One of the earliest skills children learn is how to sing the alphabet. But here's the thing - even though it's a tried and true right of passage, it's not the cornerstone to learning we think it should be. When teaching the alphabet as a song we actually strip the meaning of what the alphabet really is. So we're going to let you in on the secret - the alphabet is about so much more than the song - it's about connecting the letters to the sounds and being able to sequence letters appropriately. If we have to do it by song so be it - but make sure you recognize the bigger picture and how the alphabet fits into early literacy.
We have another possibly mind-blowing concept for you!
Early literacy is everything a child needs to know about reading and writing before he or she can read or write. Some important topics for early literacy include:
- The Alphabetic Principle
- Visual/Motor Skills & Handwriting
- Phonemic Awareness
- Receptive/Expressive Language
But here's the thing - if you teach older students, this information can still pertain to some of your readers. You may have students with underdeveloped literacy skills that would benefit from some of the strategies or tips we will be discussing in this series. Don’t let the word ‘early’ throw you off.
This week, we are going to focus on the alphabetic principle. I think of this the same way I think of number sense as a necessary building block to math work or mathematical thinking.
What is it?
The alphabetic principle is understanding the relationship between letter symbols and their sounds. This is a foundational skill that students must have in order to easily move forward as a proficient reader.
How do I teach it?
This instruction begins by teaching the letters and their sounds in isolation. Students should have daily practice as new letters and sounds are layered into this work. As students learn new letter-sound relationships, they need the opportunity to use these skills in context through reading and writing activities.
Some popular activities to support this skill acquisition:
- Building the alphabet arc using magnetic letters and an alphabet map
- Completing an alphabet pattern with some letters missing
- Sound matching memory cards with pictures and letters
- Matching uppercase and lowercase letters
- Letter formation practice (use playdough, wiki sticks, etc)
The goal of teaching the alphabetic principle is to get students up and reading as quickly as possible. Therefore, it is important to introduce high-frequency letters first. This means introducing the letters that occur the most in our language and that students will encounter in reading. For example, the letters m, n, s, t, l, a and e are used in a higher frequency than q, x, and z.
When planning for instruction around the alphabetic principle, it is important to consider these four points:
- Teach letter-sound relationships explicitly and in isolation.
- Provide opportunities for children to practice letter-sound relationships in daily lessons.
- Provide practice opportunities that include new sound-letter relationships, as well as cumulatively reviewing previously taught relationships.
- Give children opportunities early and often to apply their expanding knowledge of sound-letter relationships to the reading of phonetically spelled words that are familiar in meaning.
This letter/sound connection can be difficult for students with dyslexia to acquire or consistently apply with success. A dyslexic brain often sees letters as shapes, not necessarily symbols that represent a specific sound. Early indicators of dyslexia can be observed during this alphabetic principle instruction and application.
Be sure to check out this week’s Friday Freebie for the world’s cutest Alphabetic Principle activity that ties into one of our favorite stories, Dragons Love Tacos.