Thursday, March 28, 2013

TEACHING THE ALPHABET: Letter Identification

Once children are familiar with the shape of the letter it is important to practice identifying it and using visual discrimination skills to observe how it is different from other letters.  Here is my worksheet set that gives great practice.  Students first trace the letter, then find (color) the objects that contain the designated letter.  Pages are illustrated with clean, appealing images that correlate with the phoneme (letter sound).  There is additionally a prompt to have the students count up the letters/objects they colored to add a cross curricular math element.

These are great for center work, homework pages, and can be used for intervention.  Here are a couple of free preview pages to download.  Click on each to download. They are formatted two to a page to help you conserve paper.  If you like what you see, please click the image above to purchase the packet.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

TEACHING THE ALPHABET: Letter Tactile Experiences

We use a lot of sensory/tactile experiences to extend our letter learning.  Here are just a couple of my favorites:

Building letters with Legos (L, T, and I are especially good for this medium).  My kids went crazy and tried to build the tallest L.  You can also do this with blocks, snap cubes (kind of like unifix blocks, but with more flexibility), tinker toys, etc.

Play dough letters - free form, or use alphabet cookie cutters.  We also make them with bread dough and create "pretzel letters".  Many versions of playdough letter mats are freely available on the internet.

Magnet/Marble Letters - These are the little sticks with magnets on each end and little metal balls that stick to them.  I got these at the dollar store, and they work ok (the magnets are a little wimpy).  I prefer the Magz brand "magnetic construction toy" but they are a little pricey.  CAUTION:  do not allow children to put in mouth.  They are not as dangerous as the "bucky balls" since the balls are not magentized and the magnets are firmly attached to the plastic sticks.  The kids LOVE these!

Saturday, March 9, 2013


Learning how to write letters correctly is another essential pre-K skill.

Early writing progresses in stages.  First, are random scribbles that bear little similarity to actual letters, yet young learners will often proudly state, "that says..."

As writing skills develop, scribbles become more defined and start to resemble letters.  It is common for them to be backwards, upside-down, and randomly placed around the page.  They will be different sizes and consist of curves and circles and sticks with "chimney's" or hooks attached.

Children progress in their discovery that letters have meaning through their preschool and kindergarten years.  Learning the letters for their name is one of the first things children learn to truly write.  However, they are often just representations of letter shapes (particularly if they learned to "write" their name very early).  Frequently names are written with all capital letters (since straight lines - the primary building block of capital letters - are easier to create than curves).

Advancing writers will be able to create letters with appropriate strokes and proper sizing and awareness of space.

Early childhood teachers have their work cut out for them to train (and frequently re-train) little fingers to learn to write. It is critical to:
  • Model correct letter formation.  If children just look at a letter and try to recreate the shape, they can be very "creative".  Demonstrate step by step and recite verbal cues (I usually use very simple prompts such as "slant down (voice sliding down too), jump, slant down, jump, go across the middle - for capital A) to help them know what to do. I like to demonstrate on the chalkboard and then have students put their fingers in the air and follow along.  You can find verbal cues in many places.  Sometimes, I have made up a few of my own verbal cues with more imagery, such as for lower case "e" I say, "go across the street, then go up and make a rainbow, then smile at the bottom".  You can find lots of variation in many places.
    • Super basic - based on  Linda Dorn's, Shaping Literate Minds - HERE
    • There are rhyming ones from Little Giraffe's HERE 
    • The HWT method here and here
    • Heidi Songs are GREAT.  Her website is, and she has a free lyrics download at the bottom of the page HERE
  • Encourage children to start their letters at the top.  I took a workshop on the "Handwriting Without Tears" method, and they taught a little song that we recite regularly:
If you want to write a letter, start at the top.
If you want to write a letter, start at the top.
If you want to write a letter, then you'd better, better, better,
Remember to start your letter at the top.
  • Help students develop spatial awareness and learn about letter sizing.  For example, capital letters touch the "ceiling/roof" and reach all the way down to the "floor".  Some letters (g, j,  p, q, y) go through the floor down to the "basement", etc.
A worksheet is a helpful tool for the early writer to gain practice, but you cannot simply hand a student a worksheet and expect them to learn to write.  You should always model first, then monitor the writing process, reinforce the verbal cues, starting at the top, etc, and make gentle corrections.  Students should have lots of tracing practice to help solidify the letter shapes in their mind.  Many of the handwriting worksheets I have tried do not give enough tracing practice - often they have tons of empty lines. Pre-writers can become frustrated and often tire quickly.

I finally developed my own practice pages.  I tried to make it fun to find and trace the letters by incorporating them into images that correlate with the phonetic sound.  I included a starting point (*) so it was easier for children to be successful in forming them properly.  There is also a blank space on the lines with just a starting point (*) for children to try to form the letter on their own.  The worksheets have been adjusted and refined over 20 years of teaching and has proven engaging and developmentally appropriate for early writers.

Feel free to download this sample page from the handwriting packet (just click on the image below).  You can find all of the handwriting pages at my TpT Store here.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


I have been teaching preschool for nearly 20 years.  One of my primary goals for my little ones is to help them learn the alphabet.  We focus on a letter a week, but we do not go in order.  I try to correlate the alphabet letter with the theme we have for the week. This has given the letter a context, more relevance,  and a takes more of a whole language approach to make it meaningful.  Each week has it's own theme based activities, but I do have some things that I do consistently with each letter to reinforce our learning of the alphabet.  This will be the first in a series of posts about TEACHING THE ALPHABET.


A great introduction to the alphabet letters is to give students a tactile experience.  I use this as an arrival activity as we begin each week.  We use a half sheet of paper that has an outline of both the upper and lower case letter.  We fill the letter with items that begin with the letter by gluing, stamping, texture rubbing, etc.  I have a large assortment of SHAPE PUNCHES that are quick and cheap (most cost only a dollar from the dollar corner at Target, the party supply section at Walmart, or the dollar store.)  I also have an assortment of rubber stamps - including alphabet sets (find them cheaply on ebay) that I use - especially for those hard letters like X.  Occasionally, I have used stickers, or  printed small pictures (finding images in clipart libraries) to be glued on.

This activity is worthwhile on so many levels.
  • First - I have found that it is a great sensory/tactile experience to literally help the students feel the shape of the letter. 
  • Second - it is an outstanding small motor activity to encourage a range of fine motor skills and improve finger dexterity. For many kids it is a challenge just to use a glue stick or to pick up a small piece with those little finger muscles.
  • Third - I have used it to practice sorting and patterning skills.  When I make punches, I will make at least two colors.  Then I can instruct the students to put one color on the upper case letter, and the other color on the lower case.  They can also use the shapes to make a pattern.
I realize most things just get thrown away when they come home from school, but I have know multiple families who have collected these into a book, or hung them around their children's bedrooms.

A - apples (punch shape/stamp), apple seeds, plastic ants (available at party supply stores or Amazon)
B - black beans, buttons, bumble bee (stamp), butterfly (punch shape/stamp)
C - cotton balls, Cheerios, cat (punch shape/stamp), candy cane (punch shape/stamp/sticker)
D - dots (colored stickers), dinosaur (punch shape, stickers or stamps), dime rubbings
E - egg shells, egg (punch shape), eyes (googly eyes from the craft store)
F - flowers (punch shape, stamp or stickers), fingerprints
G - glitter (gold or green)
H - hearts  (punch shape, stamp or stickers)
I - ice cream cones  (stamp, stickers or clipart prints)
J - jewels (plastic rhinestone jewels from craft stores or jewel nail stickers often found in party sections)
K - keys (rubbings or clipart prints)
L - lace, leafs (punch shape/stamp)
M - macaroni
N - noodles, nickel rubbings, newspaper scraps
O - octopus  (punch shape/stamp/stickers), o shaped stickers (hole reinforcement stickers)
P - popcorn
Q - q-tips
R - red ribbon
S - stars  (punch shape/stamp/stickers)
T - toothpicks, turkeys  (punch shape/stamp/stickers)
U - umbrellas  (punch shape, stamp or stickers)
V - velvet ribbon, velcro
W - watermelon  (punch shape/stamp/stickers)
X - x-ray (stamp), or letter x stamp
Y - yellow yarn
Z - zipper rubbing

Monday, March 4, 2013

Color Book - BLUE

Haven't updated the blog for a while.  Here is another post about colors.  I usually do colors over an extended period of time, having one day with a color focus each week.  So, it takes a couple of months to get through all the colors.  I typically do this during the fall, because several colors work so well with fall themes.

BLUE - Blue Bubble Paint

I like to do this activity in conjunction with our study of the letter "B" - lots of b-b-b sounds in "blue bubbles".

To make the blue bubble paint, mix ¼ cup blue tempera or 2 tablespoons liquid water color paint (or you could use blue tempera paint too) with 2 tablespoons of liquid dish soap and ½ cup water in a medium sized disposable container (like a cool whip carton). Stir gently to combine. Cover table with plenty of newspaper -- this will be messy.  Give each child their own drinking straw and have them take turns blowing bubbles in the bubble paint. When the bubbles erupt above the rim of the bowl, gently touch the paper to the blue bubbles. Repeat until the entire paper is covered with blue bubble prints.