More Than the ABCs: Owning the Alphabet

More than abc with Shurley English.jpg

Lately, I have been pondering my linguistic journey. Over the years, it has been a journey of self-discovery. A journey that led me to use a fascinating method to teach systematic phonics and phonemic awareness.

If you could have visited my first and second grade combined classroom about 20 years ago, you would have noticed that I displayed traditional alphabet cards above my chalkboard. I didn’t really use it as a reference tool. It was more of a standard classroom decoration than a tool for learning. That is, until I gained some knowledge about teaching letters NOT as letters of the alphabet, but as pictures of sound. I didn’t realize the power the alphabet has when it is considered as a code made of symbols that allows learners to attach sounds to them.

The fact remains, we have an alphabetic language. In other words, letters provide us a way to encode sounds of speech into symbols…the letters of the alphabet. But for years, that information was lost on many a teacher. When I realized how the code system works, it rocked my linguistic world!

The title I used for this entry, Owning the Alphabet, came to mind because of the strategy I began using the next year after receiving the training. Instead of plastering the standard alphabet cards above my chalkboard like in previous years, I told my students that the alphabet was missing for a reason. I told them that they were going to earn and to own each letter by learning the sound or sounds each letter represents. These sounds would be the foundation they needed to read. These sounds and symbols would be their prized possession that we would display proudly above the board if they would be willing to take the linguistic journey with me.

So, starting as early as the first day, I showed my first and second graders a flash card with the letter A printed on it. I held it up and told the students the following words, “I say it, then you say it…” Then, I pronounced three different sounds: ă, ā, ä. I told them that the letter’s name is “A”, but it represents three sounds. Then, I repeated the sounds and asked them to echo it back. They did. Next, I modeled on the board how to write an A and to recite all three of its sounds. They filled up a whole line of A’s across the line on their paper. The classroom was abuzz with the choral sound of kids speaking, seeing, hearing, and writing their sounds…and every time they mastered the sounds, the letters that represented those sounds went up proudly on the wall above my chalkboard. Yes, by the year’s end, my above chalkboard “decoration” looked pretty much like it always had in the past, but it was now full of so much meaning.

Owning the alphabet was just the beginning. We went on to learn all of the multi-letter phonemes, too. This foundation was strong, and my entire reading approach was built upon it.  

So, how about you? Are you interested in embarking on your own linguistic journey with a systematic process for teaching phonemic awareness and phonics? If so, stay tuned!

Curriculum Resources: For more information on a systematic approach to teaching phonemic awareness and phonics, check out the first and second grade levels of Shurley English.