Looking at Reading Interventions

Letter Names with Reese, Kindergartener

Reading expert Linda Farrell works with Reese to master the name of every letter. She helps Reese sing the alphabet song clearly and with no mistakes. She teaches him to look carefully at letters as he names them. Ms. Farrell also helps Reese identify every letter of the alphabet accurately, including differentiating between letters that look similar (in Reese’s case, ‘y’ and ‘v’). Learning the name of every letter is a critical pre-reading skill.

See transcript >

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Multisensory instruction: Instruction that engages more than one sense at a time to help students learn. A multisensory activity can include seeing, talking, hearing, moving, and touching.

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About Linda Farrell

Reading tutor Linda Farrell

Linda Farrell is a founding partner at Readsters, an Alexandria, VA-based firm that helps schools implement research-based reading instruction. She is committed to effective early reading instruction in, to helping struggling readers become strong readers, and to ensuring that strong readers achieve their full potential.

Linda works in schools throughout the U.S. training and coaching teachers and modeling effective reading instruction. She also has designed curricula in Niger and Senegal for children to learn to read in their local languages.

Linda is a former English teacher. She was a National LETRS trainer for seven years. She has co-authored assessments and curricula for teaching reading, as well as several other published works. Linda can be reached at linda@readsters.com.

Transcript

Letter Names with Reese, Kindergartner

Music

Linda Farrell: What do you like to eat?

Reese: Ice cream.

Linda Farrell: What kind of ice cream?

Reese: Vanilla … and chocolate.

Reese is in kindergarten at Windy Hill Elementary in Calvert County, Maryland. Before he can learn how to read, he’ll need to master all 26 letters of the alphabet. Reese knows most of them, and reading expert Linda Farrell is going to help him with the last few that he needs to learn.

Linda Farrell: Letters have to be absolutely automatic, all 26, because when you’re reading, so many different things are going on. You cannot be struggling with which letter, is this a ‘v’ or a ‘y’? It’s going to slow … even those two confusions will slow up reading forever.

Linda Farrell: I would like you to sing the alphabet song.

Reese: ‘A - b - c - d - e - f - g - h - i - j - k - lmnop - q - r - s - t - u- v’ - [mumbles] – ‘x – y’ and ‘z.’ Now I know my ABCs. Next time won't you sing with me.

Linda Farrell: You know the song.

Reese: I can go quicker.

Linda Farrell: Oh, that was quick enough. I could hardly keep up.

Linda Farrell: Reese could sing the alphabet song, sort of. He would be what many teachers would say, oh, yeah, he can sing the song. But if you listened really carefully, you would hear that Reese had difficulty when he sang the song articulating ‘l-m-n-o-p,’ which is also — many children have that. And he had difficulty articulating the ‘w.’ When we got to letter naming, it was very interesting. ‘W’ was one of the letters that he didn’t know. We find this often … is that the source of the confusion for a letter name will often go back to you find that same confusion in singing the song. So when children have difficulty with letter names, it isn’t as easy for them as it is for other children to learn this shape, this abstract shape has this abstract name. And some kids learn that easily, and some kids need more practice. And Reese is one who needs practice.

Linda Farrell: What we’re going to do is we are going to sing the alphabet song and touch the letters as we sing. Okay? So get your finger. Now. Sing the first row.

Reese: ‘A - b - c - d’ …

Linda Farrell: Stop. Okay. So you sang the first row. Now go and sing the whole thing to here.

Reese: ‘A - b - c - d’ …

Asking Reese to touch the letters ensures that he’ll look at the letters as he sings.

Reese: … ‘lmnop’ …

Linda Farrell: Okay. Now this row is a little bit hard. So let’s do this. Let’s go ‘l - m - n - o - p.’ Say them again.

Reese: ‘M’

Linda Farrell: Wait. What was that?

Reese: I mean … ‘l - o.’ I mean … ‘m - n - p

Linda Farrell: Let’s try that again. What’s that letter?

Reese: ‘O’

Linda Farrell: What’s that letter?

Reese: ‘N’

Linda Farrell: Reese has difficulty with ‘l-m-n-o-p.’ Now he can do that. He can say that’s an ‘l,’ that’s an ‘m,’ that’s an ‘n,’ that’s an ‘o,’ that’s a ‘p,’ but he can’t say ‘l-m-n-o-p.’ He can’t sing it and say it at the same time. I don't know why this happens, but I see it all the time. When children can coordinate a movement with a visual, a letter, they can coordinate and say and touch the letter at the same time, they will know it better. So we do that with the letter song, with the alphabet song, and we make sure that our children can touch and say each letter. And we do it over and over and over again, because we always teach to mastery. And the thing that we worked with the most with Reese was the ‘l-m-n-o-p’ line. We are getting him to look at the letter as he says its name or sings its name. That’s going to be a really critical skill when he learns to read, because we need him to look at the letter when he’s reading.

Reese: ‘X – y’ and ‘z.’

Linda Farrell: Is there an and there?

Reese: I said ‘n.’

Linda Farrell: The song says and. So you’re going to go ‘y’ and … Do it like this: ‘y’ and ... So take your hand and go ‘y’ and ‘z.’ Do that one again.

Reese: ‘Y’ and ‘z.’

Linda Farrell: Okay. Do you think you can do them all without making any mistakes? I think you can.

Reese: Without pointing?

Linda Farrell: You have to point. That’s part of the trick, okay? So do it. I think you can do it.

Reese: ‘A - b - c - d - e - f - g - h - i - j - k - l - m - n - o - p - q’ …

By looking at the letters as he names them, Reese is developing an image in his mind that is linked with the letter’s name. Being able to easily recognize letters is critical to becoming a fluent reader.

Reese: Now I know my ABCs. Next time won't you sing with me.

Linda Farrell: That was pretty darn good.

Linda Farrell: We teach the names of the letters before we teach the sounds of the letters. The logical reason is that an ‘a’ is always an ‘a.’ An ‘s’ is always an ‘s.’ The name is a constant. The sound changes. I look at it as the ‘a’ is the big category, just like this is a flower. These are all flowers. This is a rose. Okay, we have an ‘a.’ This is a peony. I have an ‘a,’ and in this word with this spelling pattern, it’s an /a/. In this word with this spelling pattern, it’s an /ay/. So we’re teaching the category first. We are then — go to the sounds. And most of the letters if you know the name, the sound is easy to learn: ‘b,’ /b/, ‘s,’ /s/, ‘z,’ /z/, ‘d,’ /d/. There are some letters that don’t match their sounds — ‘y’ and ‘w’ — and we have to teach those specially. Those don’t come naturally. But most of the sounds come easily. Also, the song gives you an anchor for the names. I can sing this song. I have a chant, even though I don't know what an ‘a’ is. When I'm two years old, I learn the alphabet song.

Linda Farrell: What’s that letter?

Reese: ‘Y’

Linda Farrell: This is a ‘y.’ That’s a ‘v.’ Can you say ‘v’?

Reese: ‘V’

Linda Farrell: Okay. Look down at the letter and say ‘v.’

Reese: ‘V’

Linda Farrell: Point to it and say ‘v.’

Reese: ‘V’

Linda Farrell: What’s that letter?

Reese: ‘V’

Linda Farrell: Point to it and say ‘v.’

Reese: ‘V’

Linda Farrell: And what’s that letter?

Reese: ‘Z’

Linda Farrell: Okay.

Reese: They kind of, so when you put this, this way, kind of looks like an ‘n.’

Linda Farrell: It does kind of look like an ‘n.’ Yeah.

Linda Farrell: It was very interesting working with Reese, because he pointed out to me very articulately how ‘v’ and ‘z’ looks like an ‘n’ and ‘v’ and ‘y,’ and they all … it was exactly the letters that he was getting confused about. And he could even tell us as a kindergartener why they were confusing.

Linda Farrell: Okay. Here we go.

Reese: ‘Y’

Linda Farrell: You’re telling me that’s a ‘y,’ and I’m going to tell you that’s a ‘v.’

Reese: ‘V’

Linda Farrell: So can you say ‘v’?

Reese: ‘V’

Linda Farrell: What’s at the bottom of the ‘v’? A point. What’s at the bottom of the ‘v’?

Reese: Point.

Linda Farrell: Okay, so …

Reese: It’s kind of … if you turn it this way, and there’s a line, you kind of, it looks like, it would look like an ‘a.’

Linda Farrell: It would.

Reese: And it looks like a triangle when you put it this way.

Linda Farrell: Okay. But what letter is that? Is that …

Reese: ‘Y’

Linda Farrell: Okay. Is this ‘a’ or ’v’?

Reese: ‘Y’

Linda Farrell: ‘Y’? Oh my gosh. I have to show you something. ‘Y’ looks like this. Okay?

Linda Farrell: When I first started working with Reese, I was just trying to get him to know ‘v,’ because my assessment had told me ‘v’ was confusing. I don’t work on all of the confusing letters. I work on one or two confusing letters at a time. I work on one letter if he just can’t remember the name. And I … when I first started working with Reese, I thought that he could not remember the name of ‘v.’ So I have, I get a stack of index cards. Maybe I get 12. Maybe I get 14. Maybe I get eight. Half of those will be the letter that we’re working on, one letter. The other half will be letters that he is very confident with, so he doesn’t have to think about those, so that I go … what’s the name of this letter? What’s the name of this letter? As I did that, it was real easy for him to say ‘v, v, v.’

Linda Farrell: Let’s do ‘v.’

Reese: ‘V’

Linda Farrell: What’s the name of that letter?

Reese: ‘V’

Linda Farrell: What’s at the bottom of the ‘V’?

Reese: Point.

Linda Farrell: You got it. Say ‘v.’

Reese: ‘V’

Linda Farrell: Okay. What’s that letter?

Reese: ‘S. V. E. V. C. V. T. V. X.’

Linda Farrell: Let’s try these one more time. Think you can go through them again?

Reese: There’s a lot of ‘v’s.

Linda Farrell: [laughs]

Once Ms. Farrell saw that Reese knew the name of the letter ‘v,’ then she worked on helping Reese discriminate between the letters ‘v’ and ‘y.’

Linda Farrell: My job is to figure out a way to make them not confusing. For him, they all looked like they were the same shape. So I have to think, okay, as I was working with him, I saw that he confused ‘v’ and ‘y.’ He’d already told me, oh, they both have these and they look, this has a point here and a point here. So my job is to get him to look at the letter and give him a way to verbalize the difference between the shapes of the letters. And I had never done this before with ‘v’ and ‘y,’ but I looked and I said well, ‘v’ has a point at the bottom, and ‘y’ doesn’t have a point at the bottom. This goes through my mind: ‘y’ doesn’t have a point at the bottom. What’s at the bottom is a line. Okay, so I’ll make that difference.

Linda Farrell: This is a ‘v.’

Reese: And ‘y.’

Linda Farrell: You got it. Now, there’s a line at the bottom of a ‘y.’ What’s at the bottom of a ‘y’?

Reese: Line.

Linda Farrell: A line. What’s at the bottom of ‘v’?

Reese: Point.

Linda Farrell: Okay. Say ‘v’ has a point, ‘v.’

Reese: ‘V’ has a point.

Linda Farrell: ‘V’

Reese: ‘V’

Linda Farrell: Say ‘y’ has a line.

Reese: ‘Y’ has a line.

Linda Farrell: ‘Y’

Reese: ‘Y’

Linda Farrell: Okay. Now, point to the point and say ‘v’ has a point, ‘v.’

Reese: ‘V’ has a point, ‘v.’

Linda Farrell: Say ‘y’ has a line, ‘y.’

Reese: ‘Y’ has a line, line.

Linda Farrell: Say ‘y’ has a line, ‘y.’

Reese: ‘Y’ has a line, ‘y.’

Linda Farrell: Gotta point to the line.

Reese: ‘Y’ has a line, ‘y.’

Reese: ‘V’ has a point, ‘v.’

Linda Farrell: Okay. Now we’re gonna … every time I show you a letter you have to say that. And then you have to say it. Okay, you ready? Okay, here we go.

Reese: ‘V’ has a point, ‘v.’ ‘V’ has a point, ‘v.’ ‘V’ has a point, ‘v.’ ‘Y’ has a line, ‘y.’ ‘Y’ has a line, ‘y.’ ‘Y’ has a line, ‘y.’ ‘Y’ has a line, ‘y.’

Linda Farrell: Okay. Now I want you to try saying them without saying, ‘v’ has a point, ‘v.’ Just say the name of the letter. Go slow. Okay?

Reese: Okay. I might go quicker and quicker. ‘Y.’

Linda Farrell: Okay. Now. You have to look down and point and tell me …

Reese: ‘Y’

Linda Farrell: What does ‘y’ have?

Reese: Line.

Linda Farrell: A line. What does ‘v’ …

Reese: ‘V’!

Linda Farrell: It is.

Linda Farrell: I started in this lesson by just getting him to know ‘v.’ But that wasn’t going to work because he still wanted to call it a ‘y’ sometimes. So I needed to set up the contrast. And you saw that it worked as long as he said, ‘v’ has a point, ‘y’ has a line. ‘V’ has a point, ‘v.’ ‘Y’ has a line, ‘y.’ I stopped the scaffolding too quickly, because I went back, and he looked at it and he just saw two lines and he went ‘y.’ We need to get, whenever we do a scaffold where we’re comparing two letters that look similar and we’re saying this one has a point at the bottom and this one has a line, he has to do that enough where it is automatic for him to say it and know that letter. And he has to look at it, because what we want him to do is subliminally when he stops saying it, being looking at that and thinking it, and then eventually he doesn’t have to go through the thinking ‘v’ has a point. It just automatically becomes ‘v.’

Linda Farrell: Two high fives!

Reese: Ha! I missed one.

Linda Farrell: Let’s do another one then!

Linda Farrell: Once he got good at ‘y’ and “v,” just those two contrasting, then I would put three ‘y’s, three ‘v’s and six letters that he already knows, so that he would have to think. We’re making it just incrementally more difficult for him to have to remember, until he just automatically looks at that letter and it’s a ‘v.’ And that one’s a ‘y.’ And it does happen. Sometimes it happens with practice 25 times. Sometimes it happens with practice 250 times. And sometimes it’s a thousand times. But it will happen.

Linda Farrell: Two high fives. That was really, really good.

[Music]

We’d like to thank the wonderful students and families at Windy Hill Elementary School in Calvert County, Maryland. We hope that sharing these experiences will help other children who are learning to read.

Special thanks also to Kelly Cleland, Julie Donovan, Joanne Harbaugh, and their outstanding colleagues at Windy Hill Elementary … and to Leanne Meisinger at Calvert County Public Schools.

We are deeply grateful to Linda Farrell, Michael Hunter, and Nicole Lubar of Readsters for their invaluable contributions to this project.

Produced by Noel Gunther

Edited by Christian Lindstrom

Graphic Design: Tina Chovanec

Camera: Richard Chisolm

Audio: Dwayne Dell

For more information about teaching reading, please visit

www.ReadingRockets.org

Reading Rockets is a service of WETA, Washington, D.C.

© 2019, WETA, Washington, D.C.

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