If I had to pick, I think the moveable alphabet has to be my favorite work in the class. It is a work that can be modified to fit so many levels, it can be extended to meet the child where they are and you can connect it to the interest of the child.
blue, green, red, yellow – writing words describing her metal inset
Work with the moveable alphabet consists of what is called encoding – or spelling. Encoding almost always comes before decoding (or reading), it is very important that the child have a great deal of experiences with encoding before we present any sort of reading. And, since Dr. Montessori was so brilliant, she knew if you took away the mechanics of forming the letters (handwriting), and gave then a set of letters – the moveable alphabet – a young child could easily build meaningful words.
I was trying to figure out how to edit this post, it seemed to be getting longer and longer! So rather than make it two separate post, I will put the fun activities at the top and the discussion about the spelling research stages at the bottom. If you are interested in the stages of spelling and the connection to the moveable alphabet, be sure to go all the way down!
excited about her first cheerleading lesson
My Moveable Alphabet Philosophy
I try to move a child to the moveable alphabet as soon as I know they are solid with 5 consonants and 1 or 2 vowel. I am not part of the camp that believes they need to know all the sounds before starting work with the moveable alphabet. In these early stages I do focus on building words based on vowel word families or sets of rhyming words. I like the child to be able to represent a fair amount of 3 letter words and be able to hear medial vowel sounds before I move on, but once they are there, woohoo, let the fun begin!
My favorite Moveable Alphabet prompts and extensions:
- Let’s write about what you did this weekend/last night/spring break/your birthday.
- Let’s write the names of the people/pets in your family.
- What are your favorite foods/colors/sports teams?
- Look at that colorful dress you have on, let’s write about it.
- Look at that metal inset you made, let’s write the colors.
- Let’s write words about princesses/horses/cats/dinosaurs.
- Have a basket of art prints. The child picks one and writes about what they see.
- Pick any object in the classroom, write words that describe it (any material, flowers, friends names, works on the shelf in front of them).
- Write a story (this is when I start introducing sight words like the, you, I).
story writing – Once there was two sisters and
I think you can see where I am going with this. I try to find something that will draw the child into using the moveable alphabet, even the most reluctant child can get excited about writing about their favorite animal. Children will also pick words that challenge them, I would never ask a 4 year old to write cheetah, but if that’s their favorite animal, that’s what they want to write. I use these prompts and extensions with all the children working with the moveable alphabet. Where ever they are we can modify the work to make this work is engaging and meaningful.
The point of all of this to just get them writing and breaking the words down into the sounds that they hear. While I still introduce the Montessori Phonograms in separate lessons, showing the child that ch makes the /ch/ sound when they want to write the word chicken, makes more of a connection than having them make a random list of words that have the /ch/ sound. I do still have children work with the moveable alphabet to reinforce blends, digraphs and long vowel patterns, and they make list of words with sh, or cl, I just use these other extensions as a way to connect the child to writing in meaningful way and to see what language patterns they have internalized.
Having the child write words with the sounds they hear (not the ones we want them to hear) is the best phonetic practice they can get, and by seeing the moveable alphabet as a work beyond just writing list of words with /a/ or /st/ or /ai/ it opens a world where writing is fun and meaningful.
Passover, matzah, blessing
Stages of Spelling
There are 5 stages of spelling, the children in the 3-6 class will usually fall into one of the three below:
- Emergent Spellers – writes words with random strings of letters, numbers, scribbles and such. No relation to sounds in the words
- Letter Name Spellers – called this because they start write words and represent sounds as they relate to the letter name. Now in Montessori we just do letter sounds, but our children still move through this stage the same way! Early Letter-Name spellers will often represent words with the most salient sounds they hear, often leaving out the vowels until later in the stage ex. cat – CT, pin – PN. As they work through this phase the child is able to hear and represent the vowel sounds and later in this stage the child starts to work with and represent blends (st, bl) and diagraphs (sh, ch, th).
- Within-Word Pattern Spellers – the child begins to learn the long vowel patterns and other patterns in more complex sounds. This stage is focused on learning the different patterns for long vowel sounds, r-controlled vowels and diphthongs (two vowels together making a new sound oy, au, ow.
One other important phrase is “using but confusing” – what sounds to we see the child trying to represent with their writing, but they aren’t getting it quite right. Examples would be:
- Early Letter-Name Speller – HIN for hen. Using but confusing medial vowels
- Later Letter-Name Speller – FICH for fish. Using but confusing diagraphs
- Within-Word Pattern Speller – RANE for rain. Using but confusing long vowel patterns.
If you want more info on the stages of spelling I suggest this book.
writing his favorite food – mac and cheese
Connection to the Moveable Alphabet
By observing what the child is using but confusing we can see where we need to focus our work. This gives us an insight to where the child is in terms of the stages of spelling, and it can help us focus on what sounds to present and where to focus the next presentation.
If they want to write chicken and they are early letter-name spellers, they cay just write CIN, and that’s all they really hear. But the later letter-name speller might say ‘how to you make a /ch/ sound?’ and that’s the time to introduce ch. Once the child can write CHIKN for chicken, and they may want to add “I like” to the sentence, but they know lik is not like, then is the time to first introduce the silent e.
Through the child’s own writings, we can introduce, reinforce and expand the child’s sound knowledge, in a way that is meaningful and challenging.
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