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Minibeast alphabets

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By Helen BromleyAuthor of m is for me! The ideas and activities here are taken from Helen’s book (reproduced by kind permission of Yellow Door)

Venture into the undergrowth and meet some surprising creatures, with these ideas and activities in the last in our phonics series

Caterpillar on leaf

Image © Lisa Valder/www.istockphoto.com

Alphabets are a key resource in any educational setting. Working with alphabets gives all children the opportunity to encounter letters and sounds with which they are familiar – perhaps from knowledge of their names, or those of their friends, family or pets. It is empowering for young children to know letter names from an early stage, as it gives them a means to talk about the discoveries and observations that they are making as their awareness of written language grows and develops.

m is for me! by Helen Bromley (Yellow Door, £25) shows you how to create personalised alphabets with children, and also provides two ready-made onscreen alphabets, based around children’s predictable centres of interest. This month’s article looks at the minibeast alphabet.

1. It’s a bug’s world

Download the free minibeast sample letter pages ‘m is for me: GOCK’ (available in SMART Notebook, Promethean Flipchart and PowerPoint® See also m is for me! Show me how for instructions on how to add children’s voices and hyperlinks to the Powerpoint presentation.) The four minibeast sample pages, which focus on the letters G, O, C and K, include a photo and an editable text box. Share these pages with the children in either large or small groups and make sure they are able to access the pages independently. Listen to the kinds of conversations that the pages stimulate, and make a note of what the children know and understand about sound/symbol relationships.

It is not expected that children will be able to identify all of the minibeasts on the sample letter pages immediately. Some of the species will be familiar, others will be new. It’s best to regard this as a teaching opportunity, rather than a problem! Young children are always excited to learn new words and discover fascinating facts. You will have a wonderful time talking about the unfamiliar creatures, extending their vocabulary and stimulating curiosity. It will encourage the children to ask questions about what they don’t know, and offer lots of purposeful opportunities for discussion and research.

Personalising letter pages

  • Use the children’s voices to record the text featured on the sample letter pages (with adult support where necessary) and upload the sound bites to the pages. If you need help with this, go to the instructions page and click on the ‘Show me how’ links for a step-by-step tutorial.
  • An extra dimension can be added to the minibeast alphabet by inserting carefully selected hyperlinks to clips of moving bugs that can be found on the internet. Hyperlinks are quick and easy to create; the ‘Show me how’ links will guide you through this process, too.
  • The minibeast names could be used to stimulate some activities using untuned percussion. Work with groups of children to beat out the names of the minibeasts on the instruments. Listen for the rhythm and the patterns. Which minibeast has the longest name? Do any minibeasts have the same pattern as any of the children’s names?

The caterpillar alphabet

Use the minibeast sample letter pages as inspiration for creating your own onscreen or printed alphabet book, rooted in children’s interests, as the following case study shows.

During a topic on minibeasts, Reception class children at Sunnymede Infants School, Essex, were invited to design a special minibeast alphabet book. This was a class used to seeing alphabet books on a daily basis – they were already incorporated into classroom routines and used as a resource for writing and for reading. When the bookmaking was discussed with the children, they came up with the idea of making a caterpillar alphabet. The adults involved were quite concerned – would there be a different species of caterpillar for every letter of the alphabet? However, when discussing the book with the children the following day, it became clear that they had far better ideas than the adults could ever have imagined! The children wanted to make an alphabet that consisted of caterpillars engaged in a variety of activities. A whole-class discussion was held. The alphabet had been written on a flipchart, and as the children had ideas for each letter they were added to the chart. The children worked in pairs to make the illustrations and an adult wrote the text for each page. The ‘Granny caterpillar’ (for letter G) was represented by a butterfly, wearing spectacles and looking after a clutch of eggs, while the caterpillar being x-rayed (for ‘X’) had his skeleton clearly drawn as if on the radiographer’s screen. Where no words were obvious, the children were happy to invent them – for example ‘A caterpillar is zappy’ for Z! The artwork and text were bound together and turned into a book to be kept with the class’ other alphabet books.

Further information

The book and CD-ROM package, m is for me! provides templates, images and straightforward instructions for creating a range of alphabet books, ebooks, cards and resources, both printed and on screen. The materials put a strong emphasis on starting with the child as a confident, active and creative learner, and support the teaching of phonics in ways that are based around children’s predictable centres of interests. For further information about m is for me! visit www.yellow-door.net or call 0845 603 5309. Child Ed PLUS readers can receive 10 per cent off m is for me! by calling Yellow Door and quoting ‘Child Ed PLUS’. n

The process of making the book gave all children the opportunity to analyse the relationship between spoken and written language, explore new vocabulary and be joint authors and illustrators of a published book. It became one of the most valued books in the classroom. Importantly, the illustrations gave the adults an insight into children’s knowledge and understanding across all areas of the curriculum, most notably science.

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