Early Literacy: Letter, Number and Shape Challenges

Occasionally, I get inquiries from other learning specialists in the field that have difficult cases. Recently, a director of a tutoring academy asked me a question about a new student, and I thought I would share our correspondence for this week’s blog post.  Names have been altered to preserve anonymity.


Dear Erica:

I have a question about a new case.  When I first contacted you about two years ago, it was because I had a little 5-year-old girl who was way behind.  Your guidance really helped me.  Anyway her first cousin has come to us.  The girl turned 4 in June, and she is having a number of issues.   She has no number recognition and no letter recognition, except the letter “A” – because her name is Alice.  She does recognize most of the basic shapes.  However, she can only trace, but not copy them.  I asked her to write her name, but all letters were illegible – but the letter A.  I’m not sure it was even her name. She knew all her colors, but blue, which she called “lellow.” I had her color fruit, and she colored both grapes and an apple blue. She had no rhyming ability, and no concept of compound words.   I gave her the two words to put together.  I don’t know where to begin.  Do you have any suggestions?

Dear Sue: 
I like to work off of student strengths, and it sounds like Alice can trace.  So, I would use this ability and have her trace things and color them by placing images into dry erase pockets.  Be sure to get a variety of dry erase markers too.  

Here are my suggested steps:
  1. First, you can place letters, numbers, and different colored shapes into the dry erase pockets and ask Alice to trace them while saying the name (and color – if applicable) 5 times.  In the beginning, stick to one category and limit the instruction to 5 concepts.  For example, focus on the first 5 letters of the alphabet.  You can do both upper and lower case letters at the same time, or focus on one at a time. 
  2. Second, blow up a balloon and write each of the 5 letters onto it with a permanent marker.  Be sure to make the letters as large as possible.
  3. Third, toss the balloon to Alice and see if she can name the first letter she sees while tracing it on the balloon.  Pass the balloon back and forth.  You can do the activity too, so she can learn vicariously through demonstration.  After she can do each of the letters successfully, teach her the letter sound.  Toss the balloon up in the air.  Say you see the letter “B” trace the letter and say the letter name 5 times.  Then say “B makes the ‘b’ sound like balloon.”  Do this for each letter and then let Alice give it a try.
  4. Fourth, when Alice is ready, make the game even more challenging – Each time she gets the balloon and sees a letter, she has to come up with a new word that starts with the same sound – “B makes the ‘b’ sound like banana…”  “B makes the ‘b’ sound like ball….”  
  5. Fifth, when the session is over, encourage Alice to take the balloon home and teach the games to her parents and siblings. 

You can follow the same sequence for numbers and shapes.

Use the App Touch and Write.  This is such a fun, multisensory, motivating approach that I’m sure she will enjoy!

As another activity, you could also teach Alice about syllables:  I like to use kinesthetic movements when teaching this concept, where you and the student bounce on ball chairs, learn a simple song about syllables and then feel the syllables.  Here is a video I did that illustrates the concept: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRVqZw_FS-c
I would start to teach her rhyming and blending once she has learned all her letters, numbers and shapes.  If you find that she likes to play games, you can check out my reading games primary too.  
I hope you found this blog helpful, and that sharing our correspondence has offered you some ideas.

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  

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