works for ME.  I love to try new methods and new ways of teaching, but sometimes I like to stick to what I know works best for ME.  You might be shaking your head at this post wondering what in the world I'm doing in my classroom.  I totally understand if you are :)  This little method has worked for me for the last 13 years.  Each year I have to tweak it to work for my crop of kids because no two years or kids are the same, y'know?!  Overall, this is how my small group runs until all of the letters have been formally introduced.

It is truly AMAZING to witness how fast these babies pick up these skills.  Of course, you may have friends who struggle a bit.  You may have to differentiate your instruction and slow things down for those guys.  I love watching how quickly they take to the instruction and apply what they know.  Then we get to move onto concepts like digraphs, cvc words, etc.  It blows my mind every year!

The activities explained above typically take no more than 10-12 minutes of instructional time.  15 at the very most.  I have about 30 minutes to work with each small group.  2 hours total.  I have about 5 kids in each group.  After our alphabet activity, they visit their literacy stations and then I work on guided reading concepts in small groups of 2-4 kids, depending on their level.  At the beginning of the year, those skills are very basic so we can build a strong foundation in reading, but that's a topic for a whole different post.  

I also want to mention that it's important to be flexible with your instruction.  If you have a class that's really, really struggling with letter recognition and letter to sound linking, scale it back to two letters per week instead of three and really spend time practicing, reviewing, and reinforcing what you learned.  At that rate you'll still be learning the alphabet in 12 weeks as opposed to 26 :)  I typically only introduce  2 letters a week on short weeks...if we've had an extended weekend or something like that.  

I do hope this lengthy, drawn out explanation helps a little :)  

Want to read MORE about small group alphabet instruction and watch a video detailing the motions that go along with each letter?!  Visit the link below for some FAQ's and the video!
Click HERE



21 comments:

  1. fabulous post - thanks for being detailed!!! I have the interactive alphabet notebook, but I going to have to get the "abc,easy as 123". You are a kindergarten rockstar!! Thanks so much :)
    (keep these posts coming, they are great!)

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  2. This is perfection! Love it. Will you post the order you teach the letters and how you decided what order?

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  3. Thanks so much for this detailed post! It's so helpful! :)

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  4. Thanks so much for the detailed instructions. What order for introducing the letters do you use? I have use the order that is in "Handwriting Without Tears "so just wondering. Do you have a basal that you use with your children? Thanks for always giving great ideas?
    Maryann
    brennemm@carlisleschools.org

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  5. Read it and pinned it! Thank you for taking the time to share this!!! :)

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  6. Love this!!! Would love a "cheat sheet" type version...TpT? :)

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  7. Oh my word! This is amazing! It's nice to get a chance to hear how someone else does it in their class. I'm sure I'm not the only teacher who wonders if she's teaching it correctly or if there is a better way. Thank you so much for sharing with us!

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  8. Pinned for reference! I pull an intervention (1st grade) group and I'm working with 3 students who don't know their letters (identification or sound)! This will not only be extremely helpful in targeting what they need, but also increase engagement (& boost confidence!). Thanks!! Jen

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  9. Thank you so much for this post!! I am a reading specialist, and this year we have many kindergartners who do not know their letters. This post gave me several strategies to use with them!

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  10. Could you please explain the mnemonic strategies {motions/cues/pictures} you use for each letter of the alphabet. I show your cute video, but i was hoping you's have time to explain each letter to us. I really want to try this with my kiddies. Thank you!

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  11. How do you decide which letters to introduce each week and in what order? (Or is it part of your curriculum) I'm a first time Kinder teacher and we have NO curriculum… I'm trying do the best I can, but I am really wondering what the best order is to introduce letters to my littles! Thanks! :)

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  12. What a wonderful post! You should put this post and your last one together into an e-book! It would be a great resource for new teachers or those who are new to teaching primary!

    Tara
    The Math Maniac

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  13. Thank you so much for this post! This is going to be so helpful to me as I teach my kinders the alphabet. You mentioned that you do guided reading concept groups along with alphabet groups. Are the students who are working in your alphabet groups also in a reading concepts group? I am wondering because I am trying to figure out how I can integrate this into my small groups. I have 20 students and only 30 minutes of small group time each day, meaning I can meet with a max of 12 students per day. I am struggling to see how this would be possible with my schedule. If you or anyone else has suggestions I would greatly appreciate it!

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  14. I too am wondering what you others are doing while you have a small group. Daily 5 or just literacy stations? I'm kinda in the same boat as Audra!

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  15. Hi wondering if you would share your verbiage you use when teaching your kiddos how to form letters. Thanks your awesome

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  16. I homeschool my 5th, 1st, and Pre-K kiddos. But my 1st grader attended a preschool where she learned her alphabet and sounds, and I've just been stumped as to the best way to teach my little. I really wanted to "knock it out" and not drag though a letter a week, which is what all my current materials seem to do, plus I wanted hands on activities rather than just worksheets & fancy crafts. This plan is perfect! You are an amazing & gifted teacher (and I wish I could clone you to live with us-lol) I purchased your materials on TPT and thank you so much for sharing and getting me un-stuck!

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  17. 24th year of teaching for me and I absolutely love this post! I have learned so much and will do this. I met you in Birmingham and was truly fascinated with all you had to share. Thank you for sharing this. I will be doing this in my classroom!

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  18. Hi Cara! I am a new teacher teaching kindergarten and you are a lifesaver for me! Really, words cannot express how much you have helped me so far starting off my first year. I am also in Texas and I follow your blog religiously. I have a quick question though, I have your linking chart and the pictures on the linking chart are different from the words/motions you described in one of your blog posts. Are they supposed to be different? So everyday on the linking chart you would say the letter, the picture that is on the chart, and then the sound of the letter with a different motion than what the picture shows. Correct?? For example "B /b/ is for bat" (swinging motion) but on the linking chart there is a picture of a bear. Just wanted to clarify that they are supposed to be different!? Thank you!

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    1. Yes...that's right. I know it seems a little confusing, but it works :) I don't have any visuals of the motions. The pictures on the linking chart are really meant for giving them an anchor letter to sound correspondence. So we'll say A, apple, /a/ as we're making the motion for the /a/ sound. Does that make sense?! I need to work on taking pictures of my boys doing the motions for me. That would definitely be helpful. But having done this in my classroom for many years, I can tell you it's been really successful! I hope this makes sense! Blessings!

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    2. Thank you for your reply! I saw on another post you listed out the motions by letter (which is where I got "swinging the bat" from). It does make sense now that I have that clarification. Thank you!

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  19. I love this post and have referred back to it and your phonics posts as well. My question is, once you have gone through the alphabet what do your lessons look like? What skills do you move into next? Do you follow a routine like you do for the alphabet? I have used a guided reading lesson plan and we are being asked to step away from that. I feel overwhelmed determining how my lessons should look and what should be taught. We are also getting rid of some of our whole group time and combining everything into small groups. So I am combining my sight word,phonics, and phonemic awareness lessons into each small group lesson.

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