When Learning Letters is HARD!

Toy letters in childs palms

You know the student.  He comes to first grade and knows only a few letters, maybe hardly any sounds.  He’s in your classroom or your intervention group.  YOU PANIC!  We’re supposed to teach him to read and he doesn’t know letters yet?!?

Been there.

Had the panic attack.

More than once.

So, what do you do about it?

We need to directly  teach letter identification.  Every. single. day.

But we also need to support what the student knows.  These kiddos are struggling through the school day with much of the general content well above their skill level.  We have to meet them where they are and give them a chance to practice the little that they know.

Marie Clay, the creator of Reading Recovery, suggests the use of Alphabet books to help our emergent readers practice their skills.  The alphabet books only contain the letters the student already knows to promote success and fluency. (Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals Part 2, 2005)  They are not your typical alphabet books that have a book about each letter, which Clay says can be overwhelming for kiddos who are struggling to learn letters.

I like to make alphabet books using sticky notes so I can quickly and easily manipulate the letters.  It really couldn’t be any easier.  You’ll need small post it notes (I like to use the 1.5 x 2 inch size) note cards (you can buy them already bound or make them into a booklet yourself) and a file folder to keep things organized.

organizing abc books

Print (or write) all capital and lower case letters on sticky notes, one letter per sticky note.

post it close up

Bind index cards together to create a booklet.

abc book

Add the sticky notes with only the letters the student knows to the booklet.

When I have a kiddo who knows letter sounds but is missing letter names, I like to add a quick picture to the book to trigger their memory.  I keep some pictures on hand, but prefer to use the student’s own association (but I’m a terrible artist so I always hope they say something I can manage to draw!)

inside the alphabet book

I keep all the extra letters and pictures in a file folder for easy access and add them as the student learns new letters.  I can also remove any letters if I see that they are not secure.

alphabet books

Then, your kiddo can read through the book, naming each letter and/or articulating the sound.

Yes, it’s as simple as it sounds.  My students love these little books because they feel successful!

Teacher bonus: it promotes book handling skills, matching 1:1 and reading fluency.  🙂


Want to print your own sticky notes and pictures?  Click here to see my print and stick alphabet book product.

Now, next time you get a kiddo who only knows a few letters, let’s promise each other we won’t completely panic (we’ll just have a little panic attack and get to work!)


This entry was posted in first grade, Reading Recovery and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to When Learning Letters is HARD!

  1. Love this! I had that panic attack at the beginning of this year! Thank you for sharing!


  2. Jenny says:

    Love this idea- trying it out soon. Thanks!!


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