The Truth About Teaching the Alphabet
Dec 1, 2009 Young Learners 2504 Views
Often children are taught the letters and sounds with a letter of the week approach. Learning is focused on each letter for an entire week, and everything about that letter is taught at the same time including the name, shape and sound. Research shows that this may not be the best approach for two reasons.
First of all in order to learn something well, children need to review things over and over again. In the letter of the week approach, it takes nearly a year to even introduce all of the letters. This makes it difficult to have time to practice and review. Some of the most frequently used letters are at the end of the alphabet, so they wouldn't be able to be introduced and used until late in the year.
A better approach is to focus on a new letter everyday. This allows the children to be exposed to all of the letters in just over a month. Repeating this pattern throughout the year builds skills and reviews the entire alphabet several times.
The most developmentally appropriate way for children to learn letters is similar to the way that they learn numbers. This is the second reason that letter of the week may not be the best approach for children to learn the alphabet. Children should be introduced to the alphabet in 3 stages. First is learning the letter names much as they learn to count by rote. Second, they need to learn to recognize and name the letter shapes. (upper case and lower case) Third, they learn the most basic sound for each letter, and learn to recognize and use that sound in words.
As children learn the alphabet the goal is for them to become fluent and flexible in using the letters. Fluency refers to speed and ease of recognizing and naming the letters and sounds. Children can build fluency by frequent but quick practices in naming the letters and sounds. Play a game called My Pile, Your Pile. With a stack of letter cards, show the child one card at a time. If the child quickly says the correct name of the letter, the card gets put into his or her pile. If the child does not say the correct name of the letter, the card gets put in your pile. You can also use this game for practicing sounds.
Flexibility means being able to use the letter names and sounds in different situations. For example; recognizing different fonts, and different sizes, handwritten letters versus typed letters, etc. Doing sorts is a great way to build flexibility. Make cards with different letters of different fonts and sizes. Have the children sort all of one letter from the pile. (Make sure that in the beginning the fonts and sizes aren't extremely different.)
Learning the letters well provides a strong foundation for learning to read and write. By using research-based methods we can help children become experts on the alphabet and this will make reading and writing much easier.