« December 2008 | Main | February 2009 »

January 2009 Archives

January 17, 2009


I have a large, 105cms x 135cms Judy Instructo "Learning About Telling Time Play Mat", which I have used for teaching stroke order and letter formation. The children love it and it adds spice to what could be a boring activity, but only one child can use it at a time so sometimes it becomes, what I'm trying to avoid, "a boring activity". Still, let's not give up. A clockface can be very useful for teaching stroke order, most of the rounded parts of the letters of the alphabet start or finish at the 2, 4, 8 or 10 o'clock positions and some reading and writing schemes use a
clock extensively in the teaching of letter formation. These schemes usually give quite precise oral instructions for forming the letters.

Giving each child a play mat is not an option. It costs too much money, the mats seem to give off toxic fumes, and there are problems with storage and how much space they need when in use. So, after years of thinking about it, I finally got round to designing and creating a simple and inexpensive clockface to use for teaching stroke order and letter formation. Let me show it to you.


Now how can we use this? I printed out a large A3 sized clockface for myself and several A4 sized ones for my students. If you need a high-definition copy of the clockface or any of the materials in my column, then contact me and I will send you a copy via e-mail. Laminate the clockfaces and give one to each of your students, then give visual and oral instructions and have the children trace out the letters on their own clock faces with their fingers. In other words, talk them through the tracing of individual letters. Show a picture card and have the children write the associated lowercase/uppercase letter, with a water-based marker, onto their clock faces. Show a letter and have them write it on their own clockfaces. Have them clean the materials and play again. Put the children in pairs and they challenge each other to write (trace) different letters, with their fingers, "write this letter", "write a big /a/ (or 'A' if your children use alphabet names)". Bring their attention to the arrowed alphabet if their stroke order is 'far out'.

If you have other ideas on how to use the clockface, then please let me know.

Now might be a good time to give your students a letter formation worksheets. I made this first one for a friend who wanted a worksheet in lowercase letters only. Young children can easily lose their place on a worksheet, so I put in a second full line of tracing letters.


The second worksheet is taken from Blending a Hand disk 1. A teacher wrote to me and was concerned about having the anchor word printed on the worksheet, he was worried that his students would start sight reading these words. This is why you will not find any words on this series of worksheets. I tried to make them as graphically interesting as possible for young children. Most children enjoy completing these worksheets and they also enjoy colouring them after they have done the tracing.


Here's another simple activity related to letter formation. Say that we want the children to form the capital letter 'B'. Give them a copy of the letter and a lot of picture cards beginning with the letter 'b', here's a list for you:
bag, bat, bed, book, bus, bottle, bucket, boy, bedroom, bedbug, bank, baby, ball, balloon, banana, bee, bell, bird, and so on. Ask the children to form the letter out of the picture cards. I usually do a few letters at once. I first have the children help me sort the cards according to their initial sound and then in groups they form individual letters from the picture cards. It really makes them think about the letter shape. They need to think about the shape, how the shape is best formed and the sound that shape represents; they may also have to remember the name of that shape.

I hope you find some of this helpful. If you have any comments or requests, then please throw them my way.


January 27, 2009

Alphabet Tracks

It was New Year's Eve and my family were all sitting in the living room watching the television and killing themselves laughing. I sat for awhile, but for some reason I couldn't get excited about old men singing karaoke and young men getting dressed up as old women, so I sat at my computer trying to think up a new game or activity.

I like making track races, but it's really difficult to make all those curves and bends, then I thought about the number eight. I opened a text box and created a full page outline of number '8' using Jester font, then I saved it as a PNG file, opened it in Paint, put lines in it and then coloured it. Here's what it looks like so far.


It's not a bad track, but I couldn't think what to put on the track; pictures, words?, it seemed lacking in purpose so I abandoned it.

Back to the TV, but after 10 minutes I thought I had totally lost my sense of humour, so I went back to the computer. Revitalised after my television break, I began to think of how I might use other numbers to create tracks, then it dawned on me that if I used lowercase letters, then I would have 26 Alphabet Tracks at my disposal.

When I get a new idea, then I race to completion, it's almost as if someone else has got the same idea and I'm going to be accused of plagiarism, somehow these thoughts help me focus. Anyway, I set to it right away and before the end of the year I managed to create my first three alphabet tracks. Over the next few days I would enjoy making the next 23.

Many creations end up in the trash can, but Alphabet Tracks will end up in many a classroom. How can I claim such a thing? Well let's look at some of the good points about them. They are very easy to make, just print them out and laminate them. They are affordable; 26 sheets of high-quality inkjet paper, 26 laminating sheets and ink, which does push the price up by a little. They are attractive, colourful and full of interesting pictures. They have a long shelflife and are easy to store. The rules of play simple and you don't need any special equipment to play.


That's nice, but what about their educational value? Well, children will review or learn a lot of interesting words, they will take a greater interest in stroke order and letter formation, and phonemic awareness is built into the boards. For all the consonants, apart from 'X', all the vocabulary items begin with the sound/letter which any particular alphabet track represents. For the short vowels, I decided to use the vowel mostly in the medial position, because of the lack of suitable vocabulary beginning with short vowel sounds.


Let me tell you how I first introduced the tracks to my students. Before class proper began, most of the children were busy doing crossword puzzles, word searches or other worksheets and when it was time to start the lesson they left the writing area and came to the 'play' area of my classroom and took their seats. In front of them, on the carpet, were several alphabet tracks. Now I'm sure the children could have just began playing without any assistance from me, but I wanted them to get the best out of these materials, so I asked them if someone would like to play a game with me. Hands shot up and one child was chosen and I asked the others to watch while we played.

We used two dice and two small counters. I began. I rolled both dice and moved forward according to the lowest number, identifying each picture as I went. I wanted the game to move slowly and I knew that some children would be happy just to count out the numbers and then identify just the one picture on each roll, this way they would move leisurely around the track and be encouraged to name each picture. By the time we finished this first game, all the children were eager to play. They play in pairs or a group of three if we have an odd number of students. Of course the teacher could pair up with one of the students, but I prefer to stay in the background and make myself available, should anyone need assistance. I told the students to ask me "What is it?", if they came across words they didn't know.


It was interesting to watch them play, wondering the best way to use the 't' track and to see them tracing their fingers around the boards without any encouragement from myself. They also began to notice how each track used vocabulary beginning with the same initial sound as in the playing letter. They noticed that the short vowel boards didn't use vocabulary using the initial sound of the playing letter and their asked my wife why this was. We told them that there wasn't many interesting words beginning with these sounds, so we put the sounds in the middle of the words. They noticed it and were quite satisfied with the answer. Most of them were quick to ask me "What is it?", when they came across new words. I used the cards with elementary school students (first-sixth grade), junior high school students, high school students and adults, who happen to be preschool teachers. Everyone, without exception, enjoyed playing.

Now available on CD. Contact me for further information or for a sample puzzle.


About January 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Classroom Activities in January 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2008 is the previous archive.

February 2009 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.35