In this One Thing You Might Try… blog post, Carolyn Helmers, a kindergarten teacher and co-author of Intentional From The Start: Guiding Emergent Readers in Small Groups, shares a powerful way to get started with letter name and sound learning in kindergarten right from the start.
It cannot be disputed that to become a writer and a reader, you must learn the letters and the sounds they make. A writer must learn how to segment, listen for sounds within language and link the sounds to letters in order to encode. As a reciprocal process, a reader must learn to look at print in such a way that they can link sounds to the letters in words in order to decode. In order for our emergent literacy learners to become proficient and fluent at encoding and decoding, we need to have a sense of urgency and intentionality when teaching letters and letter sounds.
My kindergarten teammates and I have an unwritten goal that, by the end of October, the majority of our kindergarten students to know:
- 45+ uppercase and lowercase letter names
- 15+ letters sounds
To meet that goal, we have to start introducing the letters and letter sounds beginning the first week of school. This can be tricky because our goals at that time of year are always focused on building a classroom community, learning how to do school, and opening the various areas of the classroom. Many years ago, we discovered a way to meet those three goals and maximize our instructional time! We make an ABC Book!
Starting on Day 2 of school, we begin making individual pages for our ABC books. We introduce one letter, its sound, and a corresponding picture link each day. As we model creating a display page, students get to create their own book-sized pages. The picture links we use come from the ABC chart in Intentional from the Start: Guiding Emergent Readers in Small Groups, and we teach the letters in the order outlined in our systematic phonics program. We have found that introducing four consonants and a one vowel each week is ideal. This allows us to have every letter introduced by the sixth week of school and gives us time to practice letter names and letter sounds in fun, playful and engaging ways in order to meet our end of October goals.
Here are the pages we make the for the letters Mm, Ss, Tt, Bb, and Aa during first five days of school.
When we introduce a new letter, we make sure to involve:
- Seeing-What does the letter look like? What attributes does it have? Does it have a circle, line or both? Who has the letter in their name?
- Hearing-What sound does the letter make? How is that sound made in your mouth? Where is your tongue? What do your lips do? Is your mouth open or closed? What words do you know that start with that sound?
- Moving-How do you write the letter correctly? Does your pencil go around, down, slant or slide first?
- Creating-What picture helps us to link the letter to the sound? How can we create it?
One Project, Multiple Benefits
The children would tell you that creating the daily ABC page is the best part of learning the letters and letter sounds. As teachers we tend to agree because - not only does this process effectively introduce multiple letters and sounds - it also allows us to accomplish a variety of additional early kindergarten goals at one time. It gives us 26 opportunities to:
- read aloud to children so they can practice how to become a learning community that enjoy stories together. We make sure to pick a picture book that matches the letter/sound link in some manner. For example, when we create the Mm moon page, we might read Kevin Henkes’ Kitten’s First Full Moon.
- reinforce the letter name, letter sound and picture link.
- introduce new materials and how to properly use them before making them available in the classroom. Every year, we make changes about the materials we use based on the needs of the children and what they need to practice most (cutting, drawing, gluing, painting, etc.) to develop fine motor skills.
- give and model instructions for a task. We help the children think about what colors, shapes and details are needed while we model creating the page for the day.
- teach and reinforce classroom expectations. How do we move in the classroom from one place to another? Where can we get the materials we need? Where do those materials go when we are finished? How do we share materials? What should it sound like when we are working in the room? And much, much more!
- kidwatch and take notes as they engage in creating their page for the day. Who is a self-starter? Who is independent? Who needs peer support? Who needs teacher support? Who needs instructions broken down into smaller pieces?
The Finished Project
At the end of 26 days, we take all the pages, collate them and bind them into individual books. Then each child has their own ABC Book to take home that contains the letters and picture links we will be using in a variety of settings every day as we continue the work of letter learning back in the classroom. In addition to supporting home connections to classroom work, our ABC books are a beautiful works of art to be cherished and read over and over! Our own models are hung in our classroom for daily reference instead of a store-bought ABC strip.
Here are a few pages kids have made:
Here is a portion of the ABC strip we hang in our classrooms:
At the end of 26 days, we have also set the stage for how our community of learners will function. Every day, we will come together on the carpet, have an experience together, and then go off to work independently or in small groups. And, more importantly, we will be on our way to becoming helpers, problem solvers, empathizers, sharers, creators, listeners, drawers, cutters, gluers, painters, cleaners, and of course, writers and readers. That’s a lot to accomplish in 26 days!
About the author
Carolyn Helmers is a 30+ year veteran kindergarten teacher and has spent her entire career immersed in her passion of emergent literacy. She has had opportunities to teach half day kindergarten, Reading Recovery, small group reading intervention and currently full day kindergarten. She co‐authored the book Intentional From the Start: Guiding Emergent Readers in Small Groups. She strives to be a well-informed and well-read teacher who stays current with researched best practices. She has presented at local, state and national conferences on topics such as emergent reading, emergent writing, play based learning and literacy centers. You can connect with Carolyn on Twitter @CarolynHelmers.
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