Seals Eat What?

Beginning to Read
Caroline Jordan

Rationale: Children need to learn that the order of the letters provides a clue to the word's pronunciation.  For example, in this lesson, they will be learning that ea=/E/ and practicing decoding words that have ea=/E/.

Materials:  A set of letterboxes and letters for each child, chalk, chalkboard, the book What Will the Seal Eat?


  1. 1.  Begin by reviewing the correspondence gone over the day before.
  2. 2. "Today we are going to learn about some letters that, when put together, make the /E/ sound.  Remember, when we have the letter e by itself" (draw on board) "it makes the /e/ sound.  There are several different things we can do to this letter to make it say its name, but today we're going to learn about e-a."
  3. 3. Draw an a after the e on the board.  "When I see these two letters together, I am going to know that they make the /E/ sound.  For example, if I write this word on the board" (write the word hear) "I'm going to look at it and think, 'Hmm, I see that this word has an e and an a together.  I know that those two together say /E/, so I can say /h/ /E/ - he- /hE/ /r/ - hear!  Oh· like when I hear someone speaking."  Model cover-ups while thinking aloud.
  4. 4. "What if I see this word?" Write the word seat. "Let's see ö ea says /E/, so /s/ /E/ /t/ -seat!"
  5. 5. Have the children practice sounding out leak, meal, and team, written on the board.  Call on them as soon as the word is written to say how they would think about saying the word, not what the word is.  Once one child demonstrates he/she knows how to think about saying the word, then call on another to pronounce it.
  6. 6. "Ok, that was great!  Now we're going to try something different.  I'm going to say a word and I want you to think about how to spell that word.  We're going to be using our letterboxes, so everyone get their letterboxes and letters out."  As soon as the children have them out, model on the board what they are about to do.  Have three boxes drawn on the board.  "If I want to spell out the word seal, as in, 'I saw the seal at the zoo.' I might think about /s/ /E/ /l/.  Well I know that /s/ is s, so I'm going to put that in my first box.  /s/ /E/ /l/.  I just learned that ea says /E/ so I'm going to put that in my middle box.  /s/ /E/ /l/. /l/ is the letter l so I will put that in my last letterbox.  S-e-a-l.  That spells seal!"
  7. 7. Have the children practice spelling out ear, eat, real, beak, year, cream, speak, smear, streak, stream.  Be sure they know how many letterboxes they should have!
  8. 8. Read What Will the Seal Eat? with a partner.  Each child should read through one time, then the other read to the first child.

Assessment:  The children will work with the same partner with which they read.  Together, they will work with their letters from their letterbox lesson to see if they can come up with 7 words with the ea=/E/ correspondence.  They will have a worksheet with one set of two boxes, two sets of three boxes, three sets of four boxes, and one set of five boxes in which they will write the words they create together.

Murray, Bruce A. and Lesniak, T. The Letterbox Lesson: A Hands-On Approach to Teaching Decoding.  The Reading Teacher, March 1999.

Adams, Marilyn.  Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print.  Center for the Study of Reading, 1990.

Stegmann, Lyndsay.  Beginning to Read: We All Scream for Ice Cream!;, 2002.

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