Casper the Cat

Beginning Readers: Decoding Short Vowels
Jenn Miranda

Rationale:  In order for a child to learn to read, he or she must be aware that letters are symbols that stand for phonemes or vocal gestures.  Children must take their knowledge of phonemes in order to decode and recognize words.  Our goal is for children to become skillful readers by decoding unknown words and recognizing familiar words at an appropriate speed.  This lesson will focus on the correspondence a = /a/.  They will learn this correspondence by having a memorable experience with the correspondence through letter box lessons, reading a book, a hand gesture, and an assessment at the end. 


Primary Paper and Pencils (one per student)

Dry erase board and maker

Class set of Elkonin lettbox

Class set of the letters a, t, c, b, d, d, s, g, h, n, l, k, r, p

Large letter box for teacher to demonstrate

Large letters for teacher a, t, c, b, d, d, s, g, h, n, l, k, r, p

Class set of the book A Cat Nap

Largely printed tongue twister on a poster:  Andrew and Alice asked if Annie's active

 animals were angry.

Phonemic picture of a crying baby with an “a” in his mouth 


Matching worksheet for assessment (words will be on one side of the paper: cat, apple,

            lamp, ant, Crab.  The pictures will be printed on the other side of the paper. 



            1.  Begin the lesson by introducing what we are going to do today. 

“Did you know that the letters in words represent certain sounds?  You did, wow!  Well, today we are going to learn about the /a/ sound.  Can anyone make the /a/ sound?  OK, this is how you make the /a/ sound.  (model how you say /a/ as in apple.  Make sure to enunciate the /a/!).


2.  Talk about the gesture that can go along with the /a/ sound/.  Model explicitly so the class can hear and say the /a/ sound.

“How many of you have ever heard a baby cry?  Yes, it sounds like an ahhhhhhhhh!  Well that is what the /a/ sounds like.  We are going to rub our eyes and pretend to cry like a baby.  Watch what I do.  (model the gesture:  rub eyes and say ahhhh!  Be sure to open your mouth wide like a baby screaming!)  Now look at this picture.  (hold up the phonemic picture of the baby with the “a” in his mouth.)  This is what we look like when we are doing our gesture.”


3.  Go over the tongue twister.  Model the sentence first.  Read it normally.  Then have the students read it normally.  Now, add the gesture every time the /a/ sound is heard.  Have the students practice and read this by enunciating the /a/ sound and making the gesture.  

“Now we are going to read a tongue twister.  A tongue twister is a silly sentence that some of the words all have the same sound. I want you all to listen to me say the sentence and follow along. (point to the letters as I read the sentence).  “Andrew and Alice asked if Annie's active animals were angry.”  Ok.  Now I want you to repeat the sentence after me.  Again, here is the sentence:  Andrew and Alice asked if Annie's active animals were angry.  Very good!  I want us to add our crying baby gesture every time we hear the /a/ sound.  Watch how I do it first. Aaaaandrew aaaaand Aaaaalice aaaaasked if Aaaaannie’s aaaaaactive aaaanimals were aaaaaangry.  See how I rubbed my eyes and said ahhhh every time I heard the /a/ sound.  Now, lets do that together.  I really like how you all made your crying baby sounds!”


4.  Now we will start with the letterbox lesson.  Be sure to have all the letters already out for the students so it will not waste time during the lesson.  Start with the 2 phoneme words and work your way up to the 5 phoneme words.  Make sure that the students do not read the words in the letterboxes, but wait until the end when we take the letterboxes away. 

“Since you guys all did a great job saying the /a/ sound, we are going to learn how to spell words with the /a/ sound.  First I want everyone to take the letters in front of them and flip all the letters over so that the lowercase letters are facing up.  (demonstrate this in case the children are confused.)  Ok, I am going to demonstrate how we would spell grab.  First I will open up my letterboxes so that I have 4.  It is important to understand that we put the sounds we hear in the box, not just individual letters.  Ok, so the first sound I hear in grab is the /g/ sound.  I will put that in the first letterbox.  Grr.  Ok, the next sound I hear is /r/ so I will put that in the second box.  Graaa.  I hear the baby crying /a/ sound!  I know that this is the letter a.  I will put that in the third letterbox.  I have gra, graf.  So I put a f in the fourth box.  Graf… wait no, I am trying to spell grab.  I hear the /b/ sound/.  I do not hear a /f/ sound.  I need to take that out and put the letter b in there!  I spelled grab!”

Now I will instruct the students to make their letter boxes to have 2 boxes.  I will call out at.  I will then tell the students to make 3 letterboxes and call out the 3 phoneme words (cab, dad, sat, tag).  Now set up 4 letter boxes and call out the 4 phoneme words (hand, black, last). Next move onto the 5 boxes and call out the 5 phoneme words (stand, scrap, drank).  If the students are understanding the lesson, have them open the whole Elkonin box to 6 and call out the 6 phoneme word (strand). 

“Since you did such a great job spelling all of these words, I am going to write them on the dry erase board and I want you all to read the words.”

            5.  I will pass out each student a copy of A Cat Nap.  I will pair the students off in groups of two so that they can alternate reading the book to one another.  Here, I will walk around and listen to each of the student’s read so that I can get almost a verbal assessment. 

“I am going to pass out a book for each person to read.  Do not open the book until I say so.  How many of you have a cat or have seen a cat sleeping?  Great, most of you have!  Well cats like to sleep.  This story is about a cat named Tab who falls asleep in his friend Sam’s bag.  We are going to have to read on to find out if Sam ever finds Tab.” (Students read here while I walk around to assess).”

            6.  Here, I will pass out more primary paper so the students can respond to our message prompt:  Tell me about your favorite animal.  Why do you like this animal?  They will also have the opportunity to color their animal below the sentence.  They can do this while I call the students up one by one for assessment.

“I want everyone to take their paper and write about their favorite animal.  I also would like you to tell me why you like this animal.  When you are finished you may draw a picture of this animal.  While you are doing this I will be call you up one by one to help me with a worksheet!” 

Assessment:  The students will be called up one by one to complete the assessment.  The worksheet will have the words (apple, cat, ant, crab, lamp) on one side and the pictures will be on the other side.  Students will have to read the words aloud and match the work to the correct picture.  I will be able to hear the students reading the word and assess the students progress. 


Ehh!... What Did You Say by Jessica Wallace

Phonics example words by Bruce Murray

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

A Cat Nap.
Educational Insights, 1990.

Phoneme pictures for short vowels  by Bruce Murray

Hand Gestures for Phonemes by Bruce Murray

Wallach and Wallach Tongue Twisters:

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