This has been a very challenging school year for me, as the majority (about 75%) came to Kindergarten not knowing the alphabet or numbers. Usually, about half of my students know the alphabet when they begin school. Not this year! Here are some things that I have done that have really helped them learn.
Using the Singable Songs for Letters and Sounds CD, I introduced one letter song per day for the first month of school until we knew all of the songs. Since the songs always include movements, the children enjoy them and are happy to sing and dance along. I always hold the letter card in my hand when we sing, and then shout out "What's that letter?" after each song is over. We continually review all of the songs, of course. Most of my class now knows all of the letters(!), except for one child who only knows five or six letters, and another that knows around 20 of them. The rest of the class may be missing one or two letter names, but in general, they are doing very well! So I think that the songs are really helping!
This is the first time that I have had this CD from the very beginning of the school year, since it was new last spring. I do often hear them singing the songs to themselves to help figure out a letter that they don't know. They recognize it from the song, and start singing. Eventually, they come to the letter name in the words to the song, and this helps to jog their memories.
Another thing that is helping is having the kids form the letters out of play dough, and then tell me the name of the letter. If they don't know the name of the letter, then they have to make it again. I have a list of letters that each child is working on, so I make them form the letters on my list, not ones they already know. The easiest way to do it is to keep a Ziploc bag with the letters each child is working on in a tub. Each baggie has the child’s name written on it. I pull out the bag and hand the letter card to that child, and ask him to form the letter. With my higher kids, I let them form any letter they want (assuming they already know them all.) As a side note, I also found it helpful to have the faster learners make the letters that are harder to draw out of play dough, too- like the K, or lower case E's and G's.
One more thing that is helping is Rapid Automatic Naming boards. If you have never heard of these, "RAN" boards are simply grids with letters (or numbers, words, whatever) in them that each kid needs to work on. I started with my low kids' letters of their names in this grid, and had them continually point and say those letters only. We worked on each one until they started to get them. So John would be only working on J-O-H-N until he gets those letters; then we'll add more. I taught him to spell his name aloud, pointing to some plastic letters that he would put in order for me. Then, when working on the RAN board, when he came to a letter that he forgot, he would point and spell his name aloud until he figured it out. It's slow, but at least he is experiencing some success.
I put the letters from their names in little pencil boxes that I found at Staples for a penny each in August, along with their names printed out and taped to the top of the box. That way, we always have the plastic letters from their names ready to go. It is tough to manage this activity any other way than one-on-one, so I prepared a coloring sheet for the kids to do in my small group, and worked with the kids that needed it one at a time. I skipped the kids that didn’t need this type of help, or helped them with word flash cards, etc. I also did it in after school tutoring. In this case, I let the others play while I worked with just one child at a time.
I also found it helpful to print out each child’s name in large print on index paper, and have the kids cut them apart and sort them by letter. I taped a paper with each letter on it to the wall. Each time they cut off a letter, I tried to ask each one what letter it was. Then they glued the A to the A paper, etc. We did this with names and with color words, to try to focus strictly on the words and letters that were meaningful to each child. For my faster learners, I let them cut apart the letters from anyone’s name that they wanted, and encouraged them to try to read that name. They loved it! I think that I will try to do the same thing with words, and have them sort the words by color, sight word, or names of students. My kids LOVE this activity, and it is easy to manage to do it more than one child at a time, thankfully!
All in all, it has been a great adventure finding new techniques that are effective for teaching the alphabet to all types of learners. It is also extremely satisfying when the children learn these concepts that were so terribly difficult for them to master. I certainly hope that others will share their techniques that really work, so we can all benefit from these, too!
Heidi Butkus has been teaching for 23 years, with 17 of those years in Kindergarten, and the rest in first grade! She currently teaches at Roynon Elementary School in the Bonita Unified School District in La Verne, CA. Heidi has a Master's Degree in Education with an emphasis on Reading Instruction, a Reading Specialist Credential, a husband, and three grown daughters.
Combining a strong knowledge of brain research with practical experience, Heidi has created a wealth of fun and engaging teaching techniques that work well with diverse populations. She has presented at conferences nationwide over the last four years, and is the owner and founder of HeidiSongs.com. Heidi has also created seven original CD's and DVD's for teaching beginning reading and math skills, two musical plays designed especially for young performers, and numerous teaching resources. Heidi's multi-media workshops are filled with fun and motivational educational activities that have been classroom tested and revised for effectiveness with all types of learners.