All things literacy!
A few weeks ago during science we went outside to trace our shadows. On the shadow we wrote the day and time. As kids wrote with chalk I said the letters in Monday aloud. M-O-N-D-A-Y. I looked around at my diamonds to see many, many incorrect spellings of Monday. I had some Muntew, Nondei, Mondaw… I mean the list goes on. Later that morning we played a game called write the letter I say as we tested to see which markers needed to be thrown away. As I said the letter names they wrote down the letter and then checked their marker to decide if it was a keep or a toss. I watched as they wrote incorrect letter after incorrect letter. We needed to do something about letter names ASAP! …but what?!
Last year was my first year teaching grade 1. Previously I had never taught lower than 2. I know, I know. It might seem like there isn’t a big difference between grade 1 and grade 2 but there is. There really really is. A HUGE difference.
These are some of my classroom favorites for teaching letter names and letter sounds. Remember that this is taught in cooperation with reader’s and writer’s workshop. Although these are isolated activities they are brought out of isolation during workshop. Kids need to learn within a context as well.
My Favorite Letter/Sound Activities
Class Name Chart
If you use Fountas and Pinnell Phonics then you probably have a class name chart in your classroom. We made our class name chart the first or second day of school. The name chart is a great way to get to know your students and to find out what they know about their own name. Starting with the name is a powerful choice. Students take great pride in their names… actually, I think everyone takes pride in their name. If you haven’t read this post about names, please check it out! Having their names up on the wall is so exciting. I once read somewhere that a child should be able to find their name at least 7 places in your classroom.
While creating this name chart I can see who knows the first letter of their name, who can spell their name, who knows about ABC order, who knows what sounds different letters make, and so much more. I just love this activity! We then use our name chart throughout the entire year.
This year we also added a people at our school name chart. This was inspired by this video. The kids love having the different people at our school up on the wall and it brings our whole school community into our classroom.
Once the class name chart is completed it is the gift that keeps on giving. We use this all the time during word study or interactive writing. Sometimes I call a kid up to write a letter if they have it in their name. “Kuba can you please come up to the board and write the last letter in your name?” Or “Oh my goodness! This word starts with the same letter as Filip!”
The Alphabet & Alphabet Linking Chart
This year I switched my alphabet and made one intentionally thinking of letters and letter sounds. I don’t think you can create an alphabet without thinking of letters actually! 😂 In the past, I had an alphabet that had only animals or one that the kids and I made together. After reflecting upon how I use the alphabet in my classroom, it’s importance in our word study program and problems I’ve had with my previous alphabet I made a change.
This year all of the pictures in my alphabet were chosen because they made a certain sound. This way each time a child looks at the picture they hear the sound I wanted them to hear. All of the vowels are short vowel words (apple, egg, iguana, octopus, umbrella). I learned that elephant is not a good short e word to use because it sounds like the letter l. Letters like c or g that make different sounds have a hard sound (cat, girl). X doesn’t use x-ray or xylophone both make a sound of x but not the one I wanted my children to hear. X instead uses box. The only word in the alphabet to end with the letter sound. I thought it was very important for them to hear that /x/ sound.
As a class, we then made an alphabet linking chart. Here I printed only the lowercase letters and a black and white version of the picture for each letter. The kids and I colored our cards together while discussing the letter sounds. Then we glued them onto a large piece of chart paper and hung it next to the easel. When I first taught second grade, each teacher had the alphabet hanging (usually up high), an alphabet linking poster at the easel and a smaller alphabet linking poster at the guided reading table. I don’t have a specific area in my classroom for guided reading so we just have the large alphabet and the alphabet linking poster for now.
The personal alphabet took the place of the small alphabet linking poster at the guided reading table. As I worked with small groups kids were able to color in the pictures of the letters they knew the sounds for on their alphabet. Each child now had a small alphabet linking chart that could be used for many different things. Some friends keep their letter offices out during writer’s workshop to determine sounds. Some use it during writer’s workshop to determine how to make the lowercase letter they are looking for. Sometimes we bring it to the carpet with our letter looker to find what letter sound I am making. There are just so many different ways to use a personal alphabet. This alphabet will also transform into a personal word wall for some of my friends.
Click here to purchase my alphabet set!
Handwriting and Letter Sounds
In our Grade 0 (kindergarten) kids learn both upper and lowercase letters but many students leave only knowing the uppercase letters. In many cultures in Europe the way writing looks on a page is valued higher than the ideas and the story. Many cultures also teach cursive from the very beginning so print can be looked down upon. I know there has been a fairly large shift on this thinking in the US but I don’t teach in the US. When our parents see our children’s writing they focus on how it looks, not what it says. We are working to build in parent education around this but you can’t change cultural values through parent education. In class, we place more value on what we are writing and how we are saying our message but culturally we also need to focus on how the letters look.
My assistant teacher and I focus heavily on lowercase letters in grade 1 and try to de-emphasize uppercase letters. Our children are learning to write in many different scripts all at the same time. Some students might be learning Polish and English at school but Korean at home. The Polish, French, German, English, Czech, and Korean (just to name some) scripts all make their letters in different ways. In many of the languages, they are learning cursive but we are teaching print. So in grade 1, we spend a lot of time on handwriting and on lowercase letters while trying not to lose the essence of the writer’s workshop and word study. It is a tricky balance but after children start making their stories “look nice” parents start to understand the importance of the other parts of writing.
Each Letter Makes a Sound (Farmer in the Dell)
There are so many ways to take the traditional songs we might know and change the lyrics. This song goes to the tune of the Farmer in the Dell.
Each letter makes a sound
Each letter makes a sound
High-Ho Here We Go!
Each letter makes a sound
The a makes a sound
The a makes a sound
/a/ /a/ /a/ /a/ /a/
The a makes a sound
I think you get the picture! This song is so engaging. We sing it while we are lining up. We sing it as we are coming to the carpet. We sing it as we are cleaning up. The kids just love this song! The grade 1 reading interventionist at my old school taught this song along with the next one to me long ago. Sometimes I let the kids call out the letters. Sometimes I pull magnetic letters out of a jar. Sometimes we go in ABC order or in reverse ABC order. The song is great for practicing letter sounds.
The Letters on the Bus
This goes to the tune of the wheels on the bus.
The a on the bus goes
/a/ /a/ /a/
/a/ /a/ /a/
/a/ /a/ /a/
The a on the bus goes
/a/ /a/ /a/
The letters make a sound.
This song is also great just like each letter makes a sound. There are so many different things you could do with this song. I even made a little letter bus to help kids use on their own.
This is an idea I borrowed from Dr. Jean. You might know Dr. Jean from her Guacamole video but she has so many educational ideas to share with everyone. The letter looker is a pipe cleaner that is twisted into a magnifying glass shape. When we have our letter lookers I call out a letter and everyone tries to find that letter. The kids have a blast. Some of them only feel comfortable going to the letters on our alphabet linking chart right now. That is completely fine! As they learn more about letter names and sounds they will start to move away from the alphabet linking poster and go out into the room. This is a reason why Interactive Writing is so important in Grade 1. If we didn’t produce any writing together the kids might not have places to look for the letters.
I also use the letter looker with some of the videos I will share below. Simply pause the video and have the kids search for the letter the video paused on. I honestly didn’t think that this would be as engaging as it was! the kids have a blast!
Youtube Videos & Go Noodle
We use Go Noodle and on Go Noodle there is a Youtube Channel. Teachers can add videos to their channel and I add all of these videos. It is much more fun to dance and sing to a letter video when your champ is going to earn points to level up!
Here are the videos I recommend
ABC Kickbox by Dr. Jean
Phonercise by Dr. Jean
Go Letters by Dr. Jean
A to Z by Jolly Phonics
Sing and Sign by Jack Hartmann
What do the Letters Say by Have Fun Teaching
What are your favorite letter and letter sound activities in the classroom? How do you work with your students who don’t know their letter sounds? I would love to hear from you, please leave a note in the comments below!
What are some other tips for teachers conferring? What questions do you have about conferring? Let me know in the comments below. We can learn so much from each other!
There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing teachers using economy of language in the classroom.
Why We Talk
That seems like a very silly heading… why do teachers talk? Well, we talk because we need to say things to students. What sorts of things are teachers saying to students? The role of a teacher used to be primarily talking… talking as teaching. Teachers were viewed as the people who had the knowledge and students were viewed as the people who needed the knowledge. Classrooms were filled with teacher talk. In my head, I was just picturing a one-room schoolhouse with a teacher lecturing and having students repeat after her but even when I was in elementary school my teachers talked more than the students.
My teachers talked and I listened, followed directions, took notes, completed assignments and talked at specific times. My talking wasn’t considered a priority in the classroom. Students talking was often considered a distraction or a waste of time.
What's the Problem?
The person doing the talking is the person doing the learning. We are social beings and meaning is constructed through talk. Picture a young child around 3-4 all that child does is talk! Kids talk talk talk and as they talk they are making sense of the world around them. They’re figuring things out. People build meaning through talk.
Balanced literacy builds upon the child’s known and a child’s oral language is their known. When teachers are the only ones doing the talking or are the ones doing the majority of the talking children aren’t being given their own time to make meaning of what is happening in the classroom, of what they’re learning.
Whoever is doing the talking is the one doing the learning.
What to do Instead
Build in talk time. I build in time for conversations in every single period of every single day. Here is how I build it into my day.
Classroom Conversation- Each morning we have a conversation. We practice talking without raising hands. Together we set guidelines and we learn how to enter a conversation, how to encourage someone else to share in a conversation and how to end a conversation. These conversations are student-led and I do not speak during them.
Turn and Talks- When teaching something new offer up time for the students to turn and talk with one another. Listen in as the students share ideas with one another. You’ll quickly be able to hear misconceptions, building upon ideas, and questions they might have. Allowing them to talk through things that are being taught allows them to build their understanding of what is being taught.
Read Aloud- Gosh! Let them talk during read aloud. Let them interrupt and ask their questions. Allow time for them to wonder. Ask questions to get them thinking and beginning to comprehend. Let them build meaning together.
Class Leaders- Give them a voice outside of learning time. In my classroom students frequently make announcements to one another. These announcements are as simple as, “someone didn’t push in their chair. We all need to push in our chairs so the classroom is safe.” or “I just found a marker without a cap. We need to find it and then we need to make sure our caps are clicked.” Teachers often make these sort of announcements but why not allow your kids to make them. They should feel empowered and want to take ownership of their classroom.
Whispering In- During conversations, book clubs or even guided reading groups I often whisper to a student to share a question or idea instead of sharing in myself. This seems weird but it works. At first, when I was crawling around the edge of our conversation circle I felt so stupid. As I whispered in, “say why do you think Edward felt that way” during conversations and listening to kids parrot it out did not convince me I was doing what was best. BUT after a while, after coaching in with my quieter students and having them share what I was thinking they started sharing their own thoughts. As a conversation is going on I am listening in and I am also whispering a conversation with a student who might not chime in unless prompted. I am checking in on their learning and pushing them to share an idea. Any idea. When they are sharing an idea that isn’t their own they feel safer. If someone disagrees it is still ok. Whispering in has empowered my students who might just sit out to lean in.
What I've Learned
Limiting my teacher voice in the classroom didn’t happen overnight. Let me tell you that there are still days where I do the majority of talking in my classroom. Nobody is perfect but on those days I am more conscious of what I am doing. I am reminding myself that I need to hear my students’ voices more than my own. I am checking in on student voices that I don’t always hear and together we are building community and growing in knowledge through conversation.
How do you promote oral language and communication in your classroom? How do you ensure that students are talking and that you are listening? What questions do you have about limiting your teacher voice? Let me know in the comments below.