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.


Writing Mechanics: When should I write numbers in word form?

Writing numbers with Shurley English.jpg

The rules for writing numbers in a sentence or paragraph haven’t changed over the years, but for some reason, I still feel the need to double-check them.   I’m not sure why numbers are such a stumbling block, but any time I need to communicate a quantity, dollar amount, percentage, measurement, or date, I wind up questioning how to write it correctly.  I can never remember if I’m supposed to write the numbers in words, or if I’m supposed to write them in figures?

If you have the same questions, here’s a quick guide to help you know when numbers should be written as words:

Numbers From 1 Through 10:

The numbers 1 through 10 should be written in words when used in isolated instances.

Example:  Each of the four students has one hour to complete the exam.


Numbers That Begin Sentences:

Any number that begins a sentence should be written in words.

Example:  Twenty-four hours is a long time to wait for an answer.  


When spelling out large numbers over a thousand, use the shortest form possible.

Example:  Fifteen hundred orders were received during the first week of business.


Fractions Standing Alone:

A fraction that stands alone without a whole number should be written in words.

Example:  Approximately one-half of the pie was eaten before dinner was served.



Ages should be written in words unless they are considered significant statistics or technical measurements. 

Example 1:  Jackie began working for the company when she was nineteen years old. 

Example 2: Only employees who will have reached age 55 by January 1 of next year will be eligible for the new policy.


Periods of Time: 

General periods of time are usually written in words.

Example:  Although this textbook was written fifteen years ago, it still contains pertinent information.


Step by Step: The Value of Following Directions

Following Directions with Shurley English.jpg

For my birthday, I received a beautiful interior sliding barn door as a gift.  I envisioned that this hefty, rustic door was going to be a unique addition that would bring more style to my home.  With a few extra hands, how hard could this DIY project be if we just followed the instructions?  Right?

Well, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be!

Have you ever experienced a situation when you didn’t need to read the directions for a simple recipe or to assemble a new toy?  I’d venture to say that sometimes that works out, but not every time.  Even when you’ve read the instructions, they sometimes aren’t clear enough to get the final product you’d hoped for.  If that’s the case, you may end up with holes in your wall and a barn door that is now taking up space leaning against the wall. (Ugh!)  When it comes to reading the directions every time, I’m just as guilty as the next person—I don’t always do it. 

In the classroom, many students bypass the instructions and head straight to number one on the assignment.  Shurley English students are not immune to this; it happens all the time.  As a teacher, it’s frustrating and heartbreaking to see the defeat in a child’s eyes when they realize they haven’t followed the directions and must start the assignment over.

Shurley English stresses the importance of following written directions and gives students plenty of opportunities to practice following directions and writing them.  Students learn that they will follow written directions for various reasons such as following recipes, filling out forms, taking tests, and following “how to” instructions.  We also teach students that it is normal to have to read directions several times to fully understand what to do. 

There’s a simple, hands-on activity in the Shurley English Quick Reference section that can help you reinforce following directions.  You might enjoy implementing it in your classroom now!  Here’s how it works…


Writing Activity: (Students will need a partner for this activity.)

1.     One partner will hide a small object in the classroom.

2.     Then, he/she will write simple instructions for the other partner to follow and locate the item.

3.     Now, reverse roles and hide the object again.

4.     Discuss the ease or difficulty of writing and following these directions.

5.     Which did you find easiest? Why?


Remember, in order to be competent and confident at anything, you have to practice, practice, practice!  So, practice reading the directions first!  You’ll be glad you did!