Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Alexandra Berube: When Students Are Not Learning Letters

What to Do With a Student Who is Not Learning His Letters
When I was teaching kindergarten, I had one student who was far behind the others. In kindergarten, there is always a wide spectrum of skills, but he did not know almost any of his letters or his letter-sound relationships, and this is a skill that students are expected to have before entering kindergarten--maybe not completely mastered, but close to it. During the fall of kindergarten, I did everything I could to aid him in gaining familiarity with the visual appearance of letters, as well as the letter sounds. Here are two games that I used so that by January he had finally mastered these skills.
1. Twister
I took a twister board, and used masking tape to make large letters on the colored circles. I used four different letters and repeated them across the board, each letter being a distinct sound: P, A, T, and N. On the spinner, I wrote these letters as well. When you spin the spinner, I changed it to, "put your left foot on the letter that makes the sound 't,'" emphasizing the sound and the tongue placement in the mouth. I did this with a group of students, so the student who was struggling never felt left out, and whenever he didn't know the letter sound, the other students happily showed him. He didn't mind being a student who wasn't sure of the letter sound in this game, because they were all physically moving around, rather than a bunch of students all looking at a whiteboard and one student being singled out as the one who doesn't know the answer.
2. Foam Letters 
I have foam letters, about 2 inches in size, that I use for a number of activities. The letters are a great way to physically interpret the shape of letters, in order to gain more familiarity with the letter shapes and the sounds that they make. I had a file folder game, in which there was a trail that each game piece had to move down. On each square along the trail, there was a sticker that corresponded to an initial sound, so there was a sticker with a bee ('b'), dog ('d'), cat ('c'), etc. You would pull a foam letter out of a bag, and move your space to the corresponding sticker that started with that initial sound. So if you pulled a B out of the bag, you would move your game piece onto the sticker of the bee. In playing a group game like this, every student can get involved in sounding out the initial letter sounds, physically touching the letters, and seeing objects that begin with that letter. Any student who is struggling with these skills will see the other students modeling it, and get help from them on any letters they are still struggling with. All of the students want to help each other, so there is no sense (for the struggling child) of feeling like the student who can't get anything right.
After playing many games like these, and through regular private instruction, the student was able to make great strides in his letter recognition. Group games are a great way to allow the students who are struggling to watch other students model the skill for them and to get involved in the process of learning, rather than passively being shown the concepts.
Alexandra Berube, Managing Director
Boston Tutoring Services, LLC
(781) 248-4558

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