As we are introducing the alphabet, we help kindergarten students learn to identify the letters of the alphabet at first by looking at the path of motion. When we designed our Engaging Readers units, (where you can find the alphabet cards) we not only planned amazing reading comprehension activities, but we also planned our word study as well. We are often asked about how we introduce the alphabet to our kindergartners at the beginning of the year.
Introducing the Alphabet: Letter Order
Experts tell us that is important to think about letter formation and to teach students explicitly as you introduce these letters. Research also tells us that students who are confident with their handwriting skills, produce a higher-quality of writing than those who with poor handwriting. In fact, fluent handwriting transcription is necessary if students are to access any and all of the writing CCSS (or TEKS for that matter). (Ruetzel, R July/August 2015 Findings Primary‐Grade Teachers Will Want to Know The Reading Teacher, Vol. 69, Issue 1) Here is a quote from that article:
The letters of the alphabet are recognized through detection of a smaller set of distinctive visual features, which include (1) terminations, (2) straight lines, (3) curved lines, (4) diagonal lines, and (5) intersections (Fiset et al., 2008; Gibson, 1969; Townsend & Ashby, 1982). Teaching students to fluently produce this smaller set of distinctive visual features before teaching them how to write all of the alphabet letters has been found to lead to quicker mastery of letter transcription (Pantina, 1957). James and Engelhardt (2012) found that the production of handwritten alphabet letters activated areas of children’s brains identified as the “reading circuit” more than any other sensorimotor training.
Introducing the Alphabet: Letter of the Week is not effective
Sadly, many “Big Boxed” (and wildly expensive curriculum publishers) still suggest the “Letter of the Week” approach to letter introduction. These “Researched Based” programs (note: the quotations) are anything BUT researched based. A quote from the same article listed above states:
Research by Jones and Reutzel (2012) showed that letter‐a‐day instructional pacing was significantly more effective than letter‐a‐week pacing in promoting students’ mastery of the alphabet letter names. They attributed this finding to a total of 6–7 distributed reviews of the alphabet letters in a single academic year, compared to only 1.5 distributed reviews when pacing instruction at a letter a week.
So clearly letter of the week is old and outdated. Letter of the day is a better and developmentally appropriate approach. It is also suggested that students NOT spend an hour a day on letter recognition instruction, but rather just 12 minutes a day… 12! Minutes! The instruction should be quick and include activities like: Letter Identification, Sound Identification, Sorting Letters, Finding Letters, and Writing Letters! Perfect!
How do we introduce the alphabet?
Like I said above, we focus on the path of motion. We introduce 4 letters per week and the instruction time is QUICK! Will every student master these letters each week? No, they won’t. First of all, some students ALREADY know them. Some students enter the year without any exposure to reading or writing, so they may learn at a slower pace. Not to worry, THIS is exactly what small group instruction is for. You can tailor the instruction to meet the needs of the students. You can grab the FREE curriculum pacing guide at the end of this blog post.
How do I organize each week’s lessons?
I put each week’s lessons in a folder. Each day has been carefully planned and you just need to print and teach!
Introduce one letter and the sound that letter makes.
Review that sound with oral discrimination activities (phonemic awareness) and sort cards.
Review the letter (in this case “t”) and introduce another letter. Review the sounds with oral discrimination activities (phonemic awareness) and sort cards.
Review previous letters and introduce an additional letter.
Review the previous letters and introduce an additional letter. This makes 4 letters in one week. Here is an example of the student response page. So as each sort is being done at the pocket chart, the students are completing their own sorting page. In this way, every student is active and participating.
We also take a pause after the first 4 weeks to go back and review.
All of the ABC activities found above can be found in the Engaging Readers units. Click HERE to see more.
Keeping it fresh and fun!
Whew! This blog post about introducing the alphabet got long and nerdy. BUT I DO think it is important to know what the research says. Just because those big teacher manuals have the words “researched based” on them, it does not mean that the research THEY chose to site was current or widely revered as accurate. We can’t better our practices until we are informed.
- Reading Comprehension through Interactive Read-Alouds
- Small Group Reading Instruction through Guided Reading
- Handwriting Instruction
You can download the curriculum pacing map. This will tell you the order in which we introduce letters and sounds (and pretty much EVERYTHING else) in kindergarten and first grade. Just add your email in the box below.