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....


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!!  

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