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Teaching the Alphabet at Monarch

Updated: Jul 20, 2021

Through resources such as the Love of Learning podcast and this blog, Monarch endeavors to demystify the teaching methods and philosophies we employ to help children learn and grow. Today, we will detail how we teach children the letters of the alphabet, an important step on the road to reading independently. As a Montessori school, the lessons detailed below were formulated by Dr. Montessori and those inspired by her.

Alphabet Wall

Rather than teaching letter sounds abstractly, we located and printed off a set of alphabet cards that assign an animal or object to each one. For example, “a'' under a picture of an alligator, “b” under a bear, “c” under a cat, and so forth. We intentionally posted these low to the ground, accessible to children.

Letter Sounds (Not Names)

In order to read, does one necessarily need to know the name of each letter? Knowing the sound is most important in the pursuit of reading; knowing the names of the letters helps more during a spelling bee. Indeed, when I first started teaching, I followed the conventional curriculum and began by introducing the letter names followed by letter sounds. I soon realized my mistake; my students would, as I had trained their brains, state the letter names first. Upon viewing the word “cat,” they would proclaim, “See. Ay. Tee,” requiring me to prompt, “But what sounds do you see?”

When interacting with our alphabet wall, we model chanting and singing the letter sound (not the letter name) and the object: “/A/-/a/-alligator. /A/-/a/-alligator. /B/-/b/-bear. /B/-/b/-bear.” We find that children chant or sing through the alphabet of their own accord almost daily and utilize the visuals in case they momentarily forget a letter sound.

Multisensory Techniques

“Multisensory,” simply put, means applying multiple senses. Through posting the alphabet cards and chanting or singing the sounds, we already covered visual and auditory. Many children thrive when lessons incorporate kinesthetic learning, or physical movement. Here are a few pertinent examples:

  • As we introduce the letter sound and associated picture, we also teach the corresponding ASL sign.

  • We have a list of actions connected to each initial sound, which we act out daily. (Ask, balance, climb, dance, elevate, freeze, and so forth.) This activity also provides a fun movement break.

  • When we introduce a new sound, we place our hand over our throat and notice the vibrations before prompting children to do the same.

  • We exaggerate how we move our mouths when generating the new sound and observe aloud about the shapes our mouth forms. We ask the children to do the same and provide a hand-held mirror so they can observe themselves and how their mouths move.

Lowercase Letters

The alphabet contains 26 letters, but each has an upper and lowercase, so we might encounter any one of 52 symbols. When reading, we most frequently see lowercase letters. For instance, in this entire paragraph, I spot 5 uppercase letters and 278 lowercase letters. Therefore, we start with teaching the lowercase symbols, those that children will most commonly see.

Small Groups of Letters

We are huge fans of Cathie Perolman’s color coded sound games, which enable children to independently and repeatedly practice letters and their sounds. She brilliantly divides letters into groups of four or six. We teach children one group at a time before progressing. This makes the task of memorizing letters and sounds much more approachable and successful.

The groups are:

  1. a, s, m, t

  2. i, r, c, p

  3. o, g, b, f

  4. u, h, j, l

  5. e, d, n, w

  6. y, k, q, x, z, v

When a child is ready to begin systematically learning letters, we grab the lowercase sandpaper letters for a, s, m, and t. We slowly trace the letter and make its sound, and then we invite the child to try.

Sorting Letters for Practice in Visual Discrimination

Visual discrimination is “the ability to recognize details in visual images. It allows students to identify and recognize the likeness and differences of shapes/forms, colors and position of objects, people, and printed materials. In order to learn to read print, students will need to develop their visual discrimination skills.” Clearly, visual discrimination is necessary for memorizing letters! After practicing with the sandpaper letters on a few occasions, children sort many lowercase a, s, m, and t’s.

Picture and Objects Sorts

To promote repeated practice with associating letters and their sounds, children complete a number picture and object sorts. Children love the cute, tiny objects, which promotes repetition.

Sounding Out Words Early

Once children know s, m, a, and t, they can begin sounding out words. There is no reason to wait until children memorize all 26 letters before applying this skill. After children learn each group of letters, they spell out words containing only the letters they know using the movable alphabet. We also encourage them to read back what they have written. These activities help children make the leap from letter sounds to writing and reading.

Letter Cards

We create letter cards for each child and practice those that the child has been introduced to every day. This way, children can monitor their own progress, which is incredibly motivating. They feel so proud when they learn a new letter. Even after they learn all of the letters, we continue running through the letter cards on a routine basis.

In Sum

At Monarch, we utilize and alphabet wall, teach letters sounds before letter names, and employ multisensory techniques. We love Cathie Perolman's color-coded sound games, which break letters into small groups, begin with visual discrimination activities, create interest with object and picture sorts, and introduce sounding out words early rather than waiting for children to memorize all 26 letters and sounds. Letter cards enable children to track their own progress.

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