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!

Writing Practice

Our school Learning Improvement Plan (LIP) focuses on writing. In Grade One the writing curricular expectation is that students write 5+ sentences on a familiar topic, with a main idea and details present in 6+ word sentences. The sentences must include capitalization, appropriate spacing, and beginning punctuation use. Students use new vocabulary learned, accompany their written work with illustrations, and engage in “fix-ups” with teacher support. The writing progress that Grade One students display from the beginning of the year when they are still working on writing their names and/or copying single sentence models to the end of the year when they are engaged in the beginning steps of the writing process is truly remarkable and one of the reasons I think teaching Grade One is the best!

In my room, I am ensuring that students have a strong writing foundation to work from. We are focusing on the basics of letter formation using prompts, songs, and materials from the Handwriting Without Tears program and a multi-sensory approach. My students have loved creating letters with the wood piece set that comes with the program and we are often found singing “Start Your Letters At the Top.” This week we put my whiteboard tables to use to put “pen-to-paper” so to speak but with a ton more student engagement! The students keep asking to write their letters again and they were able to work for a half an hour (I planned for 10 minutes tops but there was no stopping them)!

We will be writing our letters in shaving cream trays next week. We will also be using play dough and wikki stix for letter formation. With their engagement levels high and their interests peaked, it will be no time until they are reaching the writing goals! It makes my teacher heart oh-so happy!

Response to Jessie’s Public Write #3

Your response was very engaging. After reading your thoughts and summarization of the text, I also think using hip-hop or rap in my classroom is a good idea. There are many lenses that can be applied to these mediums: gender (racism, representation of males and females), class (how people speak, money issues and distribution) and deconstruction (how words construct meanings, however not always as intended or interpreted). David modeled this in our Chapter 7 Deconstruction presentation with the song “Hey Yeah” by Outkast and I was surprised at how many meanings could be uncovered from one song. It was also extremely engaging. It is nice when things that you value and are interested in are part of the learning process at school. Like you suggested, it is great when “students can tie what they are learning back to their own lives” and interests.

I like your idea of collaborating with your colleagues, particularly art and drama colleagues, to complete a larger focus on visual arts, dance, musical collage, poetry and song. Interdisciplinary studies allow students to work with a topic for longer and therefore, understand it better. They also are able to make connections easier. Also, collaboration fosters accountability of teachers and they can bounce ideas off of each other making instruction and assessment more efficient and engaging. I do wonder what kids would do if they hated the main area of focus but their teachers used an interdisciplinary unit. Also, how would this work in a city school where everyone is not in the same class?

If I was going to implement this in my class I would mix contemporary poetry/music with classical poetry/music to hopefully broaden students’ exposure and interests. In my mind, it would be a give and take of what they like and what I want to expose them to.  I like your idea about performance workshops and spoken poetry, based on student-choice. Your idea to get students to self-evaluate before, during and after is something that is very important and fosters improvement.

You touch on some of the areas of concern, such as drugs, money and treatment of women. I think ignoring these issues does not make them go away and addressing them as a mature adult, rather than letting kids try to figure everything out on their own, would probably solve some of the issues rather than promote them. I know I listened to vulgar music when I was a teenager and no one ever explained to me the implications and consequences behind some of these ideas and words. I would simply send a note home to parents if I were to use this in my classroom. I would also check with my principal. It is important to realize that there are also positive rap artists and I would bring those into my classroom. For instance, Eminem does not use the word “nigger” and Mackelmore has anti-drug use and gay rights songs. I agree that through poetry and song we can look at relevant social justice issues that our students are faced with. This may push some boundaries but it would be engaging.

Great response!