Jack the Fat Cat
Beginning Reading Lesson Design

Jennifer Adams

    In order to read and spell words, children must have the knowledge of the alphabetic principle, the idea that letters represent phonemes and spellings map out phonemes in spoken words.  Knowledge of letter-sound correspondences must be present in order for children to successfully decode words and have future reading success.  Furthermore, being able to decode words with appropriate speed and ease is essential for fluent reading.  Short vowels are among the first letter-sound correspondences taught in beginning reading instruction.  This lesson is aimed at helping children identify the correspondence a = /a/.  Children will learn the sound that makes by learning a meaningful representation, and they will learn to identify /a/ in spoken words.  In addition, children will learn to spell and read words with the a = /a/ correspondence through the use of a letterbox lesson and by reading a new book.

1. Primary paper and pencils for each child
2. Letterboxes and letters (a, b, c, d, f, g, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t)
3. Chart with the tongue twister—"Jack the fat cat sat on a rat"—written on it.
4. Large Elkonin letterboxes and letters for teacher
5. Copies of A Cat Nap for each student (Educational Insights)
6. List of words used in letterbox lesson (2-{at}, 3-{fat, nab, pad, peg}, 4-{snack, crab, flag, best}, 5-{stamp, plant})
7. Chalk
8. Handout with pictures of a cat, a hat, a flag, a map, and a rat (also include pictures of words without the a = /a/ correspondence)

1. Introduce the lesson by explaining to the students that they are going to learn about the letter a and its corresponding sound. Write the letter a on the board.  "We are going to learn about the letter a today and the sound it makes; a says /a/. The letter a is a vowel that we see in many words.  I am sure that you remember the other vowel that we learned last week, e .  Do you know why the letter a is so important?  We find a in so many words like cat, hat, snack, and fast.  Today, we are going to learn how to spell and read words that have an a who makes the sound /a/."

2. Show children a gesture for remembering a = /a/.  "Have you ever seen an ant crawling on the ground?  Well, to remember the /a/ sound, I want you to think about an ant crawling around and make this motion with your fingers.  (Model wiggling your pointer and middle fingers to look like a crawling ant.)  Great!  We are about to do a tongue-twister, and every time you hear /a/ in a word, I want you make an ant crawl on your desk."

3. Practice finding /a/ in spoken words.  "Before we do our tongue twister, I want you to practice finding /a/ in spoken words. Listen carefully to the words I say. Do you hear /a/ in bat or runCast or boneFlash or flip?  Very good!"

4. Have children direct their attention to the tongue-twister chart. Model by reading the tongue twister to them and make your hand motion when you say /a/. Then have them practice saying it with you a couple of times. Remember to stretch the /a/. Remind them to make their ants crawl each time they hear /a/.  "To practice our /a/ sound, we’re going to say a silly tongue-twister. I will read it once to you and then you say it with me. Remember to make your ants crawl when you hear /a/. Good! Let's say it again, but this time, I want you to really stretch out the /a/ in each word.  Jaaaaaaack the faaaaaat caaaat saaaat on a raaaat. Did everyone hear the /a/ sound?  Great!"

5. Hand out the letters and letterboxes to each student.  Explain that each box represents a phoneme, or sound. Tell the students that every time you say a word, they are to listen to the sounds in that word and place the appropriate letters in the boxes to make the word you say. Model by placing the letter s while saying /s/ in the first box, a while saying /a/ in the next box, and t  while saying /t/ in the last box to make the word sat. "Today, we are going to do a letterbox lesson using a = /a/.  Everyone turn your letters over so that only the lower case sides are showing.  Each of your boxes represents a phoneme, or sound, in a word.  Be sure to listen so that you can hear how many boxes you will use for each word.  I will show you an example of how to spell a word.  I will spell sat. For my word, I have three phonemes.  So, I am going to use three boxes. First I hear /s/, so s goes in the first box. Next, I hear /a/, so a goes in the second box. Finally, I hear /t/, so t goes in the last box.” Proceed with the letterbox lesson.  Start with two phoneme words and move up to five phoneme words.  Say the words—at, fat, nab, pad, peg, snack, crab, flag, best, stamp, and plant—one at a time, allowing the students to create the words in their letterboxes. Remind them again that the boxes are not necessarily for individual letters, but for sounds. Be sure to give students enough time to attempt each spelling on their own. Walk around the room and observe, assisting any students who need help. If a student misspells a word, pronounce the word as it appears and ask the student to fix the word. After checking each student’s work, model the correct spelling for each word (just like you did sat) in your large letterboxes to the entire class. Remember: Do not have the students read the words while in the letterboxes.

6. After spelling all of the words, have students read the words as the teacher spells them. Make each word with your large letters (without letterboxes) and have the class read it aloud. (You may write the word on the chalkboard if it is inconvenient to make it with your letters.) "Now that all of you have spelled all of the words, you are going to get to read them.  It’s my turn to spell them! I am going to use my large letters to spell the words. You read them after I spell them."  The teacher should pay close attention to each student to assess whether or not the child is able to read each word.  If a child cannot read a word, the teacher should use body-coda blending to facilitate reading. 

7. Hand out copies of A Cat Nap to each student. Give a brief book talk.  "Now we are going to read a story called A Cat Nap.  Tab is a fat cat. He loves to take naps. One day Tab decides to take a nap in a bag. When Tab wakes up from his nap, he is not in the same spot. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens to Tab when he takes a nap in someone else’s bag!”


8. Have students read A Cat Nap. Walk around the room to observe. "Everyone is going to read the book.  While you read, I will be walking around the room to hear your reading."

9. Pass out the handout and help the students identify the pictures.  "Everyone look at the picture handout.  Let's help one another identify the pictures."  The teacher should walk around the room and make sure each child identifies the pictures.

10. Have each student write a message while other students are being called to the teacher's desk.  "I want each of you to think about what you would do if you woke up in a very strange place, like Tab did in our story. After you’ve thought about it, write a message explaining what you would do.”

    For assessment, each child should individually come up to the teacher's desk.  Each child should bring the picture handout and a pencil. According to the teacher’s instructions, each student should be assessed on the understanding that a = /a/.  The teacher should say, "I want you to circle all of the pictures that show words containing /a/.  Then, I want you to look at the pictures that you’ve circled and choose one word that you would like to write. For example, you would write rat for this picture (pointing to the picture of the rat)." Be sure to provide primary paper. The teacher should grade each child according to their ability to identify the pictures representing words with /a/, as well as their ability to recognize and write a word that includes the letter a.  For other assessment, the teacher could have each student individually read A Cat Nap and take a running record of the student's miscues. 


1. A Cat Nap. Educational Insights, 1990.
2. Eldredge, J. Lloyd, Teaching Decoding in Holistic Classrooms. Upper Saddle River, NJ. 1995.
3. Murray, B.A., & Lesniak, T. (1999). The Letterbox Lessoon: A hands-on approach for teaching decoding. The Reading Teacher, 52, 644-650
4. Williams, Andrea. Icky Sticky Iguana. http://www.auburn.edu/rdggenie/connect/williamsbr.html 
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