The Best Way to Teach Letters & the Alphabet
Let’s be honest for just a moment… the amount of skills that kids are learning to prepare them to read is mind boggling. There are so many pre-requisites that help set children up to become independent readers – and not just prove they are able to read at a certain level. Building phonological awareness starting with rhyming and alliteration, cementing letter knowledge, segmenting and blending, phonics, and phoneme manipulation just to name a few!
I get it… It can quickly become overwhelming. While some skills are definitely linear in progression, others are developed simultaneously. I recently shared some tips for building print awareness and as students are becoming more familiar with those skills, we are simultaneously working to build their letter knowledge.
Several months ago I shared the what and why behind building letter knowledge, and you can check out those details on this post. Today I want to share some of the best ways I’ve found to build letter knowledge – recognizing letters, naming letters, and the ability to tell what sound each letter commonly makes.
While people have different opinions on how many letters a week to focus on, I’ve found that going deep with 2 letters per week in Kindergarten is the most effective – although 3 letters is another option. This way we are providing enough exposure and practice with each letter while not taking an entire week to focus on each letter.
On the first day I introduce a letter I start out by explicitly telling students what letter we will be practicing and showing them the letter. We talk about what we notice (curves, no curves, straight lines, etc) and practice making the most common sound for that letter. Then we watch a short Storybots song for the letter. You can find a Youtube playlist of Storybots letter songs here.
After we we’ve been introduced to the letter we move onto creating a circle map! These are so simple – literally place the upper and lowercase letter in the middle of a chart paper/construction paper and let students brainstorm words that begin with that letter (watching Storybots before this helps get their ideas flowing, and you can also build in alphabet read aloud books for more inspiration). I usually keep these on large binding rings so that students can go grab them and flip through to refer to them as needed.
From there we practice writing the letter together so they’re prepared for practicing during the handwriting center later in our literacy block. This is the perfect time to reinforce top-down writing! I keep this super simple! We generally will either (a) skywrite them (students hold their writing arm straight out and use their pointer finger to “write” the letter in the sky), (b) use our pointer fingers to trace the letter on our leg or a friend’s back or (c) practice writing them on a dry-erase board. Each time we write the letter we verbally state the letter’s name.
I think building in this writing practice – which honestly only takes 2 minutes – is so important for helping students make the necessary connections in their brain for the formation/shape of the letter, letter name and sound.
For independent practice with these letters I like to have my students do book hunts! You can let them use sticky notes or just point to where they find the target letter in book pages (or just make a copy of the page and let them use highlighters or markers). Of course, I also utilize a handwriting center during guided reading time where students have the chance to continue practicing the formation of the letters. Let’s also not forget about continuing to practice the letter sound. I like to use simple picture sorts for students to sort pictures based on whether they start with the target sound or not.
Now you may be wondering how I am reviewing letters throughout the year as well as exposing students to letters who may be ready to move on to new letters. I shared all about my alphabet card routine in this blog post – and you can even grab your own set for free! I also take time during small groups (for students who need it) to review letter names/sounds/shapes. One of my favorite activities are sorts based on a characteristic – whether a letter is the target letter, what letters have curves/no curves, etc.
There you have it! Super simple and still engaging! My students always love these routines and they have worked so well for yeaaaaars in cementing letter knowledge! What other fun ways do you help your students to practice letter knowledge? Let me know!