Do your students know the difference between letters and words? It’s of the most fundamental and easily missed concepts about print, and until I was in my training year for Reading Recovery, I had never noticed my students using ‘letters’ and ‘words’ interchangeably, or understood why spaces between words, word family patterns and other strategies made no sense to some of them. In their minds, everything was just a big mess of letters (that they might call words, sometimes, because, after all, they all looked the same!)
I tried to tell my students that letters represent sounds, and that we speak using words, words have meaning and are made up of letters in a specific order, but you can imagine how that went.
Here is what I learned in my training that worked:
Using any kind of letters that can be moved independently of each other, make two or three short, easy words that your student will recognize. Say “These are words.”
Now spread those same letters out randomly and ask, “What do you see now?” Chances are, you’ll get the correct answer, at which point you can elaborate and confirm that indeed they are ‘only letters’, that they are by themselves, not in any special order and do not mean anything. They just represent sounds.
Ask the child how letters become words. Build a word or two together and talk about what those words mean. Repeat every few days for a couple of weeks with different types of letters. Be creative!
Have fun playing with letters and words by keeping sessions short and sweet, and adding movement and laughter in where possible!
This video shows a storybook lesson, bulletin board set and literacy center activity I adapted for kindergarten, and ideas for setting up your classroom to reinforce this concept visually:
These early literacy concepts can be easily forgotten or confused without repetition until they are fully consolidated. Visuals really help, and can be created in a number of ways.