Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Learning the Alphabet Part 2

**Make sure you read the post prior to this one, or this one won't make much sense! 

At this point Zoya can recognize all the letters of the alphabet and choose them from a lineup of 3 letters. She can verbally name about 2/3 of them and our goal is to be able to verbally identify all of them. Obviously there were a million little steps in getting her to learn the letters though. It is a lot of work for both myself and Zoya but she is determined and was actually ready for her letters. I think that is an important first step. I had tried working on letters with Zoya one time previously and she just wasn't into it so we took a break and tried again in a couple of months. Once she started learning her letters she started noticing letters and words around her. She would point to letters on shirts or signs and try to say "letters." Then she started being able to isolate some of those letters in places. Now she points out letters everywhere we go and yells their names....from items we are buying, to shopping carts, to people's clothes with letters, to books, to necklaces with words. I just love it! Anyways, my advice is, don't start working on letters until you think your child is ready or else you'll both just be frustrated!

My next piece of advice is break it down! And when you think you've broken things down enough, break it down again! If your end goal is for your child to read the letters of the alphabet you have to set short term benchmarks (here is the special ed. teacher in me talking!) I realize this might not interest everyone, but I've had a lot of people ask how exactly I went about teaching Zoya the letters. And it might seem pretty technical, but setting short term benchmark goals is just the dorky special ed. teacher in me....and it has worked!  You can use this idea of having one overarching goal with several short term benchmark goals for any big goal you may have for your child. A lot of you probably already do this but maybe you've just never stopped to think about it.

Here are some short term benchmark goals I set for Zoya (with the overall goal being that she will speak each letter name when shown that letter in isolation) and how we transitioned from one short term goal to the next. You'll see that each short term goal builds on the short term goal before it and it's like climbing a ladder with your big goal at top! (When I talk about the cards-picture side up or black-letter side up, I'm talking about the double-sided flashcards I bought from Preschool Prep. One side has the letter character/picture and the other just has a black letter).

1. When shown one letter card, picture-side up (A-H upper and lowercase), Zoya will repeat the letter name (after hearing me say it) and/or give the sign/gesture that we came up with for that letter.
This is just a fun way to start getting to know the letters. While we did this I sang songs, or said the letters in funny voices...whatever I needed to do to keep Zoya interested!

2. Given three letters, picture-side up (meaning the character from the movie in the shape of the letter is what Zoya is to identify, not the actual black letter just yet), Zoya will point to the correct letter (letters A-H, both upper and lowercase).
Looking back I would have done letters A-D to start and broken it down even smaller). This goal was broken down into two smaller goals as I went along. When we first did these flashcards, picture-side up, I would give either an auditory or verbal clue to help jog her memory. Remember we had been watching the letter video (A-H) once a day and still were at this point. So for example, I'd say "Zoya can you find DANCING D?" Or, "Can you find G FOR GLASSES?" and then I'd sign glasses. This helped a lot in the beginning. When she had a couple weeks of practice doing it this way and started to get really good, then I'd just say, "Zoya find D" and then I'd wait. If she had trouble, then I'd give her the clue. Eventually she got to the point where she could point to the correct letter only hearing the letter name.
To transition to the next short term goal, when Zoya got really good at identifying the picture letters, I'd flip the card over and show her the black-letter side and have her repeat the letter again or just tell her the letter if she couldn't say it.

3. Given three letters, black-letter side up, Zoya will point to the correct letter (letters A-H, both upper and lowercase).
Again, this goal was broken down even smaller too. I started by placing two of the incorrect choices picture side up and putting the correct letter choice black-letter side up. Even if she caught onto the fact that I always asked her to pick the "black letter" it still helped her start to cement the letters. When she did well here, then I turned all three choices to the black-letter side. To begin, again, I would give her the letter name along with the clue to help jog her memory. Eventually we were able to move to just hearing the letter name and having her pick the correct choice. Some letters she learned before others, so when I knew she had learned a letter I'd just drop the clue. If I wasn't sure I'd give her the letter name without the clue, then wait, and if she wasn't sure I'd give her the clue/gesture/sign. To transition to the next goal, I'd say "Find D." Then when she found it, I'd ask, "What letter is that?" And since she had just heard it she was able to repeat it.

4. Zoya will verbally name each letter (letters A-H, both upper and lowercase).
This brings us back to the overall goal, and what you saw Zoya doing in the video. She still needs a lot of repetition and practice to cement all the letters into her brain :) Unlike kids without special learning needs, Zoya needs continual practice with skills she has already mastered so she does not lose the ground she has gained.

And when I got through all of these steps for letters A-H, I moved onto the next set. We are working on the third and last set of letters, which has proven to be the hardest for Zoya. Seriously...W and V and U and Y and Z...they're all too close! Those ones (except Z) confuse her! As you can see it's quite a process!!!!

In my next post, "Learning the Letters Part 3," I will write about some other supplemental tools we used during our letter-learning journey!


  1. Very helpful information! Thank you so much for taking the time to write this all out for us novices!

  2. That's great! Also, have you tried the Letter Factory dvd or would that throw it off since it's also trying to teach the letters' sounds? I used it for my boys but not for Darya yet.