One of the first skills that I assess for my pre-k and kindergarten students is their letter knowledge. Some students come to school already knowing all 26 letters and their sounds, some know a few – like the letters in their names, others don’t have any prior knowledge at all. I have to pre-assess each child and then set up appropriate differentiated instruction for each.
Here are some of the ways that I have found over the years to make assessing my young students and differentiating their practice more engaging and fun (for both them and me!).
During small group time tape either letters or picture cards (if assessing letter sounds) to a wall in a dark corner or under a table. Give students small flashlights from the Dollar Store or Dollar Tree. Tell them they are going on a letter hunt. Say a letter and have students take turns hunting for the correct letter or picture card with the flashlight and shining the light on the correct card.
You can also do a paper letter hunt and make it more fun by letting students use Dot Painters or dry erase markers to mark the correct letters. They can use one color for uppercase and another for lowercase.
Simply place a letter page on a cookie sheet and have students place magnetic letters on it. Easy and engaging letter practice!
For letter recognition practice and assessment, I place a lowercase letters page on the cookie sheet and have students match the uppercase magnetic letters to the lowercase letters on the page.
For letter sounds practice and assessment, I place a page on the cookie sheet that has pictures and students place the beginning sound magnetic letters on the pictures.
Students do not always have to complete the entire chart each time. Mix it up and differentiate your practice or assessment by having them complete a few chosen letters, or certain rows.
Digital Magnetic Letters Centers
Since my students enjoy the magnetic letters centers but we don’t have a large number of sets, I created digital versions that have the engagement but don’t require the manipulatives or prep. They are digital Boom Cards that can be played on any device with a modern browser (they require internet access) and they are self-checking AND provide me with student assessment reports! I tried them last year and LOVE them and so do the students! You can read more about them here.
In the digital versions, students drag and drop the red magnetic lowercase letters to the correct boxes on the cookie sheet. They receive immediate feedback which they love!
I found these alphabet blocks at the Target Dollar Spot and they are perfect for fun practice and assessment. They have both letters and pictures.
Students love building towers with the blocks. For letter practice, I say a letter and they add it to their tower.
For letter sounds practice and assessment I have students place pictures above the beginning sound letter block.
These alphabet puzzles were another Target Dollar Spot find. They are a fun, hands-on way to practice letter sounds.
Letter sorts are a great way to assess not only letter knowledge but visual discrimination skills and phonemic awareness as well.
We practice them as a whole group first using the pocket chart and then do them in small groups and centers as well. I found a tabletop pocket chart on Amazon that is perfect for small group practice.
You can do letter sound sorts or sort letters into uppercase and lowercase (not pictured).
Digital Letter Sorts
I also created a digital letter sort so I could use the Boom Cards student reports to see what letter sounds students have mastered and with what letter sounds they are struggling (if you are not familiar with Boom Learning you can read more about them here).
Students drag and drop the picture cards to the correct columns and receive immediate feedback (cards are self-checking).
Have Students Write Their Answers Using Different Mediums
Another way that I get students to WANT to practice letters and get excited about assessments is to let them write their answers in a number of different and fun ways.
I either say a letter and they write the letter or I show them a picture card and they write the beginning letter sound.
They can write the letter in salt or sand with their fingers or Q-Tips.
Spread shaving cream on a cookie sheet or on the desk and let them write the letters with their fingers.
Use gel bags – fill a ziploc bag with hair gel and food coloring, mix, double bag and tape shut to prevent leaks. Students write the letters with their fingers or Q-Tips.
Students love using markers! Let them write with dry erase markers on a board or directly on the table.
Card games such as Go Fish, Old Maid, or Concentration are all fun ways to practice and assess letter knowledge. Students match letters, uppercase and lowercase as well as pictures and have to say the letter and its sound when they get a match.
Technology has made assessing students much easier. As I mentioned earlier, I like using Boom Cards for practice and assessment because of their engaging, interactive nature and no prep, student reporting.
Here are a few more of the decks that I use for alphabet letter practice and assessment.
This deck is for uppercase and lowercase letter identification and has 26 unique cards.
Students love getting immediate feedback from the self-checking cards.
Since we visit the pumpkin patch towards the beginning of the year, I use a pumpkin patch deck where they have to “pick” the correct pumpkins.
These decks practice and assess letter sounds:
Another wonderful digital assessment tool is ESGI. With hundreds of preloaded assessments, you can quickly test students on letters, sounds, sight words, number concepts and more.
After you assess students, ESGI creates reports with real-time student data, saving you time and helping you differentiate. Just take a look at this bar graph analysis feature.
If you would like to try ESGI, you can sign up for a FREE 60-day trial to see if you like it. Be sure to use promo code A1165 so you’ll save $40 off the purchase price if you subscribe.
Motivate & Encourage
Even with all of these fun ideas, learning 26 letters and their sounds can be overwhelming for young students which is why I like to motivate and encourage them each step of the way with reward tags. They receive a special and unique reward tag for each letter learned.
Receiving something special to celebrate their efforts (especially if they have been struggling) can energize their desire to learn more, rekindle enthusiasm about learning the alphabet, and restore their confidence and commitment.
The reward tags also give students a visual of what they have learned, they can use them to review the letters, and they help me keep track of what letters students have mastered.