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Beginning Reading Lesson Design

“/a/” Says the Crying Baby

Beginning Reading Design

Rationale: This lesson teaches children about the short vowel correspondence a = /a/. In order to be able to read, children must learn to recognize the spellings that map word pronunciations. In this lesson children will learn to recognize, spell, and read words containing the spelling a. They will learn a meaningful representation (crying baby saying /a/), spell and read words containing this spelling in a Letterbox Lesson, and read a decodable book that focuses on the correspondence a = /a/.


Materials: Graphic image of crying baby; cover-up critter; whiteboard; Elkonin boxes for modeling and individual Elkonin boxes for each student; letter manipulatives for each child and magnetic letters for teacher: b, a, t, s, h, g, c, l, m, r, k, p, n; list of spelling words on poster or whiteboard to read: bat, shag, clam, track, plant, scratch ; decodable text: A Cat Nap, and assessment worksheet.



1. Say: In order to become expert readers we need to learn the code that tells us how to pronounce words. Today we are going to learn about short a /a/. When I say /a/ I think of a crying baby crying, “Aaaaaaaaah!” [show graphic image].

2. Say: Before we learn how to spell words with /a/, we need to listen for it in some words. When I listen for /a/ in words, I hear a say /a/ and my mouth opens up like a crying baby. [Make vocal gesture for /a/.] I'll show you first: cat. I heard a say /a/ and my mouth opened up like a crying baby [emphasize how your mouth has opened up like a crying baby]. There is a short a in cat. Now I'm going to see if it's in kit. Hmm, I didn't hear a say /a/ and my mouth isn’t crying like a baby like it should. Now you try. If you hear /a/ say, "’Aaaaaah’ says the crying baby." If you don't hear /a/ say, "That's not it." Is it in hat, sleep, slot, flash, that, run? [Have children point to their mouth when they feel /a/ make the crying baby.]

3. What if I want to spell the word bat? "I am next up to bat." Bat means hit the ball in this sentence. To spell bat in letterboxes, first I need to know how many phonemes I have in the word so I stretch it out and count: /b/ /a/ /t/. I need 3 boxes. I heard that /a/ just before the /t/ so I'm going to put an a in the 2nd box. The word starts with /b/, that's easy; I need a b. Now it gets a little tricky so I'm going to say it slowly, /b/ /a/ /t/. I think I heard /t/ so I'll put a t right after the a.

Now I'll show you how I would read a tough word. [Display poster with scratch on the top and model reading the word.]  I'm going to start with the a; that part says /a/. I'm going to blend the beginning sounds with /a/: s-c-r-a, /scra/. Finally, I'll blend the chunk together with the last sound, /scra-tch/. Scratch, like "My dog likes to scratch her ear."

4. Say: Now I'm going to have you spell some words in letterboxes. You'll start out with three boxes for shag. Shag is a kind of carpet or rug, "I have shag carpet in my house." What should go in the first box? [Respond to children's answers]. What goes in the second box? I'll check your spelling while I walk around the room. [Observe progress.] You'll need four letterboxes for the next word. Listen for the beginning sound to spell in the first box. Then listen for /a/. Here's the word: clam, I found a clam at the lake; clam. [Allow children to spell remaining words: track, plant, scratch.]

5. Say: Now I am going to let you read the words you've spelled. [Have children read words in unison. Afterwards, call on individuals to read one word on the list until everyone has had a turn.]

6. Say: You've done a great job reading words with our new spelling for /a/: a. Now we are going to read a book called A Cat Nap. This is a story of a cat named Tab who loves to take naps. Tab takes naps all over the house. One day, he takes a nap in a very unusual place and something happens. Let’s read the story to see what happens to Tab! Listen for the crying baby /a/ sound as you read.

7. Students will complete a worksheet on short a by finding the words with short a and completing the maze. While students are working on these worksheets, meet with students individually to assess their phoneme awareness of /a/.

Assessment: Using the phoneme identification test, ask the students, “Do you hear /a/ in bag or net? Stop or stash? Fan or punt? Wish or cash?


Worksheet: http://www.tlsbooks.com/shortsoundofamaze.pdf

Murray, B.A. & Lesniak, T. (1999). The Letterbox Lesson: A Hands on Approach for Teaching Decoding: The Reading Teacher, 52, 644-650.

Decodable Text: A Cat Nap, Educational Insight 1990

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