Apples and Alligators

Kayla Vernon

Beginning Reading Lesson Design


Rationale:  It is important that children learning to read understand that letters stand for phonemes and that spellings represent the phonemes in spoken words.  Children need to have clear instruction and practice with short vowels because they can sometimes be very difficult phonemes to recognize.  In this lesson, students will focus on recognizing short a = /a/.  Students will learn to recognize and identify short /a/ in spoken words and will practice finding words with short /a/.   Students will understand this correspondence by focusing on what moves the mouth makes when saying the sound and doing a letterbox lesson to spell and read words with a=/a/.



1. poster with a picture of an apple and an alligator to show short /a/

2. sentence strip with tongue twister: "Alice the Alligator loves to eat apples"

3. letterboxes (1 set per student)

4. bag with letter tiles with the letters (a, b, c, d, f, g, l, m, n, p, s, t ) (1 bag per student)

5. index cards with the words written out that the students will spell (at, cab, bag, man, sad, flat, spam, flag, Stan)

6. the book, Pat's Jam, a Phonics Reader (Educational Insights)

7. picture page (bag, box, rat, dog, bat, foot, flag, kite) for assessment



1. Begin the lesson by explaining to students that our written language is a secret code.  We must learn what letters stand for.  The mouth moves as we say words.   Say:  today we are going to learn about short /a/.  Explain to students how the mouth moves as we say short /a/.  Say: everyone listen to me "Aaaaaa", now you say it, "Aaaaaa"

2. Discuss with students the sound an alligator may make if it were to open his mouth.  Say:  class, if an alligator were to open its mouth and say /a/ it would sound like this (demonstrate by using arms to show a big mouth) "Aaaaa."  Now let's all use our arms to try our alligator /a/ by opening our big alligator mouth "Aaaaa."

3. Put the tongue twister sentence strip on the board for the class to see.  Say: let's look at this silly sentence.  Look at the words while I point and read them.  "Alice the alligator loves to eat apples."  Now everyone read this sentence with me and really listen for the /a/.  Now let's stretch out that /a/ as we read this sentence again and this time use your big alligator mouth when you hear the /a/.  Model: "Aaaalice the aaaligator loves to eat aaaples."

4. To make sure students can recognize the /a/ in spoken words ask them to identify which word they hear /a/.  Call on students individually and ask them how they knew which word was correct.  Say:  do you hear /a/ in top or cap?  Do you hear /a/ in pluck or sack? Red or man? Jack or puff?  Observe carefully to make sure that ALL students understand.

5. Next, begin the letterbox lesson.  See that all students have their own letterboxes and letter tiles.  Be sure to model for the students.  Say: I want to spell the word "grab."  I have four letterboxes that will go along with each mouth move that I make.  I will say it slower so that I can hear which letters need to go in each box.  G-g-r-r-r-a-a-a-a-b-b.  The first sound I hear is /g/, so I know I will start with the letter "g."  Then I heard /r/, so that is an "r."  Next I hear my "Aaaa" so I know I will need an "a" and finally I hear the /b/ so I will put the letter "b" in the last box.  I have now spelled out the word "grab."  Start with just two letterboxes and then move up. (2) at, (3) cab, chat, bag, man, sad, (4) flat, spam, flag, Stan, trap.  Walk around and observe students spelling out the words as you call out the words to be spelled.  Provide help for students who are struggling.  Allow several minutes for students to work on this.

6. After the students have spelled out the words using the letterboxes, bring out the index cards with the words written out.  Hold up the cards for the students to read aloud.  If there are students having trouble, use the letter tiles and spell the word out.  Show students how to use cover-ups to decode words.

7. Next, give each student the book, Pat's Jam.  Say:  We are going to read this book about a rat named Pat and his pal, Pam.  Pat has ham and Pam has jam.  They get into Pat's van, but the van is out of gas.  Let's read to find out what happens to Pat and Pam.  Have students to do the big alligator mouth when they hear the /a/.


Assessment:  To see if each child has a true understanding of the short a, pass out a picture page with eight pictures on it.  Students will circle the pictures that they hear the /a/ for. (bag, rat, bat, flag)  Call students individually to read the phonetic cue words from step #6.



Murray, B. A., &  Lesniak, T. (1999).  The letterbox lesson:  A hands-on approach for teaching decoding.  The Reading Teacher, 52, 644-650.


Kathleen Wheat -- Active Alligators Like Apples


Pat's Jam.  Phonics Reader.  Educational Insights


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