Simple Letter and Word Activities for Five through Eight Year Olds

From Cathy Puett Miller

Having recently spent some learning time with a group of lower
achieving kindergartners, I was reminded of the importance of
making learning fun. Especially for children who find learning
difficult or come to the learning situation with disadvantages,
creating a pleasurable experience with words and letters should
be of prime importance. Whether you are a tutor, a teacher or
a parent, try one or more of these games with your child. They
are organized from simplest (beginning work with sounds and letters)
to more complex for those children beginning to read:

“Pick a Letter YOU Know”

letter flash cards or make up your own by printing a single letter
(upper and lower case) and pasting or drawing a picture of an
item that begins with that sound. Spread the cards randomly and
allow each child to choose a letter he or she knows. Emphasize
they are to choose a letter they are familiar with and whose name
(and perhaps sound) they know. Most children will know at least
one letter (most commonly “A”, “S” or “B”).
Let them hold their card and share it with you or with their peers
if this activity takes place in a group. Children love an audience,
whether it’s a single adult or a group of children and they gain
great confidence when you celebrate their knowledge by raising
their hands above their heads when they get it right, shouting
“Yeah, Mary! You know your letter!”

“Going on a Letter Hunt”

Take a “field trip” through the school or community
or even through your own house, looking for certain letters. Point
out letters your children are familiar with in signs or posters
as well as those that might be new to them.

they encounter printed material at their level, let them point
to letters they know or ask them what certain letters are. Consonants
often are learned first so keep that in mind. Never make a big
deal about the child not knowing a letter; just ask a peer to
help them or give them the name yourself and let them repeat it.
You can even sing the song “Going on a bear hunt” and
substitute the word “letter” for “bear”, stopping when you sight the next letter.

Sing the ABC Song

think this was automatic or unnecessary but when most children
start this, they think “LMNO” is one letter. Use different
rhythms to get them to listen to the separate letters (I like
syncopation jazz) and slow down in those areas we tend to rush
so they hear each letter distinctly. Let them dance or jump in
rhythm while they sing or lie quietly on the floor as they go
from A to Z.

Read a rhyming and repetitive book that focuses on certain sounds

of my favorites is One
Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

by Dr. Seuss. The tongue twisters in this delightful, rhythmic
text often focus on repeated sounds. Point those out to the child
as you go through the story and stop once and a while to ask them
if they can think of other words that have that sound.

Also try Poof
by John O’Brien (the children begin to anticipate when the
next “poof” will occur and will insert it at the appropriate
time with a little prompting) or a traditional fairy tale like The
Three Little Pigs
(what did the pigs always say to the wolf when he came to the door? – “not by the hair on my chinny chin chin”)

Label Their Environment

avoid turning your house into a classroom, I don’t recommend you
place permanent signs on everything as we often see in kindergarten
and first grade classrooms these days. However, labeling items
in a child’s room, the kitchen or their playroom can be fun on
occasion. Even going out into the garden to label “hoe”,
“tree” or “stone” can be an adventure. Use
index cards to create your “labels” and print an object
name on about 10-12 items. (i.e., bear, ball, hat, door,
mirror, pillow, etc.).

Start by asking your beginning readers if they know any part of
a word you show them. I always tell my students that big words
are just little words or sounds that you already know put together.
If they can read the entire word, great! Ask them to match the word
with the object it names in the room. If they can’t read the entire
word, congratulate them for knowing a part of it or a single letter,
then help them with the rest. “You know the “b”
– good. The “a” makes an “aaa” sound. And
what letter makes the “lllll” sound?” Make it conversational until you reach a conclusion. Put the sounds together but in isolation and see if the child and make the blend/connection. Then let them triumphantly label the item they’ve named.

they get familiar with the game, make it a race to see how fast
they can label all the items in the room and say the name.

Help the Shy Ones or Those with Little Confidence

a child whisper the answer to you instead of exposing the possibility
to the world that they might be wrong. Even if you are working
one-on-one, this is a good technique. If they are mistaken, just
whisper the right one back and let them repeat it in that same,
quiet voice. Just changing the volume of words or letters gets
children to listen more closely. Just as quickly change your tone
to one of loud celebration when they get one right! Children this
age love the attention; it will encourage them to try again and
work harder to succeed.

Read About Their Passion

a child has been introduced to the basics of letters and combining
them for simple words, they begin to road to reading. This comes
more easily to some than others but a critical starting place
is always reading about their passion. What is it that excites
them most? What are they most interested in? What “turns
them on”? Ask those questions, then find a book on the subject
and share a few excerpts. Never read beyond the interest time
of a child but try to get in at least 15 minutes per day. If you
find it easier for the child to initially practice their listening
skills while an adult reads, that’s absolutely fine. And they
can understand vocabulary up to two grade levels above what they
can read.


Connect Reading with Life

of the most important lessons we can teach children is that these
letters and words they are learning have a connection with their
lives. Help them learn to read letters or words on signs, cereal
boxes, in the toy store, at the bank, in the library, in everyday,
everywhere places. Get them involved in making a pretend (or a
real) grocery list, helping you sort the mail, reading books about
how to care for their new puppy or be a star soccer goalie or
learn the latest dance steps. Let them read about a little girl
who misses her grandma living far away.

Let them hear stories about brave firefighters
and policemen.
Make natural introductions of words or letters as you encounter
them rather than expecting a child to look at them in isolation
and make the connection. You’ll find this approach draws children
into reading, rather than forcing them into a chore that they
have no affinity for.


an independent literacy consultant, Cathy Puett Miller has designed
a model for a volunteer-based tutoring program for at-risk readers
(and tutors a child herself in one of the ongoing programs). Schools
and PTA’s implementing this model have won awards and grants,
and she’s always looking for new opportunities to introduce the
concepts. She works with profit and non-profit groups interested
in supporting and promoting literacy with children as well as
in parent education (teaching moms and dads how to work a bit
of reading experience into everyday life). Visit her free-lance
work on www.parenthood.com (enter Cathy’s full name in the search
command) and on www.familynetwork.com (look for her under “Experts”
or CathyPM) and look for her at upcoming children’s literature
conferences and PTA workshops in the metro-Atlanta, GA area.



2740 Woodridge Chase, Canton, GA 30114

770-345-3001 or 770-365-4733