Montessori moveable alphabet: exploring with writing and reading
We explored letter and sound activities in the previous sequence, including I-Spy for phonemic awareness and sandpaper letters. Now it’s time for your child to move on to writing and reading!
We first start with writing with the Montessori material, the moveable alphabet. Your child builds words which prepares her for reading. It continues the phonics process.
At this point, we’re not focusing on writing words with a pencil on paper yet. Although, your child may be ready and could start to practice handwriting activities simultaneously.
The beauty of the moveable letters is to allow your child to explore building words and expressing her thoughts before she is ready to write words and thoughts with a pencil.
Here we will explore the six writing activities I learned from my Montessori training. I will also share how the activities went with my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Annie, at home!
In This Post
Why does writing come before reading in Montessori?
You may be wondering, why are we teaching writing before reading?
Montessori believed that writing comes before reading because, in a sense, it is easier.
When one is about to write something, she can think about the words she wants to write after creating an “inner image.”
However, when reading, one has no idea what she is about to read, and she has to interpret someone else’s “inner image.”
Your child starts with writing thoughts
When your child begins to write her first words with the moveable letters, it is about freedom to explore, using her experience with letter sounds. Now she is building words with the letter sounds.
We also want to focus on your child writing her thoughts. In the beginning, your child needs to continue regularly exploring writing words from her thoughts for practice.
It’s also essential for you, the adult, to work alongside your child because building words with the moveable alphabet, especially in the beginning, is an auditory process.
In other words, your child is listening to the sounds she hears, piecing the sounds together, and pulling them apart.
It’s part of the phonics process and is an excellent indirect preparation for reading, which comes next.
Here are the 6 Writing Games
For the first lesson, ask your child to pick about three letter sounds from the moveable alphabet that she knows well.
For example, your child chooses /r/, /l/, and /m/.
Then, you say that we can build words with these sounds. Place the letters back in the box and then ask your child to make words for three-letter short vowel words with those letter sounds.
For instance, ask your child to write: rat, log, and man.
As your child continues to practice building words, ask her to think of words to write. You could prompt her by asking, “I’m thinking of something that says meow.” Then your child says, “cat!” Then she finds the letters for the sounds she hears to build the word, “cat.”
Before becoming a Montessori teacher, I had never heard of inventive spelling. It’s your child listening to the sounds she hears in the word and building the words with the sounds, even if the spelling is incorrect.
I think it’s fascinating to observe a child writing words from her thoughts and to come up with her own spelling. For example, my daughter Annie wrote the word “rat” in the first exercise and it made her think of the movie, Ratatouille.
She instantly said that she wanted to write Ratatouille. She wrote what she heard and ended up spelling it with the moveable alphabet as “ratutue,” which I thought was so creative!
She also wrote “duc” for duck and “hiken” for chicken because that is what she heard.
Inventive spelling is okay and encouraged at this stage in your child’s writing and reading journey. At this point, it’s important that your child trusts her ear and builds words with the sounds she hears. Children will learn more about proper spelling later on in the sequence.
Note: Don’t ask your child to read back the words to you at this stage. If she does, that’s great, she’s ready for reading. But don’t force it. Instead, practice writing words and thoughts.
There are several variations of this beginning exercise of writing words with the moveable alphabet. It’s important to remember to continue this work regularly. It’s great preparation for reading.
To learn more about writing words with the moveable alphabet, go to my blog post:
Next, we move on to word families with the dictation sequence. Word families are three-letter short vowel words that sound the same at the end, for example, words in the “at” family, like mat, cat, sat, rat, hat, and bat.
Word families can also include other words in the /a/ family, like words that end in “an” like pan, ran, fan, or “ap” like lap, cap, and nap.
There are different variations in the sequence, and you can mix up the different word families with the same vowel or mix up some words with the /a/ and /o/ vowels in the same lesson, depending on where your child is at—for instance, she could write: mop, man, hot, bag, tap, rod.
This lesson is sometimes called the dictation sequence because the adult dictates the words in the word families, as the child writes the words with the moveable alphabet.
To learn more about word families, check out the blog post:
Your child continues to practice writing word families with short vowel three-letter words with /e/, /i/, and /u/. Then your child moves on to words with consonant blends (such as flat, spin, drop) and longer two-syllable words ( such as sunset, pumpkin, magnet).
When your child is solid with the moveable alphabet, it is time to write phrases. You can explain to your child that “a phrase is a group of words that go together.” For example:
- pretty picture
- sunny day
- good book
- hot sun
- wet duck
What stands out to me about this lesson is ensuring we “leave a space” between the two words. We usually place a two-finger space between the words while building the words with the letters.
Also, at this stage in your child’s writing and reading journey, when she gets to writing phrases, she has spent quite a bit of time with the moveable alphabet.
She has practiced consonant blends, bigger phonetic words with two syllables, and words with phonograms (ee, ch, ar) like beep, chip, and jar. You can also practice phrases that contain phonograms. For instance:
- green tree
- good cook
- blue coat
- loud boy
- short trip
4. Sight word card game
Sight words are called “puzzle words” from my Montessori training and can not be phonetically sounded out. The children learn them at this stage in their writing and reading journey with a card game and also with the three-period lesson.
Note that it’s best to use only two words at a time when doing the three-period lesson.
When starting out with the sight word or puzzle word cards, choose words that appear most frequently in basic sentences and short beginning readers. Such as:
You can move on to more advanced sight words (for example, would, some, many) as your child progresses.
Since these words can not be sounded out, children learn them best by memorizing them.
You could also play a memory game with two sets of puzzle word cards!
You could also write some of the sight words from the cards with the alphabet letters.
5. Writing sentences
After your child has explored writing phrases and learned some sight words, you can begin to write sentences with the moveable alphabet. You could also use a smaller moveable alphabet with smaller letters. You could print out letters and make several copies of letters so that you can write more sentences.
In the picture above, I am using a regular moveable alphabet. But note that you could run out of letters quickly as you write sentences.
The key focus at this point is explaining to your child that a sentence is like a phrase but has more words and a complete thought.
For example, you can say to your child a sentence is:
“Today is a sunny day.”
It’s a great time to introduce a “period” at the end of a sentence.
For the first sentences your child writes, be sure to think of words with phonetic elements known to your child. You could suggest something like:
“It is a hot day.”
“I can jump and run fast.”
We encourage children to write their own thoughts, but sometimes we need to prompt ideas for sentences. You could also have a collection of pictures for sentence ideas.
6. Writing stories
It’s so exciting when we get to write stories! Often, when children are at this stage, they have practiced quite a bit with handwriting with a pencil.
Sometimes they’re ready to move on to writing their stories with a pencil on paper rather than using the moveable alphabet.
But, it’s always good to offer the option of writing stories with the moveable alphabet letters if your child is not ready to write stories with a pencil. We encourage children to write their thoughts in more advanced ways, even if it’s too frustrating to use a pencil.
With this activity, you can also explore the use of capital letters and the period at the end of a sentence. You may need to get a smaller moveable alphabet with more alphabet letters to write stories and include capital letters and punctuation materials.
An example of a beginning story with the alphabet letters could be:
The cat can jump.
She is on top of a tree.
She took a nap.
Concluding thoughts about writing and reading activities
I hope that you found these 6 Montessori writing and reading activities to be helpful! In the coming months I will write more detailed blog posts about each activity including lesson plans and printables.
The most important thing to remember about writing with the alphabet letters is to allow your child to freely write her thoughts. Annie has been working on writing her thoughts as well as writing word families. She is having a blast and so excited!
Writing in Montessori also includes handwriting activities, such as the metal insets, chalkboard, sand tray, handwriting rugs, and writing with a pencil.
These handwriting activities often happen simultaneously while the children work on the moveable alphabet activities. I will cover the handwriting sequence after we get through the 6 moveable alphabet lessons.
Have you worked on building words with moveable letters with your child? How did it go? Leave a comment below!
More Montessori Resources
If you liked this blog post, you’ll also like these posts from the previous Part 2 – Letter and Sound sequence:
- Essential Guide To 4 Fun Letter And Sound Activities
- How To Increase Phonemic Awareness With These 4 Sound Games
- Montessori Sandpaper Letters: 3 Easy Ideas To DIY At Home
- Easy and Fun Beginning Sounds Game (Letter Object Matching)
- DIY Letter Sound Book: 1 Brilliant Idea To Keep Track
- Simple Letter Recognition: 4 Engaging Moveable Alphabet Ideas
Also, check out the blog posts from the Part 3 – Writing to Communicate sequence: