Helping at home, from our Early Literacy Interventionalists: “Give me an A.” It’s not so simple!

Helping at home, from our Early Literacy Interventionalists: “Give me an A.” It’s not so simple!
Posted on 12/02/2015

When a musician in a jazz trio says, “give me an A”, the other two musicians play a note from which everyone will become in tune. When a beginning reader or writer learns to deal with the letter “a”, they must learn the regularity of a system that also requires their brain to deal flexibly with much complexity and variation.

“Give me an A.”: The Letter

The letter A in English is distinct and easily recognized to adult readers. For young children learning to read, they discover not only what letter is an “A”, but what shapes and forms are “not A”. This is easier with the upper case form of the letter, but consider the lower case form. It’s a circle with a stick, right? But what about these circles with sticks:

9 lo b d q cl a

Which comes first, the circle or the stick? How high is the stick? (When does an “a” become a “d”?) Is it attached? Does the stick need to be straight?

And, of course, publishers make this task of “what is an a” even more complicated to learn: a

Or is that an upside-down nine? To learn about letters students need to know that there are precise rules about left and right orientation, and there is a right side up and an upside down. But that knowledge is insufficient! Young readers in the making need to deal with different fonts, variations in handwriting, and, eventually, cursive forms, to know the letter “a” in all its variants.

“Give me an A.”: The Word

Almost as soon as children learn about the letter “A” they learn that this letter can also be a word! And, of course, it’s not so simple. This word can be pronounced two different ways: with a “long A” sound, or with a “short u” sound. And, of course that’s not all, because this word “a” does not quite work when referring to an animal with a long trunk: then we must use “an”!

“Give me an A.”: The Sound
Consider the misinformation we give when we say “a says ‘ah’” (as in “cat”), for the sound of this letter is highly dependent upon the letter sequences in which it appears, or in the particular word in which it appears. Think about the sounds of the letter “a” in these words.

, Car, 

Even vowel combinations can’t be counted on. Think about the combinations of “ea” in these two words: Great, Eat

Letters in English can have several sounds. Once again, as students learn what is predictable through their many encounters with our written language they must also learn to flexibly deal with variations and exceptions. Not so easy!

Moreover, vowel sounds are highly influenced by regional dialects and accents!

How you can help your beginning reader learn about 
letters and sounds: PLAY, PLAY, PLAY!

Magnetic letters are a great tool!

  • Start with the letters your child can already identify. Their name is the perfect place to start. Practice frequently with these known letters. Talk about the letters and how they look. 

  • Play games with letters. Once building your name is mastered try mixing up the letters and rebuilding the name. Playing with letters can help children learn more about how letters look. 

  • Finding letters that are in your name on signs or in books with large print can also be fun. Do not interrupt the story to do this task. Go back into the book after you’ve finished talking about the story to find a known letter or two. 

  • After a child is successful with the letters in their name you can move on to looking at other letters. Some games to promote looking carefully at letters can be done using the same magnetic letters. Find letters that look similar. Talk about the letter features tall sticks, short sticks, curves, tunnels, slants, circles and tails to name a few. 

  • Children should be praised for labeling letters in any appropriate way; by name, by sound, by a word that starts with the letter, eventually they will be able to have flexibility in identifying letters in many ways. Alphabet books can be fun, too. While reading alphabet books talk about the letter names and sounds but also mention how it looks. Children can go find certain letters from the fridge, in magazines or other books to check. 

  • Learning letters can be fun! You can be creative and use many materials that you already have at home; play-dough, salt, chalk, markers, paint, and of course, magnetic letters. 

  • Children can trace letters with their fingers to feel the shape, identify the letter and write it with help or independently. Talk about uppercase and lowercase letters. Have children identify upper and lowercase letters that look the same (Oo, Pp, Ss, Zz, Xx, Cc, and Vv) and discover the ones that look different (Aa, Bb, Dd…to name a few.) Lots of time can be spent playing quick short games with letters. Most importantly make it FUN!

  • Word play is another activity you can try at home. Some suggestions are to play rhyming games, talk about the part that sounds the same (day, play, way…cat, rat, fat… can, man, pan.) Take turns starting rhyming runs. 

  • Move on to building some easy to hear words and changing the first letter to make a new word (me, he, we… at, cat, sat.) 

  • Model making words like mom or dad or sun and have your child make the same word by matching each letter below the model. Emphasize the sound they hear at the beginning and talk about letter sound and name.
 Share reading with the child in text they are familiar with.

  • Most importantly keep it easy and keep it fun!