This is a repost from June 30, 2010.
I’m issuing my own product recall on alphabet charts, and yours might be included!
This isn’t a safety issue, I can’t imagine an alphabet chart causing physical harm (though I suppose the occasional paper cut could be pretty traumatic) but the alphabet chart you’re using might not be teaching what it’s meant to teach.
Alphabet charts, those posters or room headers that show upper and lower case letters along with a picture, are meant to be a reference point for children. They are meant to help a child associate the written letter with its accompanying sound. So you have “Tt” next to a tiger, “Ff” next to a frog, and “Dd” next to a dinosaur. Easy enough, right?
X is for X-Con
The letter X is the biggest offender on these alphabet charts. Most alphabet charts show “Xx” x-ray, or “Xx” xylophone. These cues won’t help your children much, unless they’re trying to spell X-Men or xenophobia. Now I’ll be the first to agree, that finding a familiar word that begins with x is not an easy task. Just check out this list of words starting with x. Not too child friendly. The problem is, the purpose of an alphabet chart is not just to match letters to cute pictures with the same beginning letter, it is to offer visual cues to match with a useful sound.
The most common sound for the letter X, particularly in the early stages of reading and writing is the “ks” sound. That is the X sound children need to learn. Now, I don’t think I can come up with a word starting with X and the “ks” sound, but I know a few common words that end with the X-“ks” sound. Box and fox, for example. The fact that the sound is at the end doesn’t make it less useful. In fact, it’s more useful because it teaches the actual sound the child needs to learn.
X is by far the worst offender, but you might want to take a look at the vowels on your chart too. Vowels are the Jason Bourne of the English language. Just when you think you know exactly what they’re about, they change on you. While we teach long and short sounds, we all know there are about twenty subtly different sounds those five letters can produce- think R controlled, schwa, diphthongs. For the sake of basic concepts, an alphabet chart should ideally show a picture corresponding with the short sound for the vowels. The long sounds are obvious – they state the letter’s name. It’s the short sounds that children will need to be reminded of. So instead of “Ii” ice cream, it would be better to find “Ii” insect, or iguana, or igloo. Now, this may require some vocabulary training, but really, with any alphabet chart, you need to spend some time explaining what each picture represents. Otherwise you have children reciting A for Crocodile or Q for Pretty Princess.
The good news is, you don’t have to send your chart in to the factory to be retrofitted with a new part. You can do that yourself. Simply identify the offenders in your alphabet chart, choose words that more appropriately match the sound cues you are trying to teach, do a quick image search on the internet, print, paste over the offender, and you’re done!
Charts Vs Books
Now I don’t want you to suddenly rifle through all your alphabet storybooks and throw them out as well. Alphabet books like Alphabet Under Construction by Denise Fleming, or Jerry Pallotta’s Icky Bug Alphabet Book shouldn’t be held to the same standard as the alphabet charts. While charts are meant as a ready reference across situations, alphabet books are meant to show application of the alphabet within a theme or context. They can show “airbrush” for A because tomorrow you’ll show them another book with “anaconda” for A. Books can show variation, but your chart needs to show consistent basic concepts.
No one will come from the government to enforce this recall. But if you have children trying to spell the word “zebra” with an X, you can’t say I didn’t warn you about your misleading “xylophone“.
You may also be interested in A Culture of Literacy: Teaching Preschooler’s the ABCs and More.
Top photo by ctech.
Fiona Fajardo-Hernandez says
Thank you for writing this article! Now I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I got so frustrated in my loooong and fruitless (hehe!) search for the perfect alphabet chart/flashcards that I ended up making my own. It took a lot of time and effort, but I’m really happy about the results : )
Way to go! You could market that — looks like you’d already have some interested buyers! :0)
Alliyah Sadiq says
Why do they use box and fox for the x letter of the ? alphabet.
Thanks for your support.
The x sound at the end of those words is more accurate for the x sound children learn for early reading and phonics skills. X as a beginning sound (more like a z) is rarely used in early reading words.
Thank you so much, this is such a gripe of mine. I also made up my own charts, partly to make the alphabet book we make with the children. That way they have a consistant reference. I totally agree with Ii. We are using itchy which has a nice action to use and is very familiar (especially after chicken pox went through and with all the mozzies at the moment!).
The animal/action alphabet I’ve used has “itchy itchy insect” for I, which is perfect – and would connect well with your mozzies!
Alex | Perfecting Dad says
I find most learning materials pretty hit-or-miss whether for children or adults. They must not test this stuff, not even on their own kids, to see if they do anything. Everyone ends up learning the alphabet anyway, but it is annoying you’re right. We just learn the letters using the chart, not using the sound-out words much. The English alphabet and pronunciation is just generally tough to learn. Also, our kids learn French and Polish at the same time, making things even more difficult. The English “E” sounds like the Polish “I” for example.
But they get through it with repetition fairly easily, even with “X-Ray”. It’s a one-time correction that they remember. Costs them a few minutes total time, so it is probably not worth creating a whole new chart for.
I’ve found the same struggle with Spanish — the name for the letter I is pronounced like the name of the English E…Isn’t it amazing that young kids can bounce back and forth with this stuff?! And it’s true, most children survive imperfect instruction (thank goodness!), I just feel very strongly that to be an effective teacher you have to be intentional. Sometimes that means questioning whether your tools are matching your objectives. For me, that meant taping a picture of a box (thankfully easy to draw) on top of a picture of a xylophone. If my intention is to teach the basic “ks” sound, then that’s the tool I need to use.
Love and Lollipops says
Great post… I have thought about this very thing so many times and am yet to find a “perfect” chart!
Let us all know when you find that! :0)
I have felt the same way about the letters (especially x) since starting to do preschool with my daughter in January. Some letters are really not used as initial sounds very often and are more appropriately placed at the end, as in box and fox. I just makes more sense to teach it that way, but most people don’t realize it. Thanks for this!
I think this is awesome, one of those things you think about but nothing is done about it! I have the open court sound cards in my room and it was a disaster. For example, for A there is a picture of a lamb, N is a horses face (for nose, guess they couldn’t draw a human nose?), Y is a yak, and T is a tug boat. Really?!? You give me one preschooler who knows what a yak is, and I’ll give you a million dollars. The best part is that I couldn’t figure out why students kept telling me that horse started with the letter N, even when they could correctly produce the /n/ sound. So needless to say I remade many of my cards and covered up pictures that didn’t make any sense. However I did find that the kids did start to realize that the pictures weren’t correct, when one student came up to me and asked “Teacher, your cards are wrong, sheep should be on the S card because it starts with the /s/ sound,” referring to the lamb a card. While working with the beginning and ending sound identification did help, especially for the letter X, the kids picked up on the correct sounds and can produce their own objects that start (or end) with the correct sound now based on practice and reinforcement. I think it is much better to discuss and create your own, and if someone is producing a set that makes actual sense, especially for preschoolers, I would definitely be interested in purchasing!
P.S. The X card literally just has a red X on it. That’s helpful.
P.P.S I LOVE your blog and think you are amazing and creative and have a great voice for teachers out there. So thank you.
Thanks Kristen, you made my night! Sorry to hear about the abc card confusion. At least when your kids are correcting the cards you know they’re turned on and engaged and they are learning or they wouldn’t correct you. There’s always a bright side, right? I would get much more satisfaction from the fact that they produce their own objects to match beginning and ending sounds than worry too much about the cards. That’s showing a much higher level of understanding. Thanks for being an intentional teacher!
I used Sing, Spell, Read, and Write to teach my boys(now teens, so it’s been awhile) their letter sounds and how to read, write, and spell. They used Indian for the letter L and in a revised version, I believe, changed it to Igloo. They used box for X to illustrate the “ks” sound. They also taught the short vowel sounds first, then went on to long vowel sounds and then on to other sounds of letter clusters and double vowels, and long vowels caused by silent e. It was a very methodical system and worked very well for us. By the time they finished the first grade level of SSRW they were able to begin reading chapter books like Boxcar Children(first Boxcar Children book took my oldest 6 weeks to read, but he got faster and faster with each book and wanted to read not much of anything else for almost a year. He read dozens of those books)
Good to know! Thanks for the tip!
LOVE this! My first year of teaching, the District supplied me with a chart that used “box” for “x.” I thought it was a much better application and used it through the next 6 years of my teaching, and continue to use it with my own children. Thank you to the school district that really caught onto an on-going problem!
I also found the same with the long vs short sounds. Once my students picked up on the short sound for the vowels, the long vowels just followed naturally.
I have a problem with the plethora of material (ie magnet letters, puzzles) that only have the capital letters! Why do these companies supply this only?! What letters do we see/read most often: the uppercase or lowercase? I wish companies would make the switch so that parents could then teach their children the letters they will be seeing most often.
Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now! Just some thoughts!
Your soapbox is always welcome here! ;0)
I totally agree with you, which is why I avoid the whole alphabet charts. I also get annoyed with color charts, since they often have green triangle (well sure, the triangle could be green, or it could be yellow, blue, pink or polka dots). I also have concerns with shape charts.
Starfall has a really good alphabet for their kindergarten curriculum. I happened to get my hands on a set that I use in my Early Childhood classroom…no ice cream or xylophones 🙂