Well hey there, primary teacher/difference maker/go-getter. Yes, that is right, my friend. I know what kind of teacher you are, because you’re here in this moment sharing your brain space with me in hopes of finding something to better serve your students. I thank you for being here and for doing what you do. Today, I’m really hoping to deliver just what you came here for as we chat about the key to ensuring that your students take your passion-filled instruction and turn it into a lifelong mastery of the alphabet: engagement.
I told you last week that assessment can be so fun and rewarding, but there is no denying that this is the exciting and joyful part about teaching the alphabet. I’m going to give you a little more perspective, lots of actionable tips and some free resources to guide you, including one of my favorite freebies to date. Your kids are literally gonna laugh out loud with this one. All of this is designed to guide you in engaging your students and alphabet knowledge. Sound like a plan? Let’s go, go-getter!
My teacher friend, summer is ticking away here in Eastern Kentucky, and my poor children must be getting bored of me, because every day I hear it multiple times. “Mommy, how long until I get to go back to school?”
The truth is, I don’t know whether to be insanely proud that they love school that much or insulted that they want to be away from me that much! Whatever the case, we are gearing up and getting ready for a new year.
I’m so excited to bring you part three of our Go-Getters Guide to the Alphabet series. If you’ve come this far, I can bet my bottom dollar that your job is to teach alphabet knowledge to a bunch of young and vibrant little cuties. Sounds fun, but I know from many years of experience teaching kindergarten that this can be a stressful, and sometimes for certain students a nearly impossible, job.
If you haven’t checked out Part One about mindset (or the PODCAST episode), we talked about how foreign the alphabet is and how difficult it can truly be for some of our learners. That is why today’s topic is so important. There is one major concept that I’ve really come to understand and utilize over the years that has changed the game for me when teaching letters and sounds. I guarantee that you’ll find more success and less stress when making sure every kid in your classroom masters those 26 letters and their sounds. So with that, let’s talk engagement.
A very wise woman once said, “Successful instruction hinges from one vital factor: engagement.”
Well okay, maybe it wasn’t a wise woman, but it was an experienced woman who had missed up enough to finally figure this out, which is my by the way. So what does engagement even mean? Well, if you’re not clear on what engagement is, that’s okay. I highly encourage you to go back to Episode 12 called Student Engagement 101, linked below.
Knowledge Doesn’t Matter Without Engagement
One thing I want you to know right now is that you can be so knowledgeable, you could be the valedictorian of Harvard University, coming to a classroom to impart all of that knowledge. But it means absolutely nothing without receptive, involved students. It doesn’t matter how smart or talented you are.
Another quote that I absolutely love is: “I’d rather have a single day of authentic student engagement than a career of passing out worksheets.”
Now, I do think there is a time and place for worksheets. I do use them, although not very extensively. I agree that I would rather have a single day of full engagement for my students than all those years of passing out useless worksheets. Engagement in the classroom feels amazing when students are receptive, optimized, and hungry for more.
Another thing I want you to know about student engagement that you can learn back in Episode 12, is that engagement is very tiresome for your students. Don’t feel like this is something you can create 100% of the time.
We need to focus on making sure they are engaged during the most important times. Alphabet instruction is absolutely one of those. So we need engagement, and we need it desperately if we’re going to take these foreign symbols and dominate with them. But how do we accomplish that? Well, that’s why I’m here!
Today, I’m going to give you three ways to formulate student engagement. You can really apply these concepts to every part of your instruction, but we’re going to focus in on those letters and sounds.
Engagement Strategy #1: Build Learning Routines
The first thing that you need to consider when engaging your students during alphabet instruction is to build learning routines. The word routine sounds really boring, but it’s deeply rooted in research. The most successful people on the planet swear by their routines. We can bring this to our classroom and reap those benefits for our students.
The truth is that routines are engaging to students. When they know what to do and feel confident that they can do it correctly, they are naturally more engaged. So when thinking about our alphabet instruction, let’s keep this in mind. Routine does not mean doing the same exact thing day in and day out. It simply means keeping the same structure to your day, repeating the format but changing the content and the activities.
Letter and Sound Fluency Routine
I’m going to give you my prime example of one way to practice letters and sounds in a routine. I call this my letter and sound fluency routine. Years ago, I realized that I needed to incorporate a daily letter and sound review to really ensure that my students began to master the alphabet quicker and that my lower level students had that exposure all year long.
For this routine, students would come to the carpet, and we would go through the letters and sounds with our signals. I added these motions to make sure students were engaged. For the most of the year, I repeat that routine over and over. To make sure students don’t get bored of it, I change it up whenever they’re ready to level up. So for example, at the beginning of the year, I will go from A to Z. Later in the year I will switch and go backwards from Z to A. After that I will move on to mixing them all up. After that I remove the picture cues on the letter.
So as you can see, the structure stays the same, my routine stays the same, but I’m mix it up with different variations, different activities that go along with it. I don’t want to waste time explaining different activities and things that my students need to do. I just want them to know the routine and to be engaged with it.
When I created my Letter Squads curriculum, which is five lessons for each letter with accompanying work mats, I kept the routine consistent. On Monday students do this, Tuesday they do this, etc. Within a couple of weeks, I really got down the routine of it. Very little time was wasted explaining. And just because they knew what to do, they were naturally engaged. Whatever curriculum you use, just remember the importance of routine to engage your students.
The letter squads week long free trial is now available to you HERE. I’m so excited for this program. I created it out of complete need in my kindergarten classroom, and my students loved to do it each day.
Engagement Strategy #2: Involve All Learning Styles
And now let’s talk about involving all learning styles. Although there are three major learning styles, kinesthetic, auditory, and visual, students can be any mixture of the three. Involving all of the senses will ensure that all needs are met. In your overall planning, include routines every day that include provisions for all three styles.
Although there are other ways, here are three easy examples that you can use immediately. In my letter and sound fluency routine, which you can actually grab for free HERE, I really utilize movement to make sure my kinesthetic learners are getting what they need. To do this, simply add motions to your daily review. This helps students internalize that letter’s name and sound by adding motions that go along with it.
To reach your auditory learners, incorporate singing and chanting into your letter instruction. Do this every single day. During that letter and sound fluency routine, we chant. So before doing letter A, we say, “Aa, apple, /a/, /a/, /a/.” Adding those types of auditory experiences really helped that to stick in those little brains.
When we think about our visual learners, all we have to do is have lots of visual representation, lots of pictures that go along with the letters for our students to see while we’re discussing them. That’s why I love my Letter Squad student work mats. Students have those visuals at their fingertips and actually have to work with them. But you can simply print out pictures, find clipart, go to Google, just add some visuals to your instruction.
Engagement Strategy #3: Embed Rewards
Here is the fun one. To really engage your students, be sure that you embed rewards into your teaching. Rewards are so engaging to students, and lucky for us, primary students are so easy to reward. There’s so much controversy around rewards, prize boxes, and all of that, but I’m not talking about those kinds of things. I’m talking about the free rewards that require just a little prep, but a big bang for our sweet little primary learners.
I’m talking brain breaks and cheers and jokes and badges, things like that, that have no monetary value, but are just valuable to our kids because they’re kids. Now, I’m going to talk about Letter Squads one more time, but this time I’m going to give you one of my favorite free resources. In my letter series curriculum each digital activity actually has three embedded rewards. I do this because I know how valuable it is to kids and how I can keep them engaged. I’ve used it, and trust me, it’s like magic.
In each digital lesson, you’ll find a brain break, a joke of the day, and the badge meter. During my teaching, I encourage my students to stay engaged during the whole lesson. At the end, they can do a brain break that relates to their learning. In these digital lessons, there is a slide with music and images that goes along with that letter.
For example, the letter C has a brain break called Cake Fight. It has some really exciting music. It only lasts about 30 seconds, but I would let my students stand up behind their chair and pretend to throw cake at their classmates. So for 30 seconds, they get to go hog wild crazy. Every letter comes with a brain break just like that. I love brain breaks as rewards. You can find lots on YouTube.
Daily Joke Freebie
Here comes the exciting freebie. I can’t wait to share it with you. In every lesson of Letter Squads there is a daily joke. You could also do this at the end of your lesson, or you could do it in the middle to kind of get your students to the middle and then the brain break at the end. You click on the smiley face, the joke comes up, and you read it to your students. Then there is a laugh sound that they just love. It’s like a little Munchkin laugh.
If you have been a follower of me, you may know about the Happy Bag. I included the giggle box in that post, which is a box of jokes that you can use as rewards.
What I’ve done in my favorite freebie so far, is I’ve taken all of the jokes which correspond with a letter and I’ve compiled them for you for free. These are the exact jokes the Letter Squads curriculum uses, but they are absolutely free to you.
So for letter A, the joke is, “What do you call a grouchy /a/, /a/, apple? Crab apple!” 🤣 So what I’ve learned about primary students is they might not even understand the joke, but just because it’s a joke, they laugh hysterically and they love it.
Finally, another reward embedded in the Letter Squads program is the badge meter. Students are working with each letter to earn a letter badge. So for example, during our week of the letter B, after completing all five lists, students would get a letter B badge with the letter and the signal. So for me, it’s banana. During each daily lesson, there’s a badge meter that shows them how much progress they’ve made, and how much farther they have to go before they earn that badge. It’s a really powerful visual for my students, and they cannot wait to put those stickers on their badge collection.
So these are just three types of rewards that you could use. Also keep in mind things like cheers. Use your creativity and incorporate classroom cheers to reward your students. I use classroom cheers on a daily basis. I even have a full set of free cheer cards HERE. Whatever you choose to use, when we use rewards strategically, our students will be more motivated and happy to stay on task.
Go Get That Engagement!
Regardless of the specific strategies that you use, what I hope you take away from today is that you should focus on student engagement. Take that core piece and pair that with all the wonderful creativity and passion that you already have. I know that you are gonna go get ‘er done and give your students an awesome year of alphabet instruction.
This brings our series to an end. But I sure loved this, and I absolutely love having you here. So check out those freebies and I’m going to let you go for today. But as always, until we meet again, go make a difference, teacher friend.