I’ve been teaching kindergarten again this year, and this means hours on tend teaching letter sounds, names, and matching upper and lower case letters. Right now, it’s mostly the latter. I’ve been all over the internet in search of activities to learn/teach the alphabet, but I have yet to run across something like this.
I got the idea several years ago due to a book that I bought in Pegasus Knygas (Pegasus Books) in Lithuania. It was called “My First Color Book” (only in Lithuanian) and was created by Eric Carle. When you opened, it, you realized there were two sets of large cardboard pages. The top pages each have a block of color and the name of the color written on the back. The bottom has pictures of different objects, each of a different color. At first, the book is confusing because you open the cover and see blue on the top and yellow baby chicks on the bottom. The colors don’t match. But when I discovered the pages turn independently of one another, I realized that’s the point. You are supposed to match the color to the picture.
Thus I had an idea–what if my students had such books in which they matched the upper and lower case letters? Of course, these don’t exist, which is fine by me because that means my students get to make them, and I love hands on projects. Again, there don’t appear to be any instructions online for these, so here I am presenting the instructions:
What you need:
–26 sheets of cardstock per child (any kind of paper is fine, be we’re going to be using glue and waxy things which will lower the structural integrity of the paper, so I figured it was best to start with something as study as possible. Yes, 26 sheets per student is a lot. If you like you can use 26 half sheets, but if you get much smaller than that, it will be difficult to make top and bottom pages which move independently
–1 manila folder per student. This is what I am going to use as the cover of my students’ books, but you can use paper, cardboard, fabric, whatever you want.
–ribbon or yarn for binding book together
–pencils and crayons
–26 different materials to make letters out of
Okay, you don’t actually need 26 different materials, but I’m a tactile learner, and I have at least one student this year who has sensory needs, so using lots of different materials keeps them engaged by meeting those sensory needs, but it will also help them match the letters because each letter will feel different. This could be especially useful for easily mixed up letters like d and b. Students will know if they matched the correct lowercase letter with the uppercase if they feel the same. For this reason I tried my best to pick 26 materials that feel different (which is hard because some materials change when they get wet/dry/come into contact with paper or glue), as well as trying to find materials that match each letter (and you would be surprised how many craft materials start with w)
In the past, I’ve incorporated a sort of flashcard game into this. I cut the pages in half in advance and mixed up the lowercase letters. Then I showed my students each letter before we made it and asked them what the letter was. This year, I have at least one student who only knows about three letters, so it’s important to me that they build the upper and lowercase letters together, hearing the name of the letter as they glue on the material and trace the letter. Hopefully later, they’ll associate the name of the letter with the way each one feels. They can also practice tracing the letters to learn their shapes, etc. Therefore, I kept the lower and uppercase letters all on one sheet and we made them together. This will also make them easy to store. At the end of the project, when we bind the books, I’ll cut them apart from each other so we can mix up the lower case.
It’s a long project, and I only see these students about 30 mins. a day, so I’ve decided to do one or two letters each day for several weeks. This way, we might have time some days to work on other letter activities, and I only have to worry about 1 or 2 materials at a time. I think this way, I’m less likely to get to school and realize I totally forgot the feathers and now we can’t make F, or whatever the issue might be. It also means students won’t get as behind if they miss a day of school or are working with another teacher at the time I normally take them (sometimes you have to vie for kids in this world.)
Today we did A and B. I wrote the uppercase letter on the top half of a sheet of cardstock and the lowercase letter on the bottom. I also already put students’ names on the back of each piece of cardstock, which means I had to give the right sheet to the right student, but I didn’t have to worry about mixing them up later.
We made A out of aluminum foil. I cut the strips of aluminum foil in advance so it was easy for students to measure and glue. I gave them scissors so they could cut the strips to the right size, but one of my students realized he could just tear them. In the past, I have scrunched up the aluminum foil. but I find it sticks better if you glue it in flat strips. For the lowercase a, I cut the foil into smaller strips and made a blocky letter. My students, however, were determined to give the a its natural curve, and with some help, they learned how to fold the foil in on itself in order to achieve less blocky a.
For B, we used Bendaroos, which I’m pretty sure is actually the brand name, so if you want to, you could argue that I cheated, but I had to get a little creative with things. Bendaroos (or Wikki Stix if you prefer the other brand) are basically wax covered strings, which make them flexible, but also sticky. I know there are lots of materials out there that begin with B–buttons, beads, burlap–but I had a bunch of Bendaroos on hand and they are relatively flat, which may be somewhat important for creating a 26 page book. They also give students the chance to kind of customize their books with different colors. Sometimes they pick all one color, like I did, Other times, they mix colors.
What I like about the Bendaroos is how easy they are to work with. They’re flexible, you can cut them to size, and you don’t have to use glue. You can actually just smush them down and stick them directly to the paper. Of course, whatever the coating on them is has some kind of oil which will eventually leech out and discolor the paper, so they do have their downsides, but I went with them anyway.
I love watching them create their letters because they all come out so different. For example when working with the Bendaroos, one of my students cut his, and so ended up with letters smaller than the ones I drew (I erased the lines because he seemed upset that he had “messed up,” as it were) and another one didn’t even consider cutting them and just bent them to fit, resulting in letters bigger than my outline. It also seems to give them some critical thinking practice. So far, students have had to figure out how to measure their materials to cut them to the right size, what to do with pieces they’ve cut too short, and how to bend materials to create curvy letters.
I also love watching them handling the different materials. It definitely seems to be helping my sensory student. And I’m such a tactile learner, that it’s really no surprise that this is one of my favorite projects. Cutting and gluing also seems to make time fly by. We spent the better part of our periods together working on the letters A and B, and the kiddoes loved it the whole time. I’ve got my materials for C, and I’m already excited about preparing some mock-ups to show the students!