At the start of Kindergarten, students really have a hard time seeing the difference between letters, words and sentences. It is our job to be explicit in our instruction and make sure that our students hear, from us, what the differences are. Sometimes, all it takes is a little information from us and they will "get it."
Since some letters and words can be confusing, like a and I, it is crucial that we teach our students how to handle those, as well as other misconceptions. This lesson is the perfect, quick way to approach practice with words versus letters.
It is important that we teach students that there is a relationship between words and letters. Also, students need to know that words are just groups of letters (or single letters sometimes) with spaces on either side. I also think students need to recognize that words have meaning, but letters (other than I and a) do not... with all of that being said, this lesson is particularly important.
I love to hang up our what makes a word? poster for reference! (Also, it reminds me to keep repeating this practice as often as possible for a few weeks.)
I begin this lesson the first week of school. I like students to see early that we are going to be looking at letters (specifically) and words (specifically) from the beginning! I tend to repeat this lesson every other day for a week or two. Also, I will repeat this lesson with my 'approaching' group a few more times as the first month of school progresses.
This lesson, as detailed here, is taught in the whole group setting. I think it is important to have a brief review that all students can engage in while doing my think-alouds and having students use their brains as well!
"Today, we are going to learn about something that we NEED! We will need this information to keep on learning! So... hmm... what could it be?" (wait time) "Well, today we are going to learn the difference between letters and words." (wait time) "We are going to learn exactly what letters are. Can you say that, please?"
(Students will say, "We are going to learn exactly what letters are.")
"Yes. We are also going to learn exactly what words are......"
(Students will say, "We are going to learn what words are are.")
"Great! Now that we know what we are going to be talking about, let's get started!
These are letters." (Point to the alphabet on the wall.) "Letters are things we write to represent a sound in a word. For example, S says /s/... so if I needed to write set, I would start with a s, because it is the one letter that makes up that sound, /s/. A letter is small. As you can hear, the /s/ is just the first part of set." (wait time) "Now... what about words? Is the alphabet made of words?"
(Students will say no or shake their heads.)
"The alphabet is made of letters, not words. But, guess what words are made of? Words are made of letters! Words are made up of more than one letter. Can you say that with me?"
(Students will join and say chorally, "Words are made up of more than one letter.")
"Yes. I need two or more letters to make a word. For example, I is a word. But, if I add an S and I have IandS next to each other, I have made a word! A word usually needs two or more letters. Repeat that."
(Students will say, "A word usually needs two or more letters.")
"Great! Yes! Remember that letters are small, so words are almost always made up of more than one of them. Let me show you something and I want you to tell me if you see a letter or a word."
I will write on the board and students will respond as I do so.
o (letter) of (word)
a (letter) at (word)
I (letter) is (word)
can (word) n (letter)
"Great job practicing! It seems like you understand the difference between letters and words."
*FYI: Students typically do not say that I or a is a word; this is because visually, they are letters. I have not experienced a student saying that a or I was a letter, but if I did, I would be sure to implement this next strategy at that time- it would be a teachable moment! Otherwise, I typically explain this portion of the lesson here!
"Now, we talked about how a word usually needs two or more letters. Well, there are two exceptions... I is a letter and a word... Can you say that, please?"
(Students will say, "I is a letter and a word.")
"Yes, I is a letter and a word... there is one more, also. A is a letter and a word... Can you say that, please?"
(Students will say, "A is a letter and a word.")
"Yes! Those two are the tricky ones! I and A are letters and words... but other than that, words need more than one letter. Great work!"
Here is a video of us completing one of these initial lessons with letters and words!
"You guys did a great job today. It really seems like you're understanding a lot more about letters and words. Remember- a word has more than one letter. Your turn."
(Students will say, "A word has more than one letter.")
"I am so proud of you guys! This will help us when we read and write!
I repeat things about letters and words throughout the year. For example, during my Morning Message time, I tend to say things such as, "The letters that make up this word are..." or "How many letters are in this word?"
I also take this lesson and expand on it when I teach about sentences. I do a process very similar to this one to explain how 1) yes, words are made of more than one letter, and, 2) sentences are made of more than one word.
I have found that explicit instruction like this really instills in students' minds that we will tell them how things work.
Finally, students can work on these skills in centers. Here is a cool set of center work from Heidi Songs that works with sorting letters, words, sentences (and even numbers). And here is a great blog with fun ideas for working with letters and/or words at the same time!