AUTHOR’S NOTE: I originally posted this in 2010 and then again in 2018. Since that time, I have tried to be true to my reading heart and really listened to the research on the Science of Reading and how using a 3 cueing system for teaching strategies can be harmful to students. I have also taken a deep dive into leveled readers and decodable resources. There was a time when I thought all decodables were just too boring and too limiting to give students great opportunities for reading. I definitely knew the limitations of decoding on leveled text because students were expected to read words beyond their pattern knowledge and found myself introducing these words and patterns before letting the students read the books. DUH! Not sure what took me so long to, in the words of Elsa, “Let it go.”
That being said, if you are still required by your school district mandates to use leveled readers…here is the best information I can give you for a pre-A level…just make sure you are adding in lots of phonological awareness, phonemic awareness and phonics!
Again, this was updated in 2018.
What do you need for a Pre-A Lesson?
A standard guided reading lesson requires not much more than a book and a plan. The Pre-A requires more than that. The materials on the list aren’t in any particular order. I suggest a timer…it’s a 20 minute lesson with 4 parts. If you don’t use the time, you can easily get long-winded and take too much time. Students will need magnetic letters (both upper and lower case letters) to sort, organize, and spell their names. Having a pencil container with all the materials needed during the lesson, helps you keep the lesson to 20 minutes, as well. I love the dry erase markers from Dollar Tree and I’ll talk about it later. There needs to be a popsicle stick for pointing or the student can use their finger. Letter/Sound cards are a necessity. I love this set from Pioneer Valley Books. It has sound cards, rhyming cards, and syllable cards ~ perfect for the Pre-A lesson. You’ll need Level A books. You need a letter/sound linking chart. The one I made has a writing space at the bottom of the chart. When it’s placed in a plastic sleeve, they can practice writing letters during the lesson. You’ll need standard sentence strips and scissors for the Working on Writing section. The plastic sleeves mentioned earlier can be found at many different outlets, but I love the ones at Amazon. Finally, you’ll need a handwritten name plate for students.
What is a Pre-A Student?
We started our class with a sort: Pre-A v. Emergent Readers. It is crucial to determine who will benefit from a Pre-A lesson plan. Pre-A will prepare students for early success in Level A. Because students in our division are asked to be at a Level D by the end of the year, so getting them into an A quickly is important. We tend to hold them back and wait for a magic moment of “ready” before we move them on, but if we are paying attention to the skills at each level, let the words in your head echo, “What are you waiting for?” Students who are Pre-A are those that:
- know less than 40 upper and lower case letters combined.
- know some but few letter sounds.
- need a model to write their name.
- have limited concepts of print.
- need practice with left-to-right directionality.
- use choral reading
- work mostly with letters and sounds, not words.
Letter Identification and the Alphabet Tracing Book
Letter identification is the first step in the Pre-A. Based on letter ID students can be divided into 3 categories: Less than 10, 10-40 Known Letters, and More than 40. The first two groups of children will be in a Pre-A lesson, the latter will be in a Level A with support. Once the 2 Pre-A groups are determined, the students need the Alphabet Tracing Book and a Pre-A Lesson Plan.
The Alphabet Tracing Book is one of the best tools in the Pre-A plan. The Alphabet Tracing Book is such a simple concept, but it can give such great results. The book has 26 pages…one for each letter of the alphabet. The page contains a capital and lower case letter and a linking picture. The students are asked to trace the letters with their finger in proper formation. Students in the Less than 10 Pre-A group will be tracing known letters and letters in their name. Students in the 10-40 Known Letters will trace the entire book. As they trace the letters they say the letter name and then point to the picture and say the picture. If they don’t know the letter or form the letter incorrectly, the “teacher” uses a hand-over-hand method. It is not recommended the students add a letter/sound association. In our school, our teaching assistants and parent volunteers were taught to review the Alphabet Tracing Book DAILY! Yes, DAILY!
If you would like a Sound Chart and Alphabet Tracing Chart Set, there is one in Resources tab on this blog. (You’ll need a password. Just sign up to follow my blog, and you’ll get it delivered to your inbox.)
The Lesson Plan
The Pre-A Lesson Plan is divided into 4 parts: Working with Letters/Working with Names, Working with Sounds, Working with Books, and Working with Writing. AND the entire Pre-A lesson takes 20 minutes. That’s right…20 minutes. Think of it as the Curves® of reading instruction. You’ll hit on all four parts of the Pre-A lesson in 20 minutes. Now do you see the need for a timer? Each of the four components are described below.
Working with Names
The working with names is only for the students who cannot write their name without a model. The activities are name puzzles, creating names with magnetic letters, and writing rainbow name writing. Name puzzles are done a little differently than you would think. Write the student’s name on a sentence strip and put it in a legal-size envelope with their name written on the outside of the envelope. For the first lesson, take their name out of the envelope, put the name-side of the envelope on top with the name showing, cut the name strip in half. Show them the two parts of their name and have construct their name with the model. Then, turn over the puzzle pieces, mix, and turn the envelope upside down. The student will construct their name without a model. That is the whole lesson for the first day. The next day cut the name one more time, so their are 3 parts and repeat the activity. Once they can construct their name with individual letters, the name puzzle is retired. I’m sure the magnet letters activity is self-explanatory. There are three reasons I love the dry erase markers from Dollar Tree. First, the marker is bullet point…so you don’t have to worry about a chiseled edge. Second, the top can be snapped on without damaging the bullet point. Finally, the eraser can be used with the rainbow writing. The student is given a plastic sleeve and their printed name and a dry erase marker. The student traces the name with proper formation, then uses the eraser end to erase the name in proper formation. Set the timer for 1 minute and the student must write, erase, and rewrite the name until the timer goes off. Once the timer goes off, ask the students to point and tell the names of each letter in their name.
Working with Letters
When the student has accomplished constructing and identifying letters in their name, you move to Working with Letters. There are 8 activities for working with letters. The 8 activities are listed in order of difficulty. Students who know less than 10 letters are given their known letters and the letters in their name. As soon as the student knows more than 10 letters, they are given a bag with a variety of letters.
Working with Sounds
Students are led through 3 activities: clapping syllables, working with rhymes, and picture sorts. Clapping syllables is self-explanatory. The teacher says a word and the students clap the syllables. Once this activity is done without help, the activity is discontinued. Working with rhymes is a thumbs up, thump down activity. The teacher says 2 words and the students react with a thumbs up or thumbs down as to if they rhyme. Students do not produce rhymes, they simply identify them. The final activity is picture sorts. The teacher picks 2 letters (typically one known and one unknown) and picture cards for sorting. The students are given one picture for each of the letters. After the introduction, the students take turns placing one of the cards on the sorting mat. They will say the picture and the sound.
Working with Books
Students will be given a Level A book and the predictable text. They will read chorally the text…while doing a left-to-right sweep of the sentence. Jan suggests using a popsicle stick for pointing instead of their finger. When they are ready to stop pointing, they discard the popsicle stick. If they have created the habit with their finger, it’s harder to break the habit. After a Concept of Print lesson on words, students should be asked to read with one-to-one matching. Remember, this should be a very predictable text…if the last page of the book has a different text, don’t read it. Skip it. This is a 5 minute lesson.
Working with Writing
Students will finally be led in a writing lesson. The sentence should mimic the language of the book. If it is possible, the sentence should also contain at least one of the beginning sounds from the working with sounds lesson. You will draw the number of lines on a sentence strip to represent the number of words in the sentence. Students will write the beginning letter of a word, while you finish the word quickly. When the sentence is done, cut the sentence into words and give each student in the group a word. If necessary, the period can be cut separately, so everyone has a piece. Each child will add their piece as the sentence is constructed. One child can take their pieces home each night.