If you read my previous post about teaching letters, you will have seen the part about my letter printing books. I made my letter books based on the Handwriting without Tears program. I used to buy the student books and have my kids use those for printing instruction/practice plus another letter book that gave me room for the art aspect with letter practice. I love the HWT program, and their book, but it was so much paper and work (and in all honesty, expensive)! About 7 years ago, I made my own amalgamated version of the two books and have used it ever since! I’ve tweaked it a lot along the way, to the point where I am pretty happy with it. The letter books practice writing the letters in both upper case and lower case, as well as have a space for students to draw a picture of something that starts with that letter.
In regards to the printing aspect (which is the main part of this), I instruct the students in how to form the upper case letter independently and then in the book there is a lowercase letter for them to trace. I’ve had a lot of heated discussions with other teachers about whether or not to teach lower case printing in Kindergarten, to the point I consulted our divisional Occupational Therapists for their professional opinion. They told me that a child’s physical development in Kindergarten is not necessarily prepared for lower case letters. If you look at the movements/shapes needed to make upper case letters, really there are 4 (big line, small line, big curve, small curve) and they all fit within the same shape (a rectangle), whereas lower case letters have a tall letters, short letters, hanging letters, and a lot of small shapes.
While there are definitely some students in Kindergarten who are physically ready to print using lower case letters, I instruct in upper case and expose to lower case (especially because I have noticed I have way more students in the last few years with really low fine motor skills). This all being said, I fully believe you need to teach the way that works best for you and your students. This is my preferred way to teach letter formation, but it’s not for everyone!
I use the SMARTbook files I created to demonstrate the formation of the letters to the whole class. I try my best to use the same language as HWT (if you look at the picture above of the HWT letters, you will see the language used to teach the letters), but I’m not always spot on (I may say long line instead of Big Line, or I say we slide down).
After I demonstrate the letter formation once or twice with the kids just watching, they practice using my DIY chalkboards. The kids LOVE using the chalkboards (see previous post). I’ve tried using whiteboards, but found they were a lot of work. Markers not working, someone getting a colour they don’t like (oy), kids drawing on the rug or each other (yikes), and just general mayhem. The chalkboards are super low tech and it’s perfect. That being said, there was a year I couldn’t use them due to an allergy in my classroom. So, if you want to use chalkboards double check to make sure you’re kids (or aids) don’t have asthma or other allergies. If you aren’t a DIY’er and want chalkboards, I will say the official HWT Chalkboards are a good investment (theirs are double sided, where my DIY ones are only 1 sided) and they last a long time. We practice our letters with chalk and then make them disappear with little sponges (HWT sells sponges…mine are just little sponges from Walmart cut into little cubes…way cheaper!).
When we are done with our chalk/sponge letters they go to their books and begin working!
For some students, especially at the beginning of the year, this is a really hard job! Those with poor fine motor control have a hard time remembering the formation or staying in the lines. I don’t start my letter books right at the beginning of the year, usually I want until mid October (this year was mid November!). That way, we’ve had time to go over how to hold a pencil (something most people don’t realize you have to teach kids!) and following simple directions. By the time I start these books, I know who is going to need extra support for the printing. For those students, I use yellow highlighter in their books to draw out the letters.. I use to do dotted lines, until a colleague pointed out that kids were just connecting the dots when you did that! Ever since then I’ve used highlighter (added bonus – it’s way faster than dotted lines!) it’s a great way to give a child supported independence in their writing! I use this method a ton in my classroom for those Kindersmartens that need a little extra help when writing.
Another aspect of the Letter Book is having the students draw a picture of something that starts with that letter. When the students go back to their tables, after we’ve done our chalkboards, I turn my SMARTbook file back to the page with all the images of things that start with that letter. It’s helpful to have a reference for the kids to look at when they are deciding what to draw. As the year goes on, I start to encourage the students to label their drawings.
When a student has completed their page, they raise their hand so I can come check (this is what they are supposed to do…we’re into March now and I still have some following me around the room like little ducklings with their books). When I check their books, I make sure they have completed their page and do any necessary corrections (especially if the letters are backwards or really messy). Then, I ask the student to show me their best letter they made and we put a sticker on it!
As I mentioned in my other post, I love having stickers that match the letter! Whenever I’m in a dollar store I check out their sticker stock to see if I can find something good for my letter book sticker collection. I was totally that kid in the 80’s who had a picture album full of stickers that I would constantly re-organize based on their type (smelly vs. fussy) or their theme (animals vs. my little pony). I should also add, I still have a “sticker book” – it’s a 3″ binder with page protectors for all my different teacher stickers (with post-it notes taped to them like little index tabs). If I can’t find what I need at the dollar store, hitting up my local Michael’s or Scholar’s Choice usually works! Trend has a ton of multi-pack sets that have worked for multiple letters and lasted a long time (aka you get a TON of stickers).
After we’ve done the printing/drawing portion of the letter book, we move onto the art! Depending on what we are doing, sometimes we will do the art activity right away (especially if it is something that is low mess, like peel and stick foamies!). Other activities need more time and/or more supervision. I try to do those activities during our 1 hour block of play. The kids are always excited for their turn to come do their letter art!
Letter Book Art
Here is a list of the different art I do for each letter of the alphabet. Some are far more involved than others, but in the end the kids walk away with a letter book they’ve made themselves (albeit not in alphabetical order) which also documents their growth throughout the year….
For some letters I have more than one art, and I choose depending on a variety of factors (like how much time we have, whether or not I have enough for each student, or if I’m doing it or leaving it for a sub). I’m going to list everything, in case you want some choices!
A – Peel and stick animal foamies (from the dollar store), fingerprint ants
B – Bumble Bees (I copy my letter outlines on yellow paper and we add black stripes and googly eyes) I’ve also done yellow paint finger prints and then add details when dry, but that one takes a while to do from start to finish
C – Caterpillars (I use my Cricut Explore Air 2 to cut out a bunch of circles in a variety of colours and have the kids make patterns on their caterpillars), Cats
D – Dinosaur stamps
E -Easter Eggs, again using my Cricut or when I’m super organized I buy the peel and stick foamy Easter eggs in the spring!
F – Feathers
G – Green/Gold glitter paint
H – Hearts, either the peel and stick foamies or I use a toilet paper tube folded and dipped into paint
I – Ink (aka pens) or insect stamps
J – Jewels – again, dollar store peel and stick!
K – Key rubbings (I have a bunch of keys glued down to a piece of cardboard and we use a binder clip to hold the paper over the keys while the kids rub crayons over it).
L – Letters (peel and stick foamies), letter stamps/stencils
M – Messy Marble painting – seriously so much fun! If you do this, here’s a tip: have the kids paint on the back of the page. That way when they go to cut it out the lines are easier to see! I’ve also done Macaroni.
N – Newspaper – which is becoming harder and harder to find! Foam peel and stick numbers, number stamps
O – Orange paint, Owls
P – Pink and Purple polka dots (using bingo daubers), purple paint
Q – Quilted (cut up squares of scrap fabric glued onto the letters)
R – Rainbows, Ripped Rainbows
S – Snakes (colour them green, add a red tongue and some googly eyes)
T – Tinfoil (I cut it into strips and the kids just glue it on)
U – Upside down (seriously the easiest one to do!)
V – Velcro (peel and stick), Volcanoes (we just drew them)
W – Wallpaper, Wood pieces
X – X-rays (which I got from a good friend, but you can easily google x-rays and print them out on regular white paper – I did use acetate one year, but they didn’t stick very well)
Y – Yellow Yarn
Z – Zipper rubbings, Zebras (just added black strips of paper and googly eyes)
The whole process of cutting out the letters and gluing them into the books can be tricky in the beginning. I find I put visual direction cards on the board to try to help the kids out. I always go over the instructions 2-3 times before they go to do the cutting and gluing. Even with that, I still have one or two special snowflakes that glue their letters backwards/upside down or on the wrong page! I’m still trying to find a trick to prevent that…so far nothing but being a full helicopter teacher words (and even then it doesn’t always work…one of my kiddos got a little over zealous with her messy marble M and turned it into a bit of a puzzle!!).
I’m a big believer in sharing, so here is my Letter Printing Book by Sarah Leslie 2018 for you to use! I hope it is something you find helpful for your students!
Thanks for reading! Feel free to ask questions in the comments!