Teaching alphabet letters and sounds is one of the foundations of literacy and early education. Students need to have a solid understanding of what a letter is, the sound(s) it makes and how each letter operates to make a readable word.
As a current kindergarten teacher, I have had lots of teachers message me and ask whether I teach letters or sounds first. The answer is simple, I teach both simultaneously. My reasoning for doing this is not only research based, (Ehri, Invernizzi, Cunningham, Calkins, and McBride-Chang), but also based on my own classroom experience.
My first 2 years in kindergarten, were spent teaching half-day, which equaled to 2.5 hours a day. Even though CCSS were in effect, they were no way that half-day kindergarten teachers could teach all of the standards explicitly, given the number of time students were in class. During those 2 years, I taught 1 letter a week and usually waited until the third or fourth day to teach the sound. Of course, we didn’t finish the alphabet until March or April, which left very little time to expand the students’ reading toolbox.
My third year in kindergarten, our state, mandated full-day kindergarten. I knew that this was my opportunity to research and create a very strong literacy program for my classroom. (I will pause here and say that my principal did/does not require us to follow any specific program; digital or otherwise.) I spent countless hours the summer before that school year and since then, reading, researching, taking classes and going to conferences to better equip myself to teach my little learners the foundations of literacy.
If you follow me on social media or have heard me speak then you most likely know that I love to talk. I am passionate about little learners and I could go on and on about literacy! But for the sake of time and information overload, I am sticking strictly to how I teach alphabet letters and sounds in my classroom, for this blog post.
Where do I start?
I start the first week of school! Yes, it’s true. Usually, by the second or third day, we have introduced each student by name and we have started working on writing our names, as well as other name activities. I take this opportunity as a teaching moment to tell the students that their names are made up of letters and letters make sounds. This leads into our daily chant of “Every Letter…Has a Name and Every Letter…Makes a Sound”. I don’t expound heavily on this, but at least I have started laying the basic blocks of their literacy house.
Explicitly teaching each letter in isolation, usually begins the second week of school. (Of course, this always depends on the makeup and structure of your class for the year.) I tend to keep the same routine for all 26 letters, with very little to no changes for the duration of all the letters. My literacy block is in the morning, right after our 15 minute morning recess.
Alphabet Warm-Up Review
Just like many teachers do Number Talks at the beginning of their math lessons, I do an alphabet warm-up review each and every day. This exposes students to all the letters and sounds of the alphabet and it’s quick and fun! Here are my quick ideas for an alphabet warm-up.
- Alphabet Around the World with Letter Cards for letter or sound ID – Basically this is a quick game, where the students stand around the perimeter of our classroom rug and I show them a letter card. If they can quickly identify the letter name and/or sound of that particular letter, then they get to stay in the game. If they cannot correctly identify or make the sound for that specific letter, then they sit out till the next round. (I use these cards to play the game.)
- Songs and dancing are a MUST in my classroom and I try and combine them with academics every chance I get! There are so many awesome alphabet movement songs to choose from and we use a different one every day! Here is a list of some of my favorites:
After our quick alphabet letter warm-up, my students sit down on the rug and we all turn to our All About the Letter Pocket Chart. I love to use this pocket chart, as it’s organized and has all the important pieces for our letter introduction.
Explicit Letter Instruction
Here is how I use this pocket chart to introduce the letter.
- Introduce the letter, using its name and if it is a consonant or vowel; how many sounds it makes and what exactly that sound is.
- I model reading the letter poem, making sure to emphasize the explicit letter sounds and encouraging my students to make the letter sound.
- I model writing the upper and lower case letters, making sure to explain each stroke.
- I then share the 4 beginning sound picture cards that accompany that specific letter.
Letter Movement Song
After using the All About Letter pocket chart, I have my students stand up to sing and do the movements to that specific letter song. And as the song is playing, I go around to each student and listen to the letter sound that they are making, as the song is playing. This is a great way for me to see if they are saying the sound correctly. I love using songs to practice and emphasize what I am teaching or have taught. It’s a form of whole-brain learning, plus kids of all ages NEED movement! I love to use songs from:
Molly Muncher Beginning Sound Cans
Using props and miniature items in the kindergarten classroom makes learning so much more fun! This is where Molly Muncher comes into play during our explicit letter lesson.
I use a simple plastic mini trash can as my Molly Muncher. You might be wondering what Molly Muncher does in the classroom? Well…she only eats items that begin with the letter that we are focusing on. I have a full set of alphabet sound cans that I use when ‘feeding’ Molly Muncher. The sound cans I have are from LakeShore and are quite expensive. But I found these on Amazon and they are cheaper and still accomplish the task! Here is what you need for a Molly Muncher:
- Doll hair & googly eyes
- Sound Can
After we have completed and finished our explicit letter lesson, it’s time for my students to go and practice independently. In my classroom, independent practice consists of tracing and writing the specific letter, as well as identifying pictures with the correct beginning letter, and identifying the letter in different font styles. Here is what I use in my classroom for independent practice.
Beyond the Lesson – Practicing the Learning in Literacy Stations
After my students have completed their independent practice work, they go to literacy stations, where they will continue to practice their learning in a wide variety of ways and includes differentiation! You can read more on Literacy Stations here!
Explicit Letter Anchor Charts
The very last part of my alphabet letter instruction is to complete an alphabet anchor chart. I use this as part of our beginning writing block. It’s a great opportunity for students to practice drawing and labeling with beginning letters and even the entire word. Each student has their own alphabet letter journal. Students follow along in their journal as I am creating our classroom letter anchor chart. The students generate the objects/pictures that go onto our classroom alphabet anchor chart and also add it to their personal anchor chart. You can download your FREE Alphabet Anchor Chart and Alphabet Journal HERE!
Want to see me teach this lesson? You can watch me teach the letter Aa to my students HERE!