Great Reading Programs
Teach the Alphabetic Principle
As you know, teaching phonics,or the alphabetic principle, to your young readers is top priority.
Your phonics instruction is all about children learning the relationships between written letters and spoken sounds. It helps children decode new words and recognize familiar words.
preschool and kindergarten
teachers teach phonemic awareness, it’s best that they are also incorporating the letter/sound relationship. For beginning readers, it’s not a choice of one or the other. Phonemic awareness and phonics instruction work hand in hand.
Although we all are proud when our children learn the names of their letters, it is actually more important when children learn the sounds of those letters.
Have you ever seen children recognize words on familiar signs even before they know how to read? It's also called learning environmental print.) These words are the start of the child’s sight vocabulary. These whole words are often easier to see than stringing unfamiliar individual sounds together.
But children must learn the phonics rules if they are to become true readers.
As children become more proficient readers and after they have learned to decode, their sight word vocabulary will grow and grow. Look at how many words you know by sight just as you are quickly reading this paragraph! But at some point, you learned the alphabetic principle so that you could decode words, like
Did you decode that word? Did you recognize chunks in the word? Did you recognize patterns, like the sound of a vowel when followed by an r?
The alphabetic principle gives children a system of predictable relationships between sounds and symbols. Even though the letter f makes more sense to use for the /f/ sound, children can memorize the irregular spellings of sounds, like ph for /f/. So children’s memories play an important role in learning the alphabetic principle, too.
A comprehensive reading program for young readers incorporates the 5 components of good instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Letter names, sight words, letter patterns, and letter combinations are also crucial.
Surrounding children with print is an important part of beginning reading. In order for children to learn the alphabetic principle, provide lots of manipulatives.
Classrooms need magnetic letters and both upper and lower case letters made up of a variety of materials.
You can have letters made of wood, sand paper, and felt.
Cookie sheets make inexpensive magnetic boards for letters.
Include stencils, flash cards, and easily seen letters posted on the walls.
Make sure to have alphabet books in the classroom library and alphabet games.
Young children learn through play. As you teach the alphabetic principle, allow the children to explore and play with all of the manipulatives in the room. Give them many opportunities to write, trace, or form letters with play dough. Make learning the alphabetic principle fun and enjoyable.
As you explore the best ways of teaching the alphabetic principle, you will find different orders of introducing letters. One of those systematic orders is found in
Literacy Development in the Early Years
,by Leslie Morrow. Consonants are introduced first, then vowels. First teach the beginning letter sounds, then how to use the letters at the ends of words.
Here is the sequence of letters, as told by Morrow, for teaching the letters and sounds:
3. j,q,v, final x, initial y, z.
Some of these consonants have more than 1 sound. Then there are the consonant blends and digraphs. Children need to learn the sounds of these various letter combinations, too.
Vowels are more difficult sounds to teach. Why? Because vowels have so many sounds. For instance, the letter a has at least 11 sounds! Because of that, you can’t just teach “long” and “short”. There are too many exceptions. So where do you begin with vowels?
For those just learning letter sounds in preschool or kindergarten, teaching the common “short” and “long” vowel sounds will suffice. For example, teach /a/ as in cat, /e/ as in pet, /i/ as in sit, /o/ as in pot, and /u/ as in fun. Then teach the letter name sounds. For example, /a/ as in cake, /ee/ as in tree, /i/ as in like, /o/ as in boat, and /u/ as in cube. If children know that the vowels have 2 main sounds, this gives them a good anchor.
As children become more familiar with the letter sounds and are beginning to read, I begin using a vowel pattern chart. The first pattern children learn is the closed vowel pattern. These closed vowels are what most of us call the “short” vowel sounds like I just explained.
Next on the vowel pattern chart are what you might call “long” vowels. These are the same sounds as the names of the letters. Children begin to see a pattern in the words they read. They first learn that these vowel sounds can occur as open vowels. For example, /o/ as in go and /e/ as in me. They also learn the v-c-e pattern, or vowel-consonant-silent e pattern. They learn /a/ as in make, /e/ as in these, /i/ as in like, /o/ as in home, /u/ as in use.
For preschool and kindergarten aged children, this is often as far as you get when teaching the alphabetic principle with spelling patterns. Later on they can learn r-controlled vowels (bossy r), and talkers and whiners (double vowel patterns). The alphabetic principle gets pretty involved with vowels!
In my school district, some kindergarten teachers started using
NoMore Letter of the Week: A Framework for Integrating Reading Strategies and Cueing Systems with Letter-Sound Instruction
, by Pat Lusche. They have reported amazing results. Letters and sounds are taught in a prescribed order along with letters the children take ownership of. Specific books, sentences for learning sounds, and kinesthetic motions are incorporated.
The teachers using this phonics resource have begun staff in-services in order to get the whole district on board. They actually think that these phonics lessons are so strong that No More Letter of the Week should be state mandated! Wow.
Remember: Make learning the alphabetic principle fun, woven in with phonemic awareness, and connected to text.
Return from Alphabetic Principle to Preschool Activities