Alphabetic Acting!

(Emergent Learning: Phonemic Awareness)

by Mark Mathews


This lesson is designed to help children with the crucial ability to distinguish sounds in words.  The sound in this case is a = /a/.  Phonemic awareness is one of the best predictors for fluent reading, and thus comprehension.  The activities are designed to let students practice locating sounds in modeled words, and then to find the sounds themselves in words from picture tablets.



primary paper, pencils, poster board with “Alphabetic Action for /a/ is Cat Nap” boldly displayed, animal pictures to place on board (Velcro or felt), handouts with pictures of various animals the children will immediately recognize, A Cat Nap by Sheila Cushman, card or diagram of the letter a



1)  Bring students to reading rug or sit them on the floor in front of you.

2)  Setup poster board behind you, and have other materials close at hand.

3)  Begin to access prior knowledge by talking about sounds in words and playfully get them to respond with questions like “which words have the same sound: dog, bat, log”

4)  Explain to the students in age-appropriate language that learning to identify sounds helps us all read faster, and more easily

5)  Hold up the a card or diagram, “Today the sound we are all going to practice is the short /a/ sound, can you all say that with me? Aaaaaaaaa.  Very good.  A good friend of mine is going to help us remember that sound, and my friend is a small furry animal with the /a/ sound in its name.  Can you guess what animal I’m talking about?”

6)  Let them guess for about 10 seconds, and if none of them guesses correctly give them these choices:  doggy, fish, cat, birdy

7)  “That’s right, it’s a cat!”  Hold up A Cat Nap and ask them if they remember what happens in the story.

8)  “We all know what a mess our cat almost gets into in the story, but this time when I read it to you I want you to make this gesture when you hear the /a/ sound, ok?  Show them the gesture:  tilt head to side, with hands together rest head on them … it’s the “nap” symbol.  Model this while saying the tongue twister on the board behind you.

9)  Practice matching the gesture with the sound.  If some students don’t get it, have a student that does stand up and demonstrate.

10)  Read A Cat Nap and monitor how well they are picking up on the correspondence.

11)  Grab your animal pictures, place them up on the board one by one.  As you place each on the board look back to the children and say the name very clearly, and drag out the /a/ sound if it exists.  Make sure to make the ‘nap’ gesture if it does.

12)  Have the students follow along with animals as you place them on your board.  If they get it, then move on.  If they are still struggling with the correspondence keep putting up animals.

13)  Sit the students at their desks, and pass out the sheets with animal pictures on them.  Have them get out primary paper and pencils.

14)  Their job is to quietly sound out the names of the animals by picture, and if the /a/ sound is there they circle the animal, and write the animal’s name down on their own paper as best they can.  Invented spelling is fine.  We’re not worried about correct spelling just yet, just the correspondence of sounds.

15)  Suggestions for animals with the /a/ sound:  cat, alligator, rat, parrot, rabbit, kangaroo.  Suggestions for animals without the /a/ sound:  dog, fish, snake, bear, squirrel

16)  Collect papers and quickly thumb through to see if there were any animals that were consistently not circled and had the /a/ sound, or consistently circled and did not have the /a/ sound.  Review those animals names and get the children to model the ‘nap’ gesture if they hear it.



            Cushman, Sheila.  (1990) A Cat Nap.  Educational Insights.

            Earl, Laura.  Abby’s Alligator

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