With this in mind, here are a few things that I have been working on to help solve this problem. Most of this has been on my “Plan of Attack” for many years now! Hopefully they will be usable ideas that will be relevant to you!
In any case, we are doing pretty well so far! Our class average for letter sounds on entry was 9 letter sounds per child. Now, after five weeks, our class average is 24 out of 26 letter sounds per child! And I think that is pretty great! The child with the least amount of sounds now has 17 of them. Our class average on entry for letter names was 32 out of 52, and now it is 42. The child with the least amount of letter names has 15 of them.
1. Letter Sounds Club (AKA: A Little Motivation, Please!)
Last year, one of my talented colleague came up with the idea of making up a chart that the children could add their name to when they all learned their letter sounds. It is very similar to the Number Club, in which the children get to add their names once they know all of their numbers 0-30. I also sent home a note about it in hopes that the parents would want to help their children get their names up on the board. I designed it to look like an awards ribbon, and I really like the way it came out! I am including it today for you as a free download, too! And in case you were wondering, my priority is this: first I concentrate on the letter sounds, then the lower case letter names, and finally the capitals. Why? Because once they know the letter sounds, they can begin to learn to read. Also, they will see the lower case letters much more often than the capitals, so these will be more important for them to learn first. Once they know the lower case letters, the capitals will follow, especially since many of them are look-alike letters anyway. :)
2. Progress Report (AKA: A Little Help from Home, Please!)
I sent home a progress report at the end of last week to let parents know how their children were doing. (Yes, I do realize that it was only the end of the fourth week of school!) But I figure that if I am going to get them to help their children master the alphabet by the end of the first trimester, I will have to start lighting that fire ASAP, because it is not going to be an easy task for some. I am attaching this progress report for you as a free download, just in case you would like to do the same! I know that some parents may not do anything with the information, but at least half of them will take the information to heart and try a little harder to help their children. And anything that the parents do is one less thing that I have to do myself, that’s for sure! Even if it just helps a little bit, it’s worth a try. I will also send home a fresh set of alphabet flash cards with some of them to practice with.
3. Extra Parent Conferences for Those That Are REALLY Struggling (AKA: Empower Those at Home to HELP!)
I held an extra parent conference last week with one child’s parents who were really concerned about her slow progress in learning the letter names. At this conference, I showed the parents how I would work with the child at home, if she were my own. I sat with them and showed them three or four different ways to practice the alphabet with their child, and also gave them a Singable Songs for Letters and Sounds DVD. So basically, I sat and modeled how to teach their child the letters. Last week, the little girl knew just four or five lower case letters, but today during after school tutoring, she identified SEVENTEEN lower case letters!!!! So I think this must have really paid off! Even I was amazed at the change in her ability to identify the letters! Wow!
For my after school tutoring group, I made an individualized Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN) Board for each child to work on. If you are unfamiliar with these RAN boards, they are charts that can be used to practice any items that need to be memorized, such as letters, shapes, numbers, or words. The basic idea is that you need to limit the number of items on the board to just few, and repeat them over and over. Then the child practices reading the entire chart as fast as he or she possibly can. It is really the equivalent of giving the child a stack of flash cards, but with the same words or letters written several times on lots of different flash cards for lots of practice. So during my tutoring group, I had these children each try to find all of a certain letter on their RAN boards and color them all the same color. For example, find all of the lower case a’s and color them all red. Then find all of the lower case c’s and color them yellow. I am including one of these RAN boards for you here as a free download in Word format, so that you should be able to edit it yourself.
Meanwhile, once I got all of the children in the group started, I stopped ONE of them and asked that child to practice saying the letters on his or her RAN board with me. When that child finished, I went on to the next child and did the same thing, and so on. It’s a method that has worked for me fairly well, year after year. I also send a copy of these RAN boards home with each child so that they can work on them at home, and I update them regularly as well.
5. Tricks for Learning the Alphabet Names (Try Some Mnemonics On For Size!)
Once I have the children in small groups, I try to show the children the relationship that many of the letter sounds have to the letter names. For example, the sound of the M and its letter name have a definite connection, so these letters will be easier for them to learn. The “Sounds to Letters” song on the Singable Songs for Letters and Sounds CD/DVD is also useful for establishing this connection.
But over the years, I have developed a few tricks to help the children remember some of the letter names that have no connection to the letter sound, such as the letter Y. Below I have listed the ones that I know of. If you know of any others that work well for you, I would LOVE to hear about them! Please leave a comment on this blog and tell us! I am confident that if we all put our heads together, we can come up with a MUCH better curriculum than anything our district can hand us, so let’s go for it!
1. Y: For this letter, I tell them to throw their hands up in the air and make a letter Y with their bodies. Then they should say, “WHY can’t I remember????” This always makes them laugh, and they usually remember it from that point on.
2. G: For the lower case G, I have them trace it in the air, but when they get to the “tail” of the G, they turn it into a “pirate-like” motion, and say, “GEE, I wish I could remember!”
3. For the H, I have them make the H sound and start running, just like they do at the beginning of my H song. Once they start singing the song, the lyrics of the song itself will lead them to the letter name.
4. Q: The beginning of the Q song has the children making cuckoo clock motions, which the kids seem to remember, but I tell them to say “Q, Q!” instead of “cuckoo!” (with my head popping forward and back, of COURSE!) They think that is hilarious, too, and anything that tickles a kids’ funny bones is more likely to help them remember something, at least according to research.
5. C: I have them make a sign language C, which is also in my C song on the DVD. So the children start singing the C song, which includes sign language for the letter C, and then a second or two later they have already said the letter name, just like magic! “To make a letter C, C, C, it’s half a circle, C, C, C....”
6. I: We start singing the beginning of the I song, and that’s it! “/i/, /i/, I! /i/, /i/, I!”
7. J: The children usually really like the J song, so when I show it to them, I have them shout out the end of the song, which ends just like “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,” but it goes “J, J, J, J, J, J, J, J!” They raise their hands up in the air and bring them down to the ground as they do it, so it makes it fun.
8. U: I draw a couple of eyes on top of it and say, “Its YOU!” And then we sing a snippet from the U song: “It’s a smiley, smiley, letter U!”
9. W: I have them draw a W in the air and start to sing the W song, which goes with the motion of drawing the W. “It’s a W, a W! Everybody make a W!”
6. Home Made Zoo Phonics “Transitional” Flash Cards
I own the Zoo-Phonics font, and I LOVE this because it allows me to make my own flash cards! One thing that their company does not offer (at least not that I know of,) is something that I like to refer to as “Transitional” flash cards. To make these, I print out the Zoo-Phonics card and glue it on one side of the card, and then I print out an ordinary matching letter and glue it on the back of that card. Then I laminate the cards, trim off the excess lamination, and voila! I have a set of “Transitional” Zoo-Phonics Flash Cards.
These cards are very important to me in helping the children learn the names of the letters, because once they know the letter sounds, (which are fairly easy to learn with the use of their cards and my Singable Songs for Letters and Sounds CD/DVD,) I can help them transition over to the letter names with the use of these cards. I can also train them to tell me the sounds of the letters WITHOUT looking at the Zoo-Phonics card by using these cards. This is what I do; it’s actually pretty sneaky, I think, because the children don’t even seem to notice the change!
One day when I’m about to drill the children with the Zoo-Phonics cards, I just flip them around to the back and simply start using the other side and ask them to respond the same way. Usually, I don’t even have to ask! Somebody will start going “/a/, /a/, /a/!” and making alligator chopping motions, for example when they see the letter A. If the kids are stumped, I flip the card to back for a quick peek at the Zoo-Phonics card, and then quickly flip it back again to the regular letter. That way, when they are making the motion, they are looking at the regular flash cards, NOT the Zoo-Phonics card! This “imprints” the sound on their minds, and most children make the transition away from the ZP cards onto plain letter cards very quickly.
Once most of us have that part down, I add a third element to the drill (and by the way, this is all usually done in a whole group situation.) Each time I show a card, I say, “Sound?” Then they make the sound. Then I say “Letter name?” Then they say the letter name. Given that this is a whole group activity, the more advanced children tend to pull the struggling learners along, and that really helps! They hear their peers responding, and do the same. I watch the entire group, and NOBODY is allowed to just stand there and so or say nothing. They MUST all try, even if they are only repeating what they hear after somebody else says it first, AND I must see their bodies moving with the motions. This full body response is vitally important to the learning process for young children. Insisting that everyone participate may seem a bit “over the top” to some, but I am convinced that this is the key to learning, so I continue to demand it each year. Once the children understand that I don’t take “no” for an answer, I do get full cooperation, and learning usually follows. (By the way, this is the exact same process I use for teaching the names of the numerals, but I use the Jumpin’ Numbers and Shakin’ Shapes flash cards and songs, and it works like a charm!)