“Young children need a strong foundation in literacy if they are to achieve academically. Although we believe that a variety of experiences are necessary to establish a firm foundation for literacy, knowledge of the alphabet is certainly one aspect.” (Bradley & Jones, 2007, p. 452). Teaching the alphabet is a key aspect in early literacy, and has a great effect on whether or not a child will be a successful reader and writer. ” Learning letter names, letter shape knowledge/recognition,letter sounds, and correct written formation of both upper and lower case letters are all components of teaching the alphabet. In order for children to be successful in learning the alphabet and its components, teachers need to me aware of the importance of the alphabet as well as effective teaching methods and strategies to use in the classroom. There has been a great deal of research done on the importance and inclusion of the alphabet in curriculum. The ideas discussed throughout research include the need to support phonemic awareness, teaching all aspects of the alphabet together, the importance of each aspect, as well as the need to use a variety of teaching methods. A combination of all aspects discussed in the following literature review are critical in creating and implementing a successful alphabet based curriculum, and promoting the development of strong readers and writers.
In order for alphabet concepts and instruction to be successful, teachers must also support and develop a child’s phonemic awareness. A child possessing phonemic awareness understands that “spoken words are made up of sounds, and they can segment and blend sounds in spoken words” (Tompkins, 2006, p. 115). Children must first understand how to hear and understand sounds, before they move on to grasping the concept of letters representing sounds. “To read (and spell), the beginning reader must make use of the alphabetic code. Thus, the student must come to realize that words can be broken into syllables and phonemes, and that the phoneme is the unit in the speech stream represented by the symbols in an alphabet script.” (Ball & Blachman, 2012, p. 52). Methods and strategies to increase a child’s phonemic awareness should also be part of early literacy, in combination with teaching the alphabet. You can do this in a variety of ways, such as showing how three different sounds combine to make one word using flash cards or Elkonin boxes. In an Elkonin box, “the teacher shows an object or picture of an object and draws a row of boxes, with one box for each sound in the name of the object or picture. Then the child moves a marker into each box as the sound is pronounced” (Tompkins, 2006, p. 118). When a child can recognize and understand how to hear different sounds and how sounds are put together, learning the alphabet will be a clearer task.
Another important aspect of teaching the alphabet is teaching both letter names and letter sounds together. Even though they are different skills, learning letter names and letter sounds are both important parts of learning the alphabet and provide strong indicators for future reading success. “While knowledge of letter names and letter sounds are overlapping, they are different abilities. Each contributes unique variance to reading-related skills” (McBride-Chang, 1999, p. 290). Letter name knowledge and letter sound knowledge need to be taught together because even though they are separate skills they overlap, and teaching them together can increase success in both areas. “Knowledge of letters’ sounds typically lags behind knowledge of the letters’ names, although letter-sound knowledge appears to be more closely related to reading and spelling skill. It has been suggested that children use their knowledge of letter’s names when learning the letters’ sounds” (Francis, Mouzaki, Rodriquez, Tincoff, & Treiman, 1998, p. 1524). Children may come in to kindergarten having some letter-name knowledge, which they are going to need to help them grasp letter-sound knowledge. ” The most widely held explanation of the relationship between preschool letter-name knowledge and school reading achievement is that letter names help children to learn letter sounds” (Foulin, 2005, p. 137). In order to create a successful alphabet curriculum a teacher needs to take this in account and include both letter-name skills as well as letter-sound skills together, in order for students to become masters of the alphabet and further achievement in reading and writing.
In combination with fostering phonemic awareness and conjoining alphabet components, successful teaching of the alphabet must include a variety of approaches and techniques. ” What leads to fluency in oral reading is varied practice in multiple settings. The same principle applies to developing fluency in letter recognition; that is, alphabet instruction should be supported by multiple opportunities to interact with letters in a variety of settings” (Duffelmeyer, 2002, p. 632). These settings include but are not limited to use of the internet and technology, use of alphabet books, and dramatic play. One large resource is the use of internet and technology, which provides many alphabet websites with videos and interactive games for children to use. In a study done by Frederick A. Duffelmeyer, he discovered and reviewed “ten websites that kindergarten teachers may find helpful as additional resources for alphabet instruction or reinforcement” (2002). One website discussed was Alphabet Action, where Duffelmeyer gave the example ” if f is selected, the letter’s name is spoken, Ff appears in bold print in the upper-left corner of the display, the word fish is displayed in the upper-right corner, and a bright yellow fish swims in and out of view. The graphics at this website are exquisite” (2002). The use of websites and technology in this manner can make alphabet learning fun and exciting for children, and provide an additional way for them to review new knowledge on their own. Another way teachers can provide practice in different settings is through the use of alphabet books. ” Through alphabet book sharing, children learn letter features, letter names, letter sounds, and metalinguistic terms such as “_ is for _” (Bradley & Jones, 2007, p. 453). Teachers can ask meaningful questions and point out details when using alphabet books, in order to make students more aware of the letter features (name, sound, form). “Thoughtful questions and comments may help children to focus on ideas and concepts such as the alphabet. Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that some children may benefit more from alphabet book read-alouds because their teachers emphasize the content” (Bradley & Jones, 2007, p. 457). In order for alphabet books to be successful while teaching the alphabet in the classroom, a teacher needs to be aware of exactly the content they are discussing and how they are presenting it to their students. A teacher should also be cautious about how the books are presenting the letters and sounds of the alphabet. “Letter-picture correspondence is another feature to consider when choosing alphabet books. That is, the beginning sound of the picture should clearly represent the letter on the page. Pictures that provide teachers with the opportunity to discuss the multiple sounds of letters can be particularly helpful in teaching children to think flexibly about the alphabet” (Bradley & Jones, 2007, p. 457). When chosen carefully, a teacher can use an alphabet book as a read-aloud to enhance alphabet instruction, with the addition of his/her own comments and details to provide further instruction to the students. This can be a fun way for additional practice for students, as well as providing a different outlet to learn rather than simply drill and practice methods. Students can also explore and learn the alphabet through play. “Dramatic play creates numerous opportunities to teach children about the alphabet. For example, in a dramatic play center of a grocery store, children can be encouraged to notice or read signs, labels, and coupons, as well as numbers on a scale” (Bradley & Jones, 2007, p. 460). Children can explore the alphabet through dramatic play by looking at environmental print in a pretend grocery store, a kitchen, a veterinarian clinic, etc. You can also set up a writing center for children to practice writing letters of the alphabet with a variety of writing utensils, using pictures and letters to create cards or short stories, or even a grocery list. “Such opportunities not only promote knowledge of letter names and the sounds they represent but also facilitate concept development” (Bradley & Jones, 2007, p. 460). Through the use of internet and technology, alphabet books, and dramatic play, teachers can provide a variety of outlets in order to teach the alphabet and provide additional support and practice for students. Not only do these methods enhance instruction, but they also can increase student excitement and motivation.
Teaching the alphabet is a highly important component of early literacy and the kindergarten classroom. “The acquisition of alphabet knowledge, or knowledge or letter names and corresponding sounds, is an important accomplishment in children’s early literacy development and recognized as the strongest predictor of later reading ability” (Piasta, Purpura, & Wagner, 2009, p. 608). Not only is alphabet knowledge essential in the development of students into strong readers and writers, it is also a key component of many state standards in education. “Early childhood curricula used in preschool and kindergarten classrooms commonly include an alphabet component” (Piasta & Wagner, 2009, p. 325). This research has provided background knowledge on the importance of teaching the alphabet to young children, as well as what an effective alphabet program should include such as fostering phonemic awareness, teaching components of the alphabet as a whole, and use of a variety of instructional methods.
Ball, E. W., & Blachman, B. A. (1991). Does phonemic awareness training in kindergarten make a difference in early word recognition and development of spelling? Reading Research Quarterly, 26(1), 49-66.
Beaty, J. J. (2009). 50 Early Childhood Literacy Strategies. Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education.
Bradley, B. A., & Jones, J. (2007). Sharing alphabet books in early childhood classrooms. The Reading Teacher, 60(5), 452-463.
Duffelmeyer, F. A. (2002). Alphabet activities on the internet. The Reading Teacher, 55(7), 631-635.
Foulin, J. N. (2005). Why is letter-name knowledge such a good predictor of learning to read? Reading and Writing, 18, 129-155.
Francis, D. J., Mouzaki, A., Rodriquez, K., Tincoff, R., & Treiman, R. (1998). The foundations of literacy: Learning the sounds of letters. Child Development, 69(6), 1524-1540.
McBride-Chang, C. (1999). The abcs of the abcs: The development of letter-name and letter-sound knowledge. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 45(2), 285-308.
Piasta, S. B., Purpura, D. J., & Wagner, R. K. (2010). Fostering alphabet knowledge development: a comparison of two instructional approaches. Reading and Writing, 23, 607-626.
Piasta, S. B., & Wagner, R. K. (2010). Learning letter names and sounds: Effect of instruction, letter type, and phonological procession skill. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 105, 324-344.
Tompkins, G. E. (2006). Literacy for the 21st Century: A Balanced Approach. Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education.</p>