Rethinking Alphabet Charts

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Check out this chart. B is for hamburger, H is for chicken, Q is for people, R is for flower, S is for dessert, J is for drink, N is for spaghetti.

Yes, this chart is attempting to be culturally responsive (M is for mango; N is for noodles), but it is contrived. While the images may match the experiences and vocabulary of some children, no purchased alphabet chart is intuitive to all.

With a teacher’s help, these confusions can be addressed, but why build instruction on a confusion? Why force a match between a letter and an object? And why, oh why, was a queue chosen to represent a Q? Even if queue is a familiar word; the letter-sound match is not helpful.

And please, let’s move beyond A is for apple.

The message about purchased alphabet charts is simple . . . don’t waste your money on them. Engage your students in the experience of making a classroom alphabet(s).

Here’s how:

  • Release the idea of an alphabet chart; it’s too crowded for young learners and the opportunities to interact with the letters and pictures are minimal.
  • Create a linear alphabet chart and place it at child height.
  • Use an individual card for each letter. This allows teachers to plan lessons where the letter / object are matched.
  • Match each letter with a picture that’s significant to the students in your class – perhaps an object from a well loved story, song or conversation or the first letter of each student’s name.
  • Ask a student or a reading buddy to illustrate the chosen object. The image won’t be perfect, but if it’s linked to something meaningful, the children will be able to identify it.
  • Place the picture under the letter on the classroom’s linear alphabet.
  • The accompanying picture can grow to accompanying pictures or create a variety of topic specific alphabetized word walls. Saying that, keep classroom clutter to a minimum – too much of a good thing results in the loss of impact.
  • There’s no need to begin with A and end with Z. But, for those concerned about alphabetical order:
    • as the picture is put into place,  compare the placement of that letter with the other letters of the alphabet. Is this letter at the beginning, middle or end of the alphabet? Watching the pictures “grow” into place will probably have even more impact on visualizing alphabetical order.
  • And finally, if you really want to shake things up . . . over time, change the font on the letter cards; it’s a great way to begin discussions about multiple representations of the same thing.

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