“Aaaaaa!!!!”  It’s Okay, Baby!!

 Beginning Reading Lesson Design
By: Emily Watts


:  In order for children to learn how to read and spell words, they need to develop a strong sense of phonemic awareness, as well as understanding that spellings map out phonemes in spoken words.  Vowel sounds are the most important phonemes children can learn because they can be found in every written and spoken word.  Without the knowledge of vowel sounds, written words cannot be properly decoded.  Since long vowels can be formed with more than one letter, learning short vowels is a good place to begin.  Beginning readers must not only know that words are made up of sounds, they must also learn the correspondences between written letters and their phonemes.  This lesson will focus on the vowel correspondence a = /a/.  Students will learn how to recognize the /a/ sound in spoken words, practice spelling the /a/ sound by using Elkonin letterboxes, and identifying and decoding the /a/ sound in written text.


1.Picture of a crying baby  2. chalk; dry erase marker  3. Primary paper   4. Pencils  5. Elkonin letterboxes for each child in the group; plastic letter tiles for each child consisting of the letters: a, c, p, n, f, t, d, j, m, s, g, r, b, l, ck  6. Large poster with the phrase:  “Alex and Ann ate apples and sat on ants.”  7. Individual copies of the book Pat’s Jam (Educational Insights)  8. Individual picture pages (cat, map, man, hat, nap, ham, black) with the correct number of letterboxes underneath the picture  9. Picture words (cat, map, man, hat, nap, ham, black) written on note cards.


1.  Introduce the lesson by explaining that we use letters to write down words, and that these letters represent different sounds.  In order to become good readers, we need to learn how to match the letters to their sounds.  Today, we are going to learn that the letter a  stands for the /a/ sound.  As you get to know the sound the little a makes, you will be able to read and spell many words.

2. Write the letter a on the board.  Explain that this little a makes the /a/ sound.  Ask students:  “Have any of you ever been around a baby?  Good!  Then you know that it is important to be quiet while it is sleeping, because if it wakes up you’ll hear a very loud Aaaa!!   Then you must rock the baby back to sleep to get her to stop crying.   Everyone make a crying baby sound for me.  Great! This sound is very similar to the sound made by the letter a, /a/!”

3. Now I have a fun tongue twister.  Display the tongue twister that is written on the larger poster.  Read the tongue twister to the class, “Alex and Ann ate apples and sat on ants.”  Now let’s read it together, but this time every time you hear a word with the /a/ sound, I want you to cry like a baby.  “Alex and Ann ate apples and sat on ants.”  Good!   Can anyone tell me a word they heard with the /a/ sound in it?  Great job!!  Let’s practice spotting the /a/ sound in some spoken words.  Ask the students the following questions and call on then to answer.  Do you hear /a/ in sat or sit?  Cat  or dog?  Rat or mouse?  Very Good!

4.  Ask the students to take out primary paper and pencil. “Most of you already know how to write the letter a. We are going to practice incase someone has forgotten. On the board write an a, then go through the steps: for lowercase a, you start under the fence then you go around and touch the sidewalk, around and straight down. Can anyone tell me what sound this makes? On three lets all say it together!  Aaaaaa!  Very good, just like the crying baby!  Please write five a’s on your paper to represent the /a/ sound.” The teacher can also be modeling while students are writing. Walk around and view everyone’s a’s. “Wonderful work everyone!”

5.  Each child will now receive an Elkonin letterbox as well as the appropriate letter tiles.  Say:  “Now we are going to practice using our knowledge of the /a/ sound to spell words.  Let’s say I wanted to spell the word “rat”.  First I am going to unfold three of my boxes because rat has three sounds, /r/ /a/ /t/.  I am going to start with the first sound I hear in rat.  R-R-R-at.  I hear the /r/ sound.  I will place the letter “r” in the first letterbox. The next sound I hear is the baby crying /a/ sound.  I am going to place the letter “a” in the second letterbox, because it is the second sound I hear. Now I have ra-.  To finish I need to find the last sound in the word rat.  Ra-t-t-t.  I hear the /t/ sound, which means I will place the letter “t” in the last letterbox.   Each of you have your own letterboxes and I want you to try and spell some words using this same technique that I just modeled for you.  We will first open out our letterboxes to only three boxes meaning that each word we spell contains three sounds.”  I will now ask the children to spell pan, fat, dad, jam.  Once they finish spelling each word, we will go around the group and I will ask every child to explain to the other members of the group how they spelled the particular word.  We will continue on in this manner spelling 4 phoneme words such as:  spat, grab, back, and clap.  Last, I will write each word one at a time on the board (pan, fat, dad, jam, spat, grab, back, clap) and call on students individually to read them out loud to the group.

6.  Now we will work on reading word with the /a/ sound in the decodable text, Pat’s Jam.  Each child in the group will get an individual copy of this book.  “I know that each of you can do an excellent job of reading this book because all of you are experts at recognizing the little a sound, /a/.  After you finish reading, I want you to write down at least three words you read containing the /a/ sound.  Also, if I come and tap you on the shoulder I want to you read in a low voice so I can hear what an expert you have become at recognizing the little a sound, /a/, in written words.  Now I am going to get you excited about reading Pat’s Jam by telling you a little bit about Pat.  Pat is an ordinary rat.  One day he goes to the store with his friend Pam in a van.  When they go to leave the store, their van won’t crank.  We will have to read to find out what is wrong with the car and if Pat and his friend Pam ever make it back home·”  After each child has finished, I will ask them to share the words that they found containing the /a/ sound.  I will write them on the board and compile a list of all the /a/ words in this text.

7. For assessment, give each student a picture page with the correct number of letterboxes to spell the word underneath the picture.  As a class, we will name the first picture and then I will have them spell the word in the letterboxes below the picture.  Remind the children that each box has only one sound.  We will do this with each picture.  Then I will have the picture words written on cards and I will have the students, one by one, come read which ever cards I ask then to read.  Then will allow me to hear them saying the /a/ sound. 

 Murray, B.A., and Lesniak, T. (1999) ”The Letterbox Lesson:  A
 hands-on approach for teaching decoding.”  The Reading Teacher, March 1999.  pp. 644-650

  (web page entitled The Baby’s Crying . . . Aaa! By: Christen Walton)

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