Ah! Avalanche of Knowledge!

A Beginning Reading Lesson

By: Emily Loyd

Rationale: This lesson teaches children and students about short vowel correspondence a=/a/. In order to be able to read, children must learn to recognize the spellings that map word pronunciation. In this lesson children will learn to recognize, spell and read words containing the spelling /a/. They will learn a meaningful representation (frightened person because of an avalanche!), they will spell and read words containing this spelling in a letterbox lesson, and read a decodable book that focuses on the correspondence a=/a/.

Materials: Graphic image of an Avalanche; cover-up critter/ whiteboard or smart board Elkonian boxes for modeling and individual Elkonian leterboxes for each student; letter manipulatives for each child and magnetic or smart board letters for teacher; a,r,c, (2) p, l, e, t, x, m, b, y, h, s, u, c, k, list of spelling words on poster or whiteboard to read:  arc, apple, ax, tax, lamb, yam, has, sap and quack. The decodable text is Lad and the Fat Cat and d and the assessment worksheet.


Say: In order to become expert readers we need to learn the code that tells us how to pronounce words. When I say /a/, I think of people screaming avalanche! [Show graphic image]. Now let’s look at the spelling of /a/that we’ll learn today. One way to spell /a/is with the letter /a/ at the beginning of the sentence or in the middle of a sentence. If there is not an e that is silent at the end of the word than you pronounce it a=/a/. [Write an example of a word that has long a like tape and then write the word tap underneath it]. Explain by showing the students that tape says tape and that is the long a. Then say look at tap, it does not have an e on the end so it is pronounce a=/a/ like avalanche.

Say: Before we learn about the spelling of /a/, we need to listen for it in some words. When I listen for /a/ in words, I hear a say ahhh and my lips open and mouth opens like I am eating an apple like this. [Make vocal gesture for /a/.] I’ll show you first: ax. I heard /a/ and I felt my lips make a shape like I was eating an apple. [Make your mouth like you are about to eat an apple and do a hand gesture, like you are about to bite into an apple.] There is a long A in Ape. Now I’m going to see if it’s in shape. Hmm, I didn’t hear /a/ as in apple and my mouth didn’t open wide enough to bite into an apple. Now you try. If you hear /a/ says, "Ah, avalanche!" If you don’t hear /a/ says, "That’s not it." Is it in snap, rain, pants, coat, jam, lips? [Have children make their mouth like they are biting into an apple with their hands holding an imaginary apple when they feel /a/ say its name.]

What if I want to spell the word stack? "If I stack the blocks neatly, they won’t fall over." Stack means place on top of one another in this sentence. To spell stack in letter boxes first I need to know how many phonemes I have in the word so I stretch it out and count: /s//t//a//ck/.I need four boxes. I heard that /a/just before the /ck/ so I am going to put an /a/ in the third box. The word starts with /s/, that’s easy; I need an s. Now it gets a little tricky so I’m going to say it slowly, /s//t//a//ck/ I think I heard /t/ so I’ll put a t right after the s. One more before the /a/, hmm… /s//t//a//ck/. I think I heard /k/ but I know that stac is not a word; I need to add a k. Now I’ll show you how I would read a tough word. [Display poster with the avalanche and model reading the word.]I’m going to start with the /a/; that part says /a/. Now I’m going to put the beginning letters with it: h-a /ha/. Now I’ll put the chunk together with the last sound, /ha-s/. Oh, has, like "My teacher has an apple."

Say: Now I’m going to have you spell some words in letterboxes. You’ll start out easy with two boxes for ax. An ax is something you use to chop wood. "George Washington chopped down the cherry tree with an ax." I’ll check your spelling while I walk around the room. [Observe progress.] You’ll need three letterboxes for the next word. Listen for the beginning sound to spell in the first box. Then listen for /a/ don’t forget the sometimes letters need another vowel like qu and ck. Here’s the word; quack. [Allow children to spell remaining words, giving sentences for each word: yam, arc, ax, sap, lamb and apple.]

Say: Now I am going to let you read the words you’ve spelled. [Show the words, ax, quack, yam, arc, sap, lamb and apple, the extra words has, and ran, and the pseudoword sabe. Have children read words in unison. Afterwards, call on individuals to read one word on the list until everyone has had a turn.]

Say: You’ve done a great job and reading words with our new spelling for /a/. Now we are going to read a book called Lad and the Fat Cat. This story is about a dog and a cat and at first they don’t get along but then the cat has kittens. Let’s pair up and take turns reading Lad and the Fat Cat to find out what happens next between the dog and cat. [Children pair up and take turns reading alternate pages each while teacher walks around the room monitoring progress. After individual paired reading, the class rereads Lad and the Fat Cat chorally, stopping between page turns to discuss the story.]

Say: Before we finish up with our lesson on the sound a=/a/. I would like to see how you can solve a reading problem. On this worksheet, we have some words missing. Your job is to look in the box of word choices, and decide which /a/ word fits best to make sense of this very short story. First try reading all the words in the box, then choose the word that fits best in the space. Reread your answers to see if they make sense. [Collect worksheets to evaluate individual child progress.]


Murray, G. (2004) Jakes Joke.

 Reading Genie: http://www.auburn.edu/academic/education/reading_genie/bookindex.html

Assessment worksheet: http://www.free-phonics-worksheets.com/html/phonics_worksheet_v1-36.html

Beginning Reading by Melissa Thompson: http://www.auburn.edu/academic/education/reading_genie/realizations/thompsonbr.htm

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