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An A to Z of Learning to Read: The Alphabet

An A to Z of Learning to Read_ The Alphabet. Tips by My Little Bookcase

Once children are aware of the print around them, we can work towards helping them understand that the print they see carries meaning or a message. In order to do that, a child needs to be able to recognise the individual symbols (letters) in the print, which is why learning the alphabet is an ingredient for reading.

PLEASE NOTE: As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, learning to read doesn’t necessarily follow a structured sequence. For example, learning to recognise the alphabet doesn’t necessarily happen before developing phonological awareness. They can actually develop alongside each other. So, if you’ve stumbled upon this post please explore the other posts in this A to Z of Learning to Read series because there are other ingredients for reading that are equally as important as learning the alphabet.

PREVIOUS POST: Print Awareness|NEXT POST: Phonological Awareness

ALPHABET TERMS AND UNDERSTANDINGS

Alphabet: The alphabet consists of 26 single written letters that, individually and in various combinations, represent the 44 sounds in the English language.

Letter Names: Titles given to the 26 letter symbols in the English alphabet, which together represent the 44 sounds in the English language.

Letter Recognition: The ability to identify and name letters of the alphabet, both uppercase and lowercase.  Once letter recognition is mastered, children can learn the characteristics, formation and shape of the letters.

Uppercase Letters: Uppercase letters are also known as capital letters. They are all written at the same height and are used to begin a sentence or proper nouns.

Lowercase Letters: Lowercase letters are smaller than capital letters. Although the form of each letter can vary slightly, they each consist of a body while some letters also include a head or tail. Learning to read involves distinguishing between uppercase and lowercase versions of printed letters.

Consonants: Non-vowel speech sounds made when a part of the mouth (tongue, lips, and teeth) obstructs the sound being made.

Vowel: A speech sound made without any obstruction of air flow from the lungs. These sounds are represented by the letters ‘a’, ‘e’, ‘i’, ‘o’, ‘u’ and sometimes ‘y’).

TIPS FOR INTRODUCING THE ALPHABET

1. Knowing common shapes (circle, square, and triangle) before introducing the alphabet will help children to distinguish the shape of letters.

2. Many people naturally only introduce letter names to their children, but others argue that a letter sound is more important than its name. I believe that the two go hand-in-hand and should be introduced at the same time. Rather than introducing the whole alphabet, start by focussing on one letter at a time.  Introduce the letter name, its sound and its formation/shape at the same time.

E.g. My name is ‘m’. I say /m/ and I look like this (Mm).

3. This is a sequence of task types I like children to explore when learning letters. Some more specific activity ideas can be found at the end of this post or on my Alphabet Pinterest board.

a)    Build or make the letter/s

b)    Play with the letter/s

c)     Search for the letter/s

d)    Match and sort the letters

4. When introducing letters, begin with the letters in your child’s name and those of family members because these names (and letters) hold significance. There will also be many meaningful opportunities for them to identify these letters in your home, such as identifying letters in names addressed on postal packages.

Introduce letters in a child's name_My Little Bookcase

5. Below is a common sequence for introducing letters to children once they have begun to recognise the letters in their own name. This sequence allows children to recognise, early on, the letters in small words (e.g.  at, am, mat, pat, map etc. ). It also separates letters which look similar (b and d; p and q; g and y). Note though, that confusing letters that look similar is common and can happen for children even during the early years of primary school.

m, a, t, p, o, n, d, c, u, s, g, h, i, f, b, l, e, r, w, k, x, v, y, z, j, q

6. Uppercase letters are easier to distinguish from one another, so that can be a good starting point. But, don’t be too slow in introducing lowercase letters either because this is the case most frequently encountered in texts. I love alphabet books that feature both upper and lower case letters.

7. There are a range of fonts used in schools (For example, the Victorian Modern Cursive is used in Victorian schools). I encourage you to find out and use the font that is used in your state or region. Once your child can recognise all letters of the alphabet, you can then challenge them with a range of fonts.

8. It is not essential for children to be able to write letters in order for them to recognise or read them. However, writing letters can sometimes help particular children in learning to recognise letters, especially if they are linguistic or kinaesthetic learners. There are also some great visual aids to help with letter formation, such as this clever classroom trick from Learn with Play at Home.

ACTIVITY IDEAS FOR LEARNING THE ALPHABET

My Little Bookcase 'alphabet activities' Pinterest board

YOUR CHILD’S LEARNING STYLE

There are literally hundreds of activity ideas in books and on the internet to assist children in learning to recognise letters of the alphabet, but when searching for alphabet activities it is important to keep in mind your child’s natural learning style (how they learn best).

Visual/Spatial learners prefer learning by using, drawing or visualising pictures, images and patterns.  Consider:

Alphabet Scavenger Hunt_My Little Bookcase

Auditory/Musical learners prefer learning with the use of sounds, music and rhythm. Consider:

  • —Singing the classic alphabet song
  • Using instruments to learn letters
  • —Using songs such as The ABCs of Moving You with Usher and Sesame Street or Dr Jean’s Who Let the Letters Out
  • —Writing and singing your own songs
  • —Chanting letters

Logical/Mathematical learners prefer learning with the use logic, classification, reasoning and numbers. Consider:

Verbal/Linguistic learners learn best through reading, writing, speaking and listening. Consider:

Letter Detective Hunt_ My Little Bookcase

Physical/Kinaesthetic learners prefer learning through touch and movement. Consider:

outdoor alphabet hunt_My Little Bookcase

Social/Interpersonal learners prefer learning in groups or alongside others. Consider:

Naturalistic learners prefer to work in and with nature. Consider:

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An A to Z of Learning to Read: Print Awareness

An A to Z of Learning to Read, Part 2-Print Awareness. A series by My Little Bookcase

If learning to read is like baking a cake, as I described in the first post of this series, then developing an awareness of print could be seen as the first step in the process. While many of the ingredients for reading are interrelated and can be learned simultaneously, developing an awareness of print is something that can be introduced to young children-even babies- because it does not involve the use of specific skills such as recognising sounds or letters of the alphabet.

AN A TO Z OF LEARNING TO READ

PREVIOUS POST: Glossary of Reading Ingredients | NEXT POST: Alphabet

Basically, print awareness is having the ability to recognise symbols (which include letters and numbers) around us and understand that these symbols carry a message.

Some more specific ingredients related to print awareness include:

Concepts of Print (Print Concepts):

The basic components that underpin how text works. Learning to read begins with an awareness of these understandings. Some of these concepts include:

  • — Words are made up of letters
  • — Letters can be presented in uppercase and lowercase
  • — Words are read in a particular direction (From left to right and from top to bottom)
  • — Letters and words have structure (Beginning/First, Middle, End/Last)
  • — Punctuation is used to organise words

Environmental Print:

Is made up of words, letters, symbols and numbers seen in the world around us (e.g. on billboards, shop fronts, magazines, bus timetables etc.)

Prior Knowledge:

Specific knowledge, understandings and skills one gains though all of their life experiences to help them make meaning of a text being read. When reading, children retrieve and apply this prior knowledge to interpret information and make meaning of text to assist them in decoding words.

Vocabulary:

A mental bank of familiar words, their meanings and pronunciations that form part of a person’s prior knowledge.

IDEAS TO HELP YOUR CHILD DEVELOP PRINT AWARENESS

1. Read Everyday

There are MANY benefits to reading everyday with children but in preparation for learning to read independently, being read to daily exposes children to print, a range of text types, a wide vocabulary and different uses of language features.  These all help to build an awareness of print, which is the foundation for learning to read. Try these tips for reading aloud.

2. Play and explore the world

Don’t underestimate the power or play and having children in tow when running daily errands. It is these daily experiences that form a child’s prior knowledge, and prior knowledge is what helps a person connect to a story and make sense of a text.

3. Provide your children with independent and unlimited access to books

Providing children with the freedom to personally explore books, in their own way and in their own time, is a rich book experience that will contribute to their pre-reading development. More benefits are outlined in this post about independent access to books.

4. Play with books

Books don’t always have to be read. We’ve compiled some ideas in this post to help your children play with books.

5. Play or craft with newspapers, magazines or pages from old books

6. Have conversations about environmental print

Do this by pointing out relevant signage or by telling your children when you see and respond to signage (e.g. A STOP sign at an intersection, the female sign on a toilet door, or a sales poster at the local supermarket).

7. Make your home a print rich environment

Surround your home with print by labelling parts of your home with signs or labels (e.g. signs on bedroom and bathroom doors or toy drawers), decorating parts of your home with prints, posters and quotes. Your children might even like to make their own signs. You’ll find some inspiration in our posts on book nooks,  writing stations and themed reading corners.

8. Play I Spy or scavenger hunts

Scavenger hunts or games of I Spy can be played to name particular objects (which build vocabulary) or you can help your child build an awareness of print by asking them to hunt for specific environmental print. Try this game of Print Explorers.

Environmental Print Scavenger Hunt Task_ My Little Bookcase

9. Encourage your children to ‘write’ and scribble

Set up invitations for your children to write by supplying them with writing materials. Children don’t need to be able to form letters for this to be a valuable task. When your children have finished ‘writing’, ask them to read or translate their message. This practice will help children to develop an understanding that print carries a message or an instruction. For more information read this post about pretend writing.

10. Write messages for your child

Writing and reading messages to your children (on post-it notes, light boxes, whiteboards or in lunch boxes etc.) will also teach your child that you are using print to convey a message to them (even when you can’t be with them).

11. Start a journal or diary

Help your child to start a journal or diary. It could be a general diary or one for recording a specific event (e.g. first year of school, a holiday or a favourite recipe collection).  Translate your child’s thoughts into the diary or journal, and re-read them back to your child. Again, this project will teach your child that their ideas are being recorded by using print.

12. Involve your child in grocery shopping

Ask your child to help you write a shopping list (you can add pictures as symbols or cut and paste photos from supermarket catalogues). At the shops, ask your child to help you search for items on the shelf (They might match pictures/photos from the list with items on the shelf or they might start to recognise logos and branding)

Print Awareness Shopping_ My Little Bookcase

13. Involve your child in cooking

This will help your child to understand that the print in cookbooks provide instructions. Alternatively, you could invite your child to play with cookbooks. We have compiled a list of beautiful children’s cookbooks.

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This post is supported by Child.com.au and may contain links to the online store.

Like this post? Stay connected:

Be sure to join one of our communities for more literacy-based inspiration, or subscribe to our mailing list so you don’t miss out on future posts.

About Jackie Small of My Little Bookcase