Sunday, September 28, 2014

Letter Walls

Learning About Letters, Sounds, and Words
Learning about letters, sounds, and words is important to developing young readers and writers. Through games, finger-plays and songs, and other playful experiences with letters, young children develop a strong foundation in literacy learning.

Learning a letter is not a simple matter of saying the letter name and singing the alphabet song. Rather early childhood teachers must support literacy development through a wide variety of authentic literacy experiences in their classrooms. For example, they can add images and print to a letter wall based on classroom explorations and curriculum themes, make use of environmental print, and show children letters in meaningful places throughout the classroom everyday.

Systematic instruction in letter learning means planning short lessons throughout the day that show children how to look at letters, learn their names, and, over time, connect letters to the sounds in words.

Creating Interactive Letter Walls
Interactive letter walls are wonderful tools for supporting children as they learn about letters. There are several ways to create an interactive letter wall in  your classroom. Here are a few examples:

Create am interactive letter wall using two long pocket charts. Every word on the letter wall should have a picture to go with it. In my district, we suggest that only their names and pictures go on the letter wall the first six weeks. We suggest adding vocabulary words related to the month, the theme, and books you are reading beginning the second six weeks. This example came from a model classroom in my district. 

Create am interactive letter wall by sectioning off a large sheet of bulletin board paper using colored tape. After laminating the sectioned off paper, add small pieces of sticky-back velcro to make the wall interactive. This example came from a PK classroom in my district. 

Create an interactive letter wall using paper plates and ribbon. Students use clothes pins to attach the word cards to the ribbon. This example came fromThe  Kindergarten Center: Sweet Spots of Teaching Kindergarten. 
This example came from Simply the Middle. 

Create an interactive letter wall using a large magnetic oil pan or magnetic paint. This example came from KinderTastic

No matter how you decide to create your interactive letter wall, there is one key step to making it truly interactive. IT HAS TO BE LOW TO THE GROUND AND EYE LEVEL FOR THE STUDENTS. YOUR LITTLE ONES HAVE TO BE ABLE TO REACH ALL OF THE WORDS ON THE LETTER WALL TO TRULY MAKE IT INTERACTIVE. 

Letter walls should be displayed near your carpet/whole group area. The letter wall needs to be easily seen and accessed in order for you to be able to use it as an instructional tool. 

Supporting Children as They Learn About Letters
Letter walls can be used to provide young children with tactile experiences with letters. 
Students can use interactive letter walls to: 
* sort and match letters and words 
          Here is an example of matching tactile letters such as magnetic letters or letter cards to the letters on 
          the letter wall. 

          Have children learn to notice the distinctive features of a letter: what makes it different from every       
          other letter. Students can pull letter cards from the letter wall and sort them intro groups such as      
          letters that have holes and letters that don't, letters that have straight lines and letters that don't, etc. 

* match their names and other words to the first letter of their names

* match picture word cards to the letter the word starts with
          Here is an example of a letter/picture sort. You can download it for free here

* point to the letters and name them
           Students can use special pointers to do this, take turns by handing off the pointer to each other, or                take letters up and add them to the wall as they name them. 

* match their picture/name cards from the letter wall to the letter they start with or sort them by a letter they 
          have in them. This example came from Mrs. Bremer's Class: Sharing Ideas for Your Classroom. 

* read the letters and pictures 
          Students can do this using pointers or as they take letters and words off the letter wall or add them to 

* find a letter or picture quickly

* match upper case and lower case letters using the letter cards on the letter wall 

Using Letter Walls During Centers
Students can also use an interactive letter wall when they are working in centers. They can remove letter and word cards from the wall and use them as a reference when making letters and words using play doh, making names using tactile materials, for letter sorts and matching, and for writing.

**You will have to model and teach students how to remove letter and word picture cards from the letter wall, use them in their center, and return them to the proper place on the letter wall. This will take lots of modeling and practice. Eventually, students will be able to do this with ease. 

Supporting Children as They Learn About Words
Word learning, too, can happen naturally while children are expanding language through learning letters. Young children should not work on words in isolation before kindergarten because it is a meaningless task. Prekindergartners will often begin to notice words in their environment. For example, young children are naturally curious about print in their environment and love to "read" it. Often, you will find they do not recognize the word or letter out of the context in which they usually see it. Nevertheless, they are noticing print. 

Tips for Helping Children Notice Words:
1) use language that is clear that you are talking about a word, not a letter
2) tell children to look at the beginning of the word, show them what that means, find words that start with the same letter, etc. 
3) read the words to children as you run your finger under the word left to right
4) help them connect their knowledge of names to words using the names of their classmates
5) have children locate words on the letter wall using letter and picture clues

Letter walls can also be used for posting environmental print- words from cereal boxes, etc. that children bring into the classroom. This example came from A Place Called Kindergarten

Letter Wall Resources
Here are a few letter wall headers I found on Teachers Pay Teachers. I like these examples because they have the picture to go with each letter. Using letter wall headers that contain pictures will help you when assisting your slower learners in finding words and letters on the wall. The pictures can be used as helpful clues. 

KidsParkz has vocabulary picture cards you can print for free here. Vocabulary picture cards do not stay up for the entire school year like words on a word wall. These words change with each theme and/or season, holiday, or unit of study. 

Check out my ABC Activities Pinterest board here and my Letter Walls board here

Points to Remember
When creating a letter wall in your PK classroom, you need to remember a few important ideas:
1) don't overdo it (put the children's names on the wall and then stick to a few words that children use often and that relate to the unit of study)

2) take cues from students when deciding which words beyond their name to include (words from units of study, words related to the month, the season, or a holiday, words from repeated readings of read-alouds, etc. )

3) display the wall near the whole group carpet area and eye level to the students

4) make the wall interactive

5) always include a picture with student's names and words displayed on the wall


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