Teaching letters to kindergarten students is the first step to making them readers. Here are my 5 tips for reinforcing the alphabet in your classroom.
So often I get asked how I teach letter names and sounds to my students. In this post, I’ll share my top 5 tips for teaching the alphabet. Before I begin though, I think it’s really important to remember a few things:
- Every child is different and learns at their own pace. For some students, things ‘click’ right away, others need more time. That is okay! You’re not doing anything wrong, and the child is still learning valuable skills.
- Children need exposure over a long period of time to learn new skills. Don’t expect mastery right away, instead keep exposing them to these critical reading skills.
- People learn in different ways. I learn by reading something, or when someone shows me how to do it. Some people learn by using their bodies, singing, writing. Children are the same way. Use different strategies when teaching them the alphabet.
- Learning can happen anywhere. While you are teaching whole group lessons, guided lessons, while having a snack, walking in the halls, playing outside, in the cubby area. Don’t forget to take real-life moments to teach. Often, that’s when the most authentic learning will take place.
Tip #1- Names
My first tip for teaching students about letters is to use their names. Their names hold a lot of value and meaning to them. If you start with them, they will begin to make associations between the written symbol, the name of the letter and its sound. This is a big jump for little learners, and can take some time. Using their names helps because it’s meaningful! They also love learning about their friend’s names, so make sure they have opportunities to see and practice letters with peers’ names.
If you want some fun name activities to make for your students. Check out my YouTube channel. I have videos that show you how to make clip cards, playdough mats and name tracers for your students. How do you like to practice names with your students at the beginning of the year? Let me know in the comments.
Tip #2- Point Out Letters
Whenever you are reading, in the classroom, teaching a lesson, playing outside- point out letters when you see them. Students will start to recognize that those symbols that they see everywhere actually mean something.
They will start making connections between the symbol and the letter name. You can also say the letter sound when you point it out, “This is an A, A says aaahhh, like Apple or Amanda. A says aaahhh”.
Tip #3- Environment
Your classroom environment plays an important role in developing an understanding of print. Use the physical space as the third teacher.
Have books available to students, make signs with them, have them create labels. Involving your students in the process (instead of pre-labelling and decorating your classroom) will make it so much more meaningful to them. They will be able to make the connections between the symbols and the letters that they see because they were part of the process.
Tip #4- Letter of the Day
I have seen some recent research that suggests teaching all the letters of the alphabet up-front, in a ‘letter of the day’ style. Once you have taught all the letters to your class, you are able to go back and review as needed.
For example, after you have gone through all 26 letters, you notice that your class is having trouble with the letter T. You would now review that letter and work on it. You could also differentiate your literacy centers or guided groups to focus on the needs of individual students.
By doing a letter of the day model, you can also constantly be able to review letters throughout the year moving forward. If you are doing letter of the week, you are only focusing on 1 letter at a time for most of the year.
For more information on this, the book Joyful Literacy Interventions (affiliate link) has some great research information for you.
Tip #5- Model
Just as you are constantly Pointing out Print with your students, you also need to make sure you are modelling using and writing letters with your students. Co-creating charts, writing in front of students are opportunities for you to make connections between the symbols that you are using and the letters that they represent.
Speak out loud and explicitly explain what you are doing and why. For example, if I am writing out my morning message with students I would say, “Today is library day. Lets write that out. T-t-t today. What letter does today start with? Yes, T. T says t-t-t. I am going to use an uppercase T because it is at the beginning of my sentence.”
These opportunities to hear and see the letters in action is important for students to be able to make connections between the symbol, letter name and its sound.
On top of using these techniques when I am teaching letters to my students, I reinforce the skills that we are using with literacy centers. I use play-based literacy centers, hands-on activities and guided groups.
You can also check out my letter activities, they are perfect for reinforcing fine motor skills while working on the alphabet.