Multisensory Approach to Letter Formation

As per our school’s Learning Improvement Plan (LIP) focusing on student writing growth, I am embedding different modalities of letter formation into our phonics lessons. The students are enjoying a multi-sensory approach to writing: play-dough, chalkboards, whiteboard tables, wiki sticks, letter magnets, wooden pieces, etc. A new favorite is writing our letters with paint brushes in shaving cream. It is a really simple lesson that warrants student engagement.

A typical phonics lesson activity: Lakeshore letter-sound buckets for sorting initial sounds.

Shaving Cream Letters Lesson:

  1. Hold up letter cards and get students to state the letter name, sound, and action.
  2. Students copy the letter, starting at the top, with paint brushes in shaving cream. They form the lowercase and the uppercase for each letter.
  3. Students “erase” their letter with their brushes and repeat the process for the rest of the target letters.

Writing letter ‘v’ in shaving cream.

But What About the Mess?

I find that it is not as messy as it may seem. Each student needs to roll up their sleeves and be reminded not to eat, fling, or touch the shaving cream with their hands. We talk about how it smells good but would not taste good (you may want to note that it is NOT whipped cream). I get students to wipe off any excess shaving cream on the side of their tin (get baking pan tins with higher edges rather than baking sheet tins with lower edges) and then at the end of the lesson we use paper towel to clean the brushes before putting them in water.

Ready for the next letter!

The Benefits

The best part of shaving cream letters is that students do not feel pressure to form their letters perfectly. If they make a mistake, they simply can “erase” and try again! The teacher can observe the letter formation and remind students to hold brushes appropriately and start from the top during the lesson so the practice is meaningful. All students, especially those who dislike pencil-to-paper work, seem to buy-in to the novelty of shaving cream letters. No tears, busy minds at work, and smiling faces… seems like a win to me!

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Letter Review

In September I benchmark my Grade 1 students on their letter names and sounds (see my: Grade 1 Phonics Assessments). Then students who need additional review are placed in my room, as well as continue to review the letters in their classrooms. A typical intervention alphabet lesson includes:

  • review any letters that we have previously studied (name, sound, and action) with the large Letterland flashcards
  • introduce the new letters (name, sound, and action) with the large Letterland flashcards
  • practice forming our sounds with each student watching my mouth, discussing what my mouth/tongue looks like, and then practicing in their own mirrors to replicate the sound/mouth movements (I listen and correct sounds/formations as needed)
  • read the Letterland story for the current letters
  • brainstorm our own words that start with the letter sound
  • listen to the Letterland song for the letter while students repeat the sound and action (movement break)
  • sort 8 items/toys by initial sound for the letters (also focusing on turn taking)
  • find the names of our classmates that start with those letters and adding them to our word wall (we sometimes discuss sight words, too)
  • practice letter formation, after listening to “Start Your Letters at The Top” (Handwriting Without Tears), on our whiteboard tables
  • We also use activities from the Florida Center for Reading Research K-2 Phonics Curriculum and various letter songs on YouTube.

As a review of multiple letters or the entire alphabet we bowl or fish for letters (while the other students practice their writing), and play alphabet Jenga, Twister, dominoes, memory, Bingo, etc. One of our favorite reviews is the alphabet scavenger hunt!

I hide lowercase and uppercase foam letters of all sizes around my classroom. Students are put into teams or they can work as a group. When I hold up letter flashcards, everyone must state the name and sound and show me the letter action. I pick two students (from opposite teams) and they must search for the letter around the room while the rest of the students cheer them on. Students can receive two points – one for finding the letter and another for stating the name/sound when they bring it to me. I keep track of their points on the board and then we practice counting by 5s afterwards. The activity only takes about 30 minutes and allows me to take some anecdotal notes on each student’s letter proficiency. The best part is the student engagement!