TRT Podcast#14: How to help learners who struggle to learn the alphabet
Do you have learners who are in PreK or kindergarten and are struggling to remember the letters of the alphabet? This episode is for you!
- Learn how to get started with letter learning.
- Discover what to look for in an alphabet curriculum.
- Get links to free printables for teaching the alphabet.
- Find out about my new collection of alphabet activities and games that make letter learning more fun than ever!
Full episode transcript
You are listening to episode 14, How to Help Learners Who Struggle to Learn the Alphabet. This episode kicks off an eight-part series for teaching struggling readers, but we're actually starting way back at the beginning with pre-reading. Today's episode is sponsored by my new digital product, Alphabet Activities and Games. Learn more at themeasuredmom.com/abc.
So teaching the alphabet ... Personally, I've found that teaching my kids their letters has been one of the most fun things I get to do as a parent. I have six kids, and they've all learned their letters at different rates and at different ages. My oldest, who is somehow 13 years old, knew all her letters and sounds before she turned two. My youngest is almost four and a half, and he only recently learned to recognize the last of the letters. We're just getting started with letter sounds.
I haven't felt any pressure or panic as I've taught my kids their letters because they all learn them as toddlers or preschoolers. If they struggled to learn a letter, I just talked about it more, pointed it out more, and generally called more attention to it. But it can feel very different when it's right before kindergarten or during the kindergarten year and a kid is struggling to learn letter names.
In this episode I'll share some things you can do to help learners struggling to learn the alphabet. Before we get any further, I just want to say that this episode is about teaching letter names, not sounds. I considered talking about both in the same episode, but I decided to split them up. So this week, we're talking about letter names, and next week we'll go on to letter sounds.
Today's episode is going to be about two things: teaching learners who struggle to learn the alphabet in Pre-K, that year right before kindergarten, and kids in kindergarten who struggle to learn the alphabet.
So let's start with kids in Pre-K. They are four or five years old, kindergarten is on the horizon, and those letter names aren't sticking. What I always recommend is to start with the letters of the child's name. And personally, I like to use a structured approach, such as letter of the week. Not everyone agrees with me here, and that's fine. But I do feel that a letter of the week approach can be very good for children in Pre-K when you are flexible. By that I mean you don't do just one letter every week. You focus on one or more letters, and then you always review the letters you've already taught. You skip ahead if a child knows a whole bunch of letters, and you do hands-on activities instead of a pack of worksheets every week.
Letter of the week tends to work better at home because it's easier to be flexible with one or two learners, versus in the classroom when you have a whole bunch of kids at different stages of their letter learning. So if you follow this approach in a classroom, I think it's best done in small groups and centers.
If you're looking for a letter of the week program, makes sure it's flexible, incorporates review, and is not simply a series of worksheets. Variety within structure, that's you're looking for. You'll find that in my letter of the week curriculum for preschool and Pre-K, which I'll link to in the show notes.
As I've said, one thing you really need to do as you're teaching the alphabet to kids in Pre-K is to constantly incorporate review, and you'll find some great resources for that in my Alphabet Games and Activities bundle that I mentioned at the beginning of this episode. The great thing about it is a lot of the games are editable, so you can type in maybe three letters your learner knows and then one new letter. Play the game a few times to help reinforce that new letter.
Another thing to do with a child who is not yet in kindergarten and struggling to learn the alphabet is to read lots of alphabet books. I recommend books that have the letters large and prominent on each page so children can point them out and name them. I have a blog post in which I reviewed my 50 favorite ABC books for kids, which you can also find in the show notes.
If you'd like, you can also use DVDs in moderation. Now, if you know me, you know this is pretty much the last thing I recommend. I'm not a big believer in using DVDs for teaching young children. I just think they get enough screen time as it is. However, many people have had success with the Letter Factory DVD. We own it. We got it years ago when my big kids were little. It came in a bag of hand-me-downs. They watched it a bunch of times. They liked it. I find it annoying, but it can be helpful for kids in Pre-K.
I also really like the Heidi Songs DVDs and CDs. Heidi is a kindergarten teacher, and she has created a huge variety of songs with actions that help young children learn basic concepts. I'll link to those too in the show notes.
So far, we've talked about starting with the letters of a child's name, using a structured but flexible approach that incorporates constant review, reading alphabet books, and if you like, watching letter DVDs. I also recommend making the time that you learn letters a routine. I know how hard it is to do this when you're a busy parent or a busy Pre-K teacher. But if you set a time every day to sit down with your struggling learner or your whole class to focus on letters, your kids will be more receptive to it. It's better when they come to expect it.
And we don't need to use flashcards. In the Alphabet Activities and Games bundle, I have editable bingo games, editable board games, road tracing mats they can use with cars, play dough mats, and more. Use those activities to make letter learning fun. I recommend spending about 10 to 15 minutes every day. Especially at home, children will be more receptive to alphabet learning if they know it's coming and it's not just thrown at them because on that particular day you're suddenly starting to feel anxious about it. Make it a part of your daily routine, and it will go much better.
So those are my top tips for helping kids in Pre-K who are still trying to remember the alphabet. What about kindergarten? In America at least, this is the year we're starting to teach reading, and that's hard to do if a child doesn't know the letters of the alphabet.
So what do you do? Well, when you're teaching a class of learners or even just one-on-one, you always start the year by giving everyone a letter name assessment so you know exactly what your learners need to know. And I've included one of these in the Alphabet Activities and Games bundle. Giving this assessment will help you know what specifically to work on with each learner. You do not want to do whole class letter of the week in kindergarten. There are many reasons why you shouldn't do that in kindergarten, but a big one is that in kindergarten that's going to be moving too slowly. I would say you need to move at a faster pace, probably three letters a week in your phonics lesson.
But mostly, letter learning should be done in small groups because kids have such a variety of needs. Let's say you start the year and you've got half your class knows the alphabet and the sounds. They're ready to start to learn to read. Meanwhile, over here, you've got a few kids who know some letters and a few children who don't know any letters at all. Those children who are still learning the alphabet will benefit from doing an alphabet tracing book every day. This is not my idea. This comes from Jan Richardson in her book The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading.
On my blog, I've shared an alphabet tracing book like the one she recommends. You can find a link to that in the show notes. What you would do is you would have children trace a letter using their finger, not a dry erase marker, because this helps them to memorize how the letter is formed. And every day, they would trace each letter in upper and lower case and say the featured picture's name. Most likely, of course, if they're learning their letters still, they're going to need someone to help them with the letter tracing book. So this would be a great task for a parent volunteer or an aide to do with those children every day. This won't take long, just a few minutes per child.
At the beginning, you may need to hold their hand while they trace and help them name those letters. And over time, they'll be able to name more and more letters on their own. As I mentioned earlier, you want to make sure that you build on what your struggling learners already know. So mix in the letters they know with the new ones. If you're only working on new ones, they're going to reach frustration very quickly.
I recommend using an alphabet intervention book, and this is an idea from Kim Adsit of KinderGals. I attended a wonderful presentation she gave about teaching the alphabet at a conference a few years ago. I've created my own alphabet intervention book, which I've included in the Alphabet Activities and Games bundle. Here's how it works. So you have each child have this little book of letters and each page has big A, little A, and then a space for a picture. And you have a bag of pictures. So what the child does is you help them choose the pictures for the letters they know and glue them in. So let's say a child only knows letter B because his name starts with B. On the B page, he would glue down the picture of the ball, and then he would read the book to you, but he would only read the pages with the pictures. So he would read B, B, ball. And then you would add more letters each week, and he would always read those to you, with help if needed, until gradually the whole book is full.
I used this with my little guy right about when he turned four because there were still some letters yet that he needed to learn. He knew about half when we started, and this really worked. At first, he was a little reluctant to read each page by naming the letters and the pictures, but he very quickly looked forward to it and actually requested it. And before long, he knew all the letters. So again, that's included in the Alphabet Activities and Games bundle.
Let's review the things we talked about when it comes to helping kids in kindergarten who are still struggling to learn the alphabet. Start the year with a letter name assessment so you know exactly what letters they need to learn. Have those kids who are struggling trace the alphabet every day using an alphabet tracing book, link in the show notes. And build on what struggling learners already know by incorporating the letters they've learned with the new letters. A great way to do that is to use an alphabet intervention book, which is included in the Alphabet Activities and Games bundle.
That wraps up this week's episode about teaching the alphabet to struggling learners. Check out the show notes where I share a link to my Alphabet Games and Activities bundle, to my online membership, which actually includes all the printables in the bundle, and to some free resources on my blog, such as letter find pages, printable letter books, and a whole lot more. You can find all of these in the show notes themeasuredmom.com/episode14.
Thanks for listening, and I'll be back next week with tips for helping kids who struggle to learn letter sounds. I'll talk to you soon.
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Resources and links mentioned in this episode
- Letter of the week curriculum
- 50 of the best alphabet books for kids
- Letter Factory DVD
- Heidisongs CD’s and DVD’s
- Free letter tracing book
- The Measured Mom Plus, my online membership site which contains hundreds of printables for teaching PreK through third grade (and includes the printables in my new product, Alphabet Games & Activities).
Free printables on The Measured Mom
- Alphabet bingo cards
- Mini alphabet flip book
- Find the letters pack
- Letters: Four-in-a-row
- Alphabet action cards
- Rhyming alphabet books
- Letter books with real photos
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