B: Learn to Recognize Letters

These activities are also available in Dutch .

Goal: learn to recognize letters, both the shape and the sound. These activities help make the connections between the image, shape, sound and name of a letter.[1]


B1: Letters in the Sand

Goal: become familiar with the shape of the letter.

Needed: sandy pieces of ground, a stick, branch or stone to write a letter OR a pebble or sidewalk chalk to write on the sidewalk/pavement OR pens, sheets of paper and string or tape to hang them up.

Activity:

  1. Two days before the meeting, draw letters in the sand or the dirt in various places around the location of the meeting. This could also be done by writing letters on pieces of paper and hanging these in different places around the neighborhood (for example on trees, in shop windows or by bus stops; note that this may require local approval). Write one letter on each piece of paper. Choose letters from which various short words known to the people can be made. Tell the group ahead of time that they should find as many letters as possible in those two days. (Note: If you are using slips of paper, ask people not to bring them so that the next person can find them!)
  2. During the meeting, discuss how many letters everyone found and where, and what they are. Add up how many letters are found.
  3. Discuss which sounds belong to the various letters.
  4. Repeat the game with a larger number of letters – the ones they know now and some new ones – so that the people gradually learn the whole alphabet.

Variation: Give one or two people sidewalk chalk and have them draw letters in different places around the meeting place. The others have to look for the letters and when they return, tell which ones they found and where. If they have a mobile phone, they may want to take a picture of each letter as “evidence” (and to help them remember which letters they found).

Small Group Variation (1-10): Search for the letters as a group. Every time someone finds a letter, he has to say its name and the others have to repeat that name and ‘write’ it with a finger in the air.

OR whenever someone finds a letter, the others must stand in the position that best represents that letter. For example, for the A stand with legs apart and hands above the head; for the B feet next to each other and in the air, draw a half circle from your head to your waist, and one from your waist to your toes; for the C, bend your back with your hands above your head, and so on.

OR each player must jump as many times as the number of letters they have found, while saying the names of those letters aloud.


B2: Letters In Your Hand

Goals: learn all letters in the alphabet. Promote creativity in problem-solving (in this case: guessing what letter the other person has). Learn to work methodically.

Needed: a piece of paper or a small object with a letter written on it for each person. Every one receives a different letter. Choose a limited number of different letters, so that people do not have to learn too many letters at once. Make sure to have twice as many papers as people.

Activity:

  1. Hand out the letters.
  2. Have everyone look at their letter without anyone else seeing it. Then have them put it in their pocket, sleeve, sock, or some other place where it cannot be seen.
  3. Divide the group into pairs.
  4. In each pair, one must guess which letter the other has. The one who has the letter may not talk or write, but they can say “yes” or “no”. The one who has to guess may use any method they like to figure out which letter it is (see below). Once the letter is guessed, the roles are reversed. Help if it gets too difficult.
  5. When both people have guessed the letter, they each take another letter and play the game again.

Methods and tools that could be used:

  • a dictionary;
  • an alphabet poster;
  • designate an object that begins with that letter;
  • show the shape of the letter, for example by writing the letter in the air;
  • feeling the shape of the letter, for example by writing the letter on someone’s back (if culturally acceptable).

Note: After a while, if everyone has learned this set of letters, you can repeat the game with other letters. In this way they gradually learn all the letters of the alphabet.


B3: Letters in the Classroom

Needed: Make two sets of letters ahead of time, on scraps of cardboard or paper, or written on small objects. Make sure to have twice as many pieces of paper or objects as people.

Activity:

  1. Before people arrive, hide one set of letters in different places in the meeting area. After the meeting has started, hand out the second set of letters. Make sure each person gets a different letter.
  2. Tell the group that another copy of their letter is hidden somewhere in the room and ask them to find it. Explain that people can only take their own letter. If they find someone else’s letter, they should keep quiet about it and leave the letter where they found it.

Variation: This game can also be played in teams. Divide the group into two or three teams and distribute the letters as indicated above. The first team to find all its letters and name them wins the first prize. Give the other teams a prize as well.


B4: Letters on the Street

Goals: learning to recognize letters; discover and then learn to remember what those particular letters are called and what sound goes with them.

Needed: nothing.

Activity:

  1. Explain in advance that you are going on a ‘discovery trip’ or a letter safari. Go outside with the whole group to discover as many letters as possible. Ask where they think they can find letters. If this makes anyone nervous and afraid that they will not be able to read the letters, reassure them. Explain that you will only be looking for letters, and that they don’t need to be able to read the whole word, sign, or poster.
  2. Take a walk together through a street or square where the people have probably seen letters, for example at shops, on traffic signs or on license plates. Every time a person sees a letter, the whole group stops.
  3. Ask if anyone knows what letter this is and what it’s called. If not, tell them and let them hear which sound goes with it. Have everyone repeat this. For example, to help them remember this, they can clap their hands once or twice, make the sound of the letter, and then clap their hands again. They can also shout something before and after they make the sound of the letter, and so on.
  4. Continue looking for letters until everyone has found one or until the group loses focus.

Variation: Decide in advance that you will look for a specific letter together. Make sure this is a letter that can be found during your discovery trip. exploration, for example in the names of objects that begin with the sound of that letter.

Variation: Add a competitive or playful element. For example, when someone sees an ‘l’ they pretend to be a lion, if they see an ‘b’ they pretend to be a bird, and if they see an ‘a’ they pretend to be an ant. Or have everyone write down or count how many different letters they see. Whoever sees 10 (and can name them) has won. You can also divide the group into two teams; the team that sees and can name 10 letters first wins.

Note: Depending on the reading level of the group, you may need to limit or increase the total number of different letters.


B5: Letters as Mosaic

Goal: learn to make a connection between the image, shape, sound and name of a letter, while using various senses. Practice listening to the sounds at the beginning and end of a word and then identifying those beginning or ending sounds and naming them as letters.

Needed: a lot of small things like stones, seeds, beads, buttons, bottle caps; at least 20 of each. Pieces of paper or cardboard with a letter written on them, at least one for each person.

Activity:

  1. Talk about one letter:  its shape and sound; which words begin or end with that letter. Let the group come up with their own examples as much as possible. If they’re having a hard time, name a few words yourself to help them get started.
  2. Explain that everyone is going to “write” this letter with objects, like a mosaic. Put the small items on a table or other area where everyone can easily reach them. Give each person a piece of paper or cardboard with the letter written on it.
  3. Have everyone “write” the letter by placing various small objects on the outline of their letter.
  4. This can be repeated with other letters.
  5. Once everyone has mastered this, have them “write” various letters with the small objects without using the written example under their letter mosaic.

Variation: Do not use paper. First make a letter yourself with a number of small objects and then let the people copy it. Make sure that the example letter is clearly visible to everyone, and is ‘written’ correctly. (Otherwise letters like d, p, q and b will cause problems!) This can be repeated with several other letters.

Variation: If people have mobile phones, have them take pictures of their letters and ‘post’ them somewhere.

Note: In some cultures, it may be more appropriate to work in groups of two or three.


B6: Letters on Your Back

Goal: learn the form and the written representation of letters by using different senses.

Background: Learning is stimulated when we use various senses. Many other activities in the Letter Games involve hearing and seeing. This activity uses the sense of touch. However, check in advance whether this activity is acceptable in the local culture.

Needed: pen or pencil, paper. Depending on the level of the group, you might hang a poster with the alphabet in the room, so that everyone can think of a letter more easily.

Activity:

  1. Have the people work in groups of three; do this activity one group at a time. The first person ‘writes’ a letter on the back of the second person, for example with his finger or the end of a pencil, so that the other person can ‘feel’ the letter. If the person finds it difficult to come up with a letter on their own, show them one (but don’t let the others see it!). The others pay close attention to what the first person writes, but are not allowed to say anything.
  2. The second person writes the letter he/she thinks is written on her/his back on the back of a third person.
  3. The third person writes the letter on paper.
  4. Have everyone look at it: Is this the letter the first person had in mind?
  5. If this works well, you can make the groups bigger, up to four or five people. Or, repeat the game with other people.

Variation 1: If you work with a fairly small group, you can have everyone sit or stand in a row. The person at one end of the line writes a letter on the back of the person in front of them, and so on until they reach the other end of the line. (This is similar to playing “telephone,” but instead of whispering a word into the next person’s ear, a letter is written on the next person’s back.)

Variation 2: Divide the group into two teams. The teams take turns playing the game. If the letter at the end of the game is the same as at the beginning, that team gets a point. The team with the most points wins.


B7: Letters in a Box

Goal: To learn the shape of letters by feeling their outline.

Needed: several letters made of wood or other hard material; a box or bucket filled with sand, rice, small balls or small packaging material.

Activity:

  1. Hide the letters in the box or bucket so that they are not visible.
  2. Have people take turns putting their hand in the box and picking up a letter. Before taking it out, they have to guess which letter it is by feeling its shape. Blindfold the person if necessary. Have the person describe aloud what they feel: the letter is straight, triangular, curved, has a hole in it, etc. If someone cannot guess the letter, they can take it out of the box to see which one it is. If they still do not recognize which letter it is, have other members of the group help them. If no one knows, say the name of the letter and the sound that goes with it. Praise the person for the effort he/she has made, even if she/he did not know which letter it was. (Make sure the person does not feel that they have failed.)
  3. When someone has guessed which letter it is, have that person think of a word that begins with that letter. Help them if necessary.
  4. Continue around the circle until everyone who wants has had a turn. If there are people who would rather not play this game, encourage them to think along with the others. If you think they don’t want to participate for fear of making mistakes, encourage them to participate anyway because the point is to learn something. It’s no contest.

Note: There may be those who do not to put their hands in something like sand (for whatever reason). Please respect that and try to find other ways for them to participate. Perhaps the letter could be put in a bag, under a table, or under a cloth, or that person could simply be blindfolded when it is their turn to feel the letter.

Variation: If people don’t have too much trouble guessing the letters, you can also divide the group into different teams. A team gets a point every time someone gets the name of a letter right without having looked at it.


B8: Letters on Flags

Goal: learn to read first (or last) letters in words, learn to sort words by first or last letters.

Needed: rope, flags (small triangles), words written on pieces of cardboard or paper.

Activity:

  1. Give each person a flag and ask him/her to write a certain letter on it. Choose a limited number of different letters, depending on the level of the group. The letters should be large and clear. Make sure there are more flags than letters, so that each letter appears on a couple of different flags.
  2. Work together to hang the “flags” up in the meeting room on a rope. Make sure the flags are not too close together.
  3. Play a sort of “musical chairs” with letters. Give each person a piece of cardboard or paper with a word written on it. People walk or dance around, looking at the flags, while music is played. As soon as the music stops, everyone must stand under a flag with the letter that their word begins with.
  4. Give everyone a different word and repeat the game. Make sure every person can succeed.

Variation 1: The papers with words are in a pile; each person can choose a word.

Variation 2: Divide the group into teams of 2 or 3. Give each team a word. Repeat as above. Make a competition of it. It should be a bit exciting. Which team finds their letter first?

Variation 3: Use the same words, but now have the people stand under the flag with the letter their word ends with.

Variation 4: Hang up the flags with letters. At a certain sign, everyone stands at the flag/letter with which their own name begins. If necessary, write each person’s name on a piece of paper ahead of time.


B9: Letters – DIY

Needed: see below. In some cases you will need: cut-out letters for the people to draw a line around, a pen or pencil, paint and brushes, and paper. In other cases: dough, bread, knives or other material with which you can ‘cut’ dough, scissors.

Activity: Make your own letters to eat, to keep, or to use in games B3 and B7. Below are some suggestions–follow them exactly or use them as a starting point for your own ideas.

Options:

  1. Make edible letters (1). Use a simple recipe for bread, pretzels, cookies, or something similar. First have the group make the dough, then form letters from that dough, next bake the letters, and finally eat them. If the group consists of young children, it may be best to make the dough ahead of time.
  2. Make edible letters (2). Have people cut letters out of slices of or other flat foods. They may want to decorate the letters or spread something on them like butter or honey. Then they can eat the letters.
  3. Cut and color letters. Cut out letters in advance from thin cardboard or heavy paper; use metal or plastic molds for this if necessary. Make sure the letters are not too small.

Have people trace these letters with a pen or pencil on a sturdy material, such as cardboard, Styrofoam, old plastic place mats, thin pieces of leather or thick fabric. If they want, they can draw/write letters on these materials themselves. In either case, they can then cut out and paint or color their own letters.

If there are people who find it difficult to cut out the letters themselves, do it for them. They can then paint or color the letters.

  1. Mold letters. Use clay that does not need to be baked in the oven. Have the group make letters of this. Decorations can be pressed into the wet clay. Or, once the letters are dry, they can be decorated and painted. (Perhaps painting would need to wait until the next session.)
  2. Make stiff letters. This can be done by make paper mâché letters; people can paint or otherwise decorate the letters once the paper mâché has hardened. Another option is for people to cut letters out of thick paper and stiffen the letters by applying glue. Then the letters can be decorated with glitter, colored sand, yarn or something similar. If necessary, cut out the letters in advance.

Yet another option is for people to form letters from steel wire and then twist wool, thin rope or thick yarn around them.

  1. Letters in relief. Create letters with a raised feel to them. This can be done in many ways. For example, write letters on stiff paper and then glue sand, wool or stones on the letters. Another way would be to draw letters on thick fabric or thin leather, then sew on beads, buttons, etc., or embroider the outline of the letter with wool or other thick yarn.
  2. Letters to feel. Have people draw letters on stiff paper or cardboard. They can then ‘write over’ the letters by poking a series of holes along the line of the letter with a pin, thumbtack, awl, or other tool. (Note: this is the way the Braille alphabet for the blind was originally “written”. The Braille alphabet differs from regular printed or written alphabets.)

Note 1: In all these activities it is important to first discuss  which letters you want to make, what those letters are called, and what sound the letter represents.

Note 2: The letters used in Asian and Middle Eastern languages may be easiest to create with option 6 or 7.

Note 3:  People might be more motivated to make letters 3-7 if those letters are their own initials. The decorative letters can be hung up at home or in the meeting room.


[1] These activities will also work for writing systems that use characters rather than letters.