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Are You Familiar With a Scene Like This?
As I prepare for our online tutoring session, I look for a decodable book from RAZ-Plus that will reinforce the CVC pattern my student is working on. I find one that seems appropriate, and click through it to double check. A couple of pages in, I notice words that begin with the letter “b,” and inwardly I groan.
This child’s reading progress is fragile and tentative. Teaching them to begin reading has been like coaxing a scared little animal to come out of hiding. I’m thrilled that I’ve succeeded in convincing them that when they are learning something new, it’s okay to feel confused at first and normal to need practice.
But being confused by “b” and “d” is not new. And they have practiced and practiced and practiced. When I mildly stop them at a “b/d” error and use it as a gentle teaching point, they wilt; they know full well that they’ve been working on this for what feels like half their life.
I’ve come upon the scenario described above more times than I can count, both in my private tutoring and in my public school resource room.
Up until now, I’ve never found a successful strategy or a lesson or a “trick” for teaching struggling readers to recognize the difference between “b” and “d.” I have tried a ton of different visual reminders and plenty of the auditory jingles, too.
A Multi-Sensory Solution to b/d Confusion
I finally hit upon a specific set of multi-sensory strategies to teach b and d that is visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile, plus an effective way to practice online. And it is working! Slowly but surely, my students are beginning to produce the correct sound when they encounter a “b” or a “d” in text. When they write these letters, they are successfully using the muscle memory built through tactile practice and the auditory mnemonic we have practiced simultaneously.
(Equally as important, knowing that they have a strategy to fall back on has built their confidence.)
I created both a color and a blackline version of each of these 8” by 11.5” posters. This allows parents to print out the versions that are most practical for them.
When I tutor, I keep the color versions open on tabs, so I can click over quickly when a child needs to refer to them. I send both versions to parents as a PDF, and I encourage them to help their child enjoy the following activities every day (once for “b” and once for “d”.) When my district returns to in-person instruction, I’ll post them in each of the teaching areas in my classroom.
Multi-Sensory Strategies to Teach “b”
Here is how I teach this strategy for the letter “b.”
Visual/Auditory: Look at the poster while saying “First pick up the bat, then hit the ball! ‘b’.”
Kinesthetic/Auditory: Act out the motions while chanting “First pick up the bat, then hit the ball! /b/” Have the child reach down to pretend to pick up a bat, then swing arms as if they were hitting a baseball. During online sessions, I actually have the child get up out of their seat and do this while we chant together.
Tactile/Auditory/Visual: Use either the color or blackline version and have the child trace the letter with their finger while saying “First pick up the bat, then hit the ball! /’b’.” Be sure the child follows the arrows for correct letter formation.
Multi-Sensory Strategies to Teach “d”
The activities for teaching the letter “d” are identical.
Visual/Auditory: Look at the poster while saying “First grab the doorknob, then open the door! ‘d’.”
Kinesthetic/Auditory: Act out the motions while chanting “First grab the doorknob, then open the door! /d/” Have the child reach out to pretend to grab a doorknob and then pull their arm back to pretend to open a door. During online sessions, I actually have the child get up out of their seat and do this while we chant together.
Tactile/Auditory/Visual: Use either the color or blackline version and have the child trace the letter with their finger while saying “First grab the doorknob, then open the door! ‘d’.” Be sure the child follows the arrows for correct letter formation.
Prompt Kids to Apply the Strategies
Here are some ways I use these strategies to support young readers.
I include the steps above as a warm-up or an activity break during the tutoring session.
Sometimes, when I see a “b” or a “d” coming up on a page, I point it out to the child ahead of time. I use the chant and the spotlight annotation feature on Zoom to draw their attention to the letter.
When a child comes to a “b” or a “d” and hesitates, I wait a second to see if they’ll figure it out on their own. If they don’t, I prompt them by saying “First pick up the bat…” or “First grab the doorknob…” or even just “bat, ‘b’” or “doorknob, ‘d’.”
When a child comes to a “b” or a “d” and says the wrong sound, I stop them and use one of the prompts above. I might say “wait here” while I point to the word with the spotlight. Then I’ll say “Bat, ‘b.’ Try this word again.”
Try it Out With Your Young Reader
Download the printables today, and introduce your young reader to this multi-sensory strategy for clearing up b/d confusion.
If you’d like high-quality worksheets to provide your child with extra writing practice to clear up a b/d confusion, check out this fabulous bundle by This Reading Mama.
Boom Learning Cards
One positive thing that has come out of Distance Learning is that I have discovered Boom Cards. These highly engaging, gamified digital task cards provide fun opportunities for kids to practice almost any skill imaginable. I love using them in my private tutoring and during Distance Learning with my students. I couldn’t resist creating a Boom Card deck providing practice differentiating between the letters “b” and “d!” Click here for a preview.
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I love teaching the alphabet, and the free alphabet printables available from these amazing blogs and websites are incredible. Whether you are homeschooling or just looking to enrich at home, I promise that in this post you’ll find what you need to make teaching the alphabet easy and fun.
This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through an affiliate link, I earn a small commission.
This Reading Mama
This Reading Mama has a website that is jam-packed with valuable information about teaching reading and writing to kids ages birth to elementary school. Look for This Reading Mama’s beautiful free Alphabet Printables here. Most of the resources offered by This Reading Mama are free, and she plans to keep it that way! I love this website so much. If you had the time, you could read her blog posts and download her free resources and be well equipped to teach reading and writing without buying anything at all. (To save you time, she has bundled some of her free resources together and sells them at completely reasonable prices. But still, tons of printables are available for free.)
This Reading Mama Video Presentation
The Measured Mom
The Measured Mom is another blogger who totally knows her stuff, and creates alphabet printable worksheets and activities that are spot-on. Find The Measured Mom’s free Alphabet Printables here. Like This Reading Mama, she sells bundles of her freebies for your convenience, but there is plenty available for free. Her blog provides valuable information for parents and teachers, explaining how we should teach reading, writing, spelling and math, and why. Another free resource you’ll find at The Measured Mom is extensive book lists for kids. No matter what type of book you’re looking for, you’re sure to find what you need on one of these lists.
The Measured Mom Video Presentation
Totschooling is a website that focuses almost exclusively on free printables in every subject area imaginable. Find Totschooling free Alphabet Printables here. What struck me about Totschooling’s printables is their bright color and engaging design. I look at them and think “oh, I want that for my students.” Believe me, these printables are gorgeous in addition to being well-crafted for instruction. Although most printables are free, you can find the Totschooling store here.
Totschooling Video Presentation
PreKinders is a website that theoretically caters to PreKinder teachers, but these high quality resources are perfect for preschool, PreK or Kindergarten. Click here for free Alphabet Printables from PreKinders.
Follow this link at Teachers Pay Teachers. If the link doesn’t work, or you want to do your own search, follow these steps: on Teachers Pay Teachers, search for “alphabet.” When the page comes up, on the left hand side scroll down to “Prices” and click “free.” When I did this I came up with 9,283 results!
Free and Fabulous
After 25 years of teaching, I marvel at the diverse, top-quality teaching resources that are so readily available to us now. There are so many fabulous free alphabet printables out there, and I hope this post helps you find just what you need.
Let me know in the comments – what alphabet printables did you discover and download?
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No matter what age your child is (birth to late Kindergarten), I believe that you should be “teaching” the alphabet, at least at some level. (Yes, I know this is a controversial statement, but stay with me here.)
“Teaching” the alphabet to kids looks and sounds very different depending upon the ages of the children.
How to Introduce the Alphabet to Babies – Yes, Babies!
For babies, it’s all about low-key, natural exposure. Make the alphabet an ordinary, expected part of your home environment and daily routine.
Think about this – nursery decor, books, and toys for babies are themed with basic concepts such as colors, shapes, animals, foods, nursery rhymes, etc. Make sure that the alphabet is included in there somewhere, too.
My favorite way to do this is by reading aloud lots of alphabet books. Just as you would point out objects in a book when you are reading to a baby – “Look, there’s the elephant,” – you can point out letters just as naturally. You might say “I see the letter B,” while you point to it, and then keep moving right along through the book.
I also like to have a simple, clear alphabet chart or poster as decor in a nursery. And be sure to include the alphabet song in your repertoire of lullabies.
I want to be very clear here. You are NOT teaching the alphabet, per se. You are making it an ordinary part of your home environment and family culture. The goal is to make the alphabet a natural part of the background in your baby’s life.
Helping Toddlers Learn the Alphabet
Take a look at that heading just above – notice that I used the term “learn” as opposed to “teach.” With toddlers, it’s all about helping them LEARN the alphabet, as opposed to TEACHING them the alphabet.
To help younger toddlers learn the alphabet, start casually building on the exposure you established during babyhood. This is the time to add a few alphabet toys to your child’s toy box.
Be more purposeful when reading alphabet books. Transition from telling the name of a letter to inviting your toddler to point to a letter – “Where is the B? Show me the letter B.” If they can’t, point to the letter and say, “There’s the B!” Keep it fun, brief, and low-key.
Use your home’s alphabet chart in this same way. “Read” it together once each day, perhaps as part of the bedtime routine.
Toddlers are usually able to point to letters before they can say the names of the letters. Once you notice that your little one can say the names of some letters, start asking, “What is this letter?” as you point. If they have trouble, say it yourself and encourage them to repeat it. Keep it conversational, and don’t ever let it sound like a demand or a test.
If Kids Can Learn That a Cow Says “Moo,” They Can Learn That the /b/ Sound Goes With the Letter B
For older toddlers who seem ready, you can repeat this process with letter sounds. Always start by modeling – “That’s the letter B. /b/, /b, /b/.” When the time seems right, move on to prompting “What sound does B make?” Again, if they have any trouble, say it yourself and encourage them to repeat it. Keep it as casual as any other conversation you share with your toddler.
The goal is for your toddler to learn to identify letters by name and know their sounds in the same way that the rest of their language is developing – naturally, and on their own personal timeline.
Use magnetic letters to form your child’s name, and point it out to them every day. This is a great way to start developing the concept that letters form words, which convey meaning.
Toddlers love to play with jumbo magnetic letters, stacking them, rearranging them on the fridge, and taking them in and out of containers. Continue modeling by commenting casually – “You’re putting the letter M in the tub, aren’t you?” Then move along to inviting participation – “Can you hand me the letter W?” You can make these same activities a part of your child’s bath-time by adding foam letters to your collection of bath toys. Early on in your child’s journey to learning the alphabet, magnetic letters should be more of a toy, not a formal learning tool. It won’t be long before you’re using them to reinforce letter sounds and early spelling skills.
If your older toddler seems ready, do the same sort of activity with sounds.
Along with plush toys, blocks, play vehicles and dolls, be sure to include alphabet puzzles and alphabet games in your child’s toy box. This is another way to make letters and sounds a natural part of your home’s culture and environment.
Alphabet puzzles help your child develop fine motor, visual discrimination and problem-solving skills while physically touching and exploring the letters of the alphabet. Work on these together at first, until your child has built some success in fitting the letters back into their spaces. Try offering one letter puzzle piece at a time, and pointing to the general area of the puzzle frame where it can be found. Offer clues – “Can you find the picture of the ball, for the letter B?”
Teaching the Alphabet to Preschoolers
Up until around age three, I recommend keeping letter and sound activities informal and casual. At around age three, as kids move into the preschool years, they should interact with letters and sounds in a more purposeful way. Start including 10-15 minutes of more structured (but still fun!) alphabet activities in your daily routine.
Continue modeling, especially with sounds, but invite your child to actively participate more often. In addition to taking advantage of learning opportunities as they come up, start intentionally creating fun teaching opportunities. Add a few alphabet games to your home and establish a weekly family game night. Suggest doing an alphabet puzzle together, and then comment on or ask your child to identify most of the letters rather than just a few. Have your child watch LeapFrog’s Letter Factory while you are cooking dinner. (It’s an incredibly effective way to reinforce letters and sounds.)
Flashcards Can Be Fantastic
While I don’t recommend using flashcards to “drill” your preschooler, they are invaluable for playing games and creating alphabet activities. A great physical activity is to have your child lay alphabet flashcards out on the floor in order, and then read them aloud, walking or crawling along the line of cards.
Or, grab your tub of magnetic letters and have your preschooler place each one on top of its matching flashcard. You can tape flashcards around the house and send your child on a treasure hunt to see how many letters they can find.
Buy two of the same sets and use them for playing matching games or “concentration.” Play bingo by pulling a few flashcards from one set to create a bingo card, and using the other set for letters to “call.” With two sets, you can even play a limited version of “Go Fish.”
Once each day, point to each card in order from left to right and “read” the card with your child. This activity is a great addition to your bedtime story routine. For babies and toddlers, just say the name of the letter and the name of the picture. For preschoolers and Kindergartners, say the name of the letter, the name of the picture, and the sound.
Invest in an Excellent Alphabet Curriculum
If you are homeschooling, or you want to provide activities in a more systematic way, invest in a high-quality alphabet curriculum.This Reading Mama has an unbelievable, affordable product called the “Learning the Alphabet Bundle.” It’s jam-packed with powerful hands-on activities for learning letters and letter sounds. To get the most bang for your buck, I recommend purchasing a downloadable bundle product such as this rather than just picking up alphabet workbooks here and there. You’ll receive many more activities to choose from, and you can download and print out exactly what your child needs.
Any of the activities the Learning the Alphabet Bundle would be great for that 10-15 minutes of structured alphabet learning time that I recommend for preschoolers. When we provide engaging activities like these, kids learn much more easily and quickly. I guarantee there is something in this bundle that your child will fall in love with, which will totally supercharge their alphabet learning!
Developing Deep Letter Knowledge
In order to become a skilled, fluent reader and writer, your child needs to develop deep letter knowledge. And the time to do this is during Pre-K and the beginning of Kindergarten. If you haven’t started using a curriculum like the “Learning the Alphabet Bundle,” now is definitely the time to add 10-15 minutes of structured alphabet activities to your child’s day.
Having deep letter knowledge means that your child can:
Readily identify all lowercase and uppercase letters by name.
Write each lowercase and uppercase letter.
Hear a vowel or consonant sound and immediately know which letter represents it.
Look at a letter and articulate the sound it makes.
True mastery of these four skills takes time – from informal babyhood exposure to direct instruction during Pre-K and Kindergarten. It takes steady, age-appropriate practice and review at the same time your child is developing other reading readiness skills.
Whether you are homeschooling or reinforcing what your child learns in preschool, Pre-K or Kindergarten, isn’t it wonderful that you can set your child up for success in learning to read by something as simple as teaching the alphabet? You’ll never regret taking advantage of this amazing power and precious opportunity.
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