Well hello there, sunshine! Welcome to another learning series. Today we are jumping right into one of my FAVORITE things to teach, and that is the alphabet. Letters and sounds are so stinking fun! And although I’m a second grade teacher now, I still geek out on the memories of teaching letters and sounds. I get my fix of this with my own girls here at home, who are preschool, kindergarten, and first grade age. Plus, I continue to create new resources to make this instruction more engaging, effective, and low prep for teachers. So I’m all about the alphabet. Sadly, from time to time, I also provide these services to second grade students who don’t have a solid foundation of letters and sounds on board.
Today, we’re diving into part one of the Go-Getters Guide to Teaching the Alphabet. I fully believe that mindset shifts and changes in perspective are something that hold us back from being truly successful, and confident, in our teaching. So today, I want to give you some coaching around thoughts we have when teaching the alphabet and provide you with some new thoughts you can add during your teaching this upcoming year. I’m also going to discuss one of the biggest mistakes I see happening in most of the curriculums that I see out there and how you can make small, easy adjustments to your letter and sound instruction to prevent making those yourself.
So whether you are a new teacher navigating through all the complexities of teaching 26 foreign symbols, or a veteran teacher looking for new ideas and perspectives, you’ll want to hang around for this one. Are you ready?
Introducing… The Letter Squads!
If you are new here, my name is Toni, and my goal in life is to help teachers become more joyful at their careers so they can have a greater impact on their students. Today, I’m hoping to share a little joy in the area of literacy by talking about my favorite thing, and that is teaching the alphabet. Today’s post is actually sponsored by the upcoming release of my Letter Squads. Yay!
This has been a summer-long project. I’m so excited to introduce it today because it goes so well with today’s topic. The Letter Squads is a daily letter of the week digital activity with accompanying work methods that cover all 26 letters of the alphabet. This came out of a need I had the last time I taught kindergarten.
It is not available just yet, because I’m looking for teachers like you to try a one week trial of this product and give me some feedback. So if you teach K, pre-K, or maybe remedial first grade students and you’re interested in trying this product and giving me some feedback, please send an email to: toni @ teachertoni.com (no spaces) and say, “I will try your Letter Squads.” I am so excited to get this into the world for teachers. It is just a wonderful resource, no- to low-prep, and something your students will beg you to do each day. I promise.
When the Alphabet is Foreign
Now let’s get to our Go-Getters Guide to Teaching the Alphabet. Before we dig into the alphabet, let’s talk about what a go-getter is. Well, my friend, that is what you are! You’re here, in your free time, dedicated to getting better. A definition of go-getter from wordhippo.com is, “one who strives to achieve success or improvement.” You’re a go-getter, and this guide to the alphabet is for teachers like you who want to be even better. Now, let’s chat all about important perspectives that can help us become more effective in teaching the alphabet.
Teacher, imagine with me being dropped into a foreign place. Nothing seems familiar. And you’re handed a piece of paper with these mystical symbols and are being asked, and even expected, to decipher them.
Although we sometimes don’t realize it, this is how most students feel when they enter a kindergarten classroom. And unfortunately, it’s how some students feel even beyond that. To really serve students well in planning and organizing effective alphabet instruction, we first must get into this mindset.
Although I love teaching the alphabet, I have been frustrated before when kids just didn’t get it. But think about the child and what this journey is like for them. How do they feel? And what is their perspective like? Well, the truth is, it is much like me looking at hieroglyphics and trying to decipher their meaning. For our students, the alphabet is really foreign and difficult. We need to establish this mindset to best serve them.
The Gap in Teaching the Alphabet
Our alphabet system is highly symbolic. Although our students have heard the sounds of the alphabet all of their lives, isn’t it strange that they’re suddenly supposed to see them and visually understand? We have from age zero to five to master the sounds in our environment and to learn our language. But we have one year, the year of kindergarten, to completely master the symbolic side of things.
It’s really strange how disconnected phonological and phonemic awareness is from the symbolic side up until that moment. This brings me to a big gap in learning that I see most alphabet curriculums making. There is a huge disconnect between the symbolic letter and the phonological awareness concepts involving that letter.
Let me give you an example. When I first started teaching, we used a reading series that included everything: phonics, writing, phonological awareness, and spelling. It introduced three letters per week, and students would practice writing it, saying it, etc. But then, the phonological awareness component for the day, which may be beginning sounds for example, had nothing to do with that letter or letters they were just learning. It was completely disconnected, and everything was taught in isolation.
It shouldn’t be that way. We need to connect students’ prior knowledge and experience that they have from their environment to the new symbolic knowledge of what a letter looks like, and how it has a capital and lowercase that make that same sound. We need to intertwine what is heard and what is seen.
If you want to learn more about phonological awareness, phonics and their connection, I have a video series you can check out HERE. Please realize that equally, if not more, important than teaching these letters and sounds is teaching the phonological and phonemic awareness concepts.
How to Close the Gap in the Alphabet
Anyway, so back to the problem at hand. How do we fix it? What steps can you take to ensure that your students receive the most beneficial and effective alphabet instruction you can give them? Well, involve phonological and phonemic awareness concepts within your letter instruction. Don’t make them separate; intertwine them.
So in the creation of my Letter Squads curriculum, that’s exactly what I did. No more isolation.
Here’s the letter. Here’s its sound.
I brought the concepts of phonological and phonemic awareness in with the letter so students are fully immersed in that instruction. I’m guessing that you’ve probably heard that the best way to learn a foreign language is to be kind of dropped in the country and left on your own to really learn and grow and understand it. Take that concept of being immersed into your letter and sound instruction.
How can you do that? Well, definitely avoid teaching in isolation. Look at your phonological awareness concepts for the week and work them around to include your letters of the week. So as an example, if we’re working on letter Bb and rhyming in the same day, say to your students, “I will give you a word that begins with our new letter, letter Bb. Here it is, do you see it? Let’s think of some words that rhyme with these letter Bb words. What rhymes with the Bb word, /b/, /b/, boat.”
So that is just one example. It’s simple and manageable to include these things together. When we take out that barrier, that isolation, and bring these concepts together, it helps our students to refer to their prior knowledge and assimilate it with this new symbolic knowledge of a letter.
Making it Happen
Bringing these things together is so important. My goal is that you leave this episode with a new perspective, that hey, this is not easy. For my students, this is like me looking at a foreign language. So keep that in mind when you’re planning your instruction and assessing your students.
Also remember that this is a lifelong skill that you’re giving them. Let’s not rush it. Although in my own kindergarten classroom, I taught multiple letters throughout the week, I always focused on one for the whole week, a letter of the week. So even if you do a curriculum that introduces three, five, however many letters per week, also consider taking time each week to focus on one letter.
Beyond that, I hope you will also consider intertwining phonological awareness instruction more with what you’re already doing. When our goal is to deeply impact our students, that sometimes means we have to give up perspectives and requires new thinking. So take some of this perspective and the new ideas I’ll share in the upcoming episodes and make this your very best year of teaching the alphabet yet.
So teacher, that was a quick beginning to our three part series all about teaching the alphabet for go-getters just like you. Next week we’ll get into assessing and rewarding your students to optimize success. I’m so excited to share with you my no fail, low prep, super easy way to track students data when it comes to alphabet recognition. Assessment, believe it or not, can be exciting and even fun for your students if you have the right mindset. So join me back here next week. And as always, until we meet again, go make a difference, teacher friend.