23 May 2011


Tutor Tales, Volume 31

The alphabet is to any kind of English lesson (Language Arts, Literature, ESL/EFL, etc.) as tropes are to a drinking game. Add some music and you just sweeten the pairing further.

Words by Maurice Sendak, Lyrics by Carole King

I used this song to introduce Alphabet Lists to Star Shaker and Skid Breaker. These are, as you must have already guessed, lists with twenty-six entries that correspond to the letters of the alphabet, whether it's as a song about playful alligators or a Cinematic Alphabet.

We opened this unit with a worksheet that looked a little like this:

A - alligators all around, B - bursting ___________
C - catching colds, D - doing dishes
E - entertaining __________, F - forever fooling

and so on . . .

And then they had to answer questions like:

A child might become shockingly spoiled if:

a) he always gets what he wants
b) he never gets what he wants
c) he doesn't know what he wants

What I loved about this exercise was that it let them practice both listening and writing, deduce the meanings of unfamiliar expressions, and watch a "real world" video--all at once!

And when we were done with that, they got to work on a project that integrated research, writing and some art: their own Alphabet Lists.

I told them to pick a topic broad enough to give them a lot of entries to choose from, but specific enough to make the entries close cousins rather than distant relations. Too bad for Star Shaker's first proposed topic of Food and Skid Breaker's of Animals. To give them an idea of what I meant by "broad but specific," I suggested that Star Shaker narrow down the list of Everything At All That Is Edible to Vegetables, and told Skid Breaker that instead of looking at the entire Kingdom Animalia, he could focus on Dog Breeds.

In the end, I was surprised when they finally settled on topics I could approve: United States of America and World War II.

Since their Alphabet Lists are currently tucked away wherever their mother files their schoolwork, I can't reproduce them here. (And as usual, I forgot to take pictures!) But I'm sure you're wondering what they did for the more challenging letters like Q, X and Z. I'm pleased to say that I handed out only one "dispensation"--for X--so that they could have entries that used that letter, even if it didn't begin with it.

USA: Quilts, Texas, Zip Codes

WWII: Manuel L. Quezon, Axis Powers, Zyklon-B Gas

The finished projects included not just the entries, but also short descriptions of them that implied why they were important enough to be on the list. (I mean, I was hardly going to let them use a word for the sake of filling up the list faster! The entries must deserve to be there!)

I recommend Alphabet Lists to any English teacher, from Kindergarten to High School!


mouseprints said...

Fun ideas!
Being new to your blog, I'm wondering what grades you teach?
I've been hopping around reading various posts and just wanted to tell you I love your in-depth look at various characters, etc.
I definitely need more cheese in my life! ;) (I'm now following.)

Enbrethiliel said...


Hi, Mouseprints! Welcome to my blog! I'm glad to read that you've been having a fun time. =D

To answer your quesiton: I can tutor students in any year level. Last school year, I helped a boy in Grade 1, a girl in Grade 4, a girl in Grade 7, and a girl in high school Year 3. =)

The tutees mentioned in this post are about to start high school and Grade 5. I was initially hired to tutor only the elder, but I guess their mother liked the progress we were making together because she asked me to help her brother, too.

Lesa said...

Yay, Texas got a mention! What a fun idea! I wish my language delayed kids who have probs with categories could do this but it would be too difficult.

Enbrethiliel said...


I think Alphabet Lists can be adapted to any class! =)

Now, I'm not sure what your class situation is, but when I read your comment, my first thought was to give your students sub-categories to help them along. For instance, let them have something broad, like Animals, and then tell them to pick five from Africa, five from North America, five that fly, five that live in the water, five that are pets, and one that is extinct. (Now that I think about it, maybe I should have let Skid Breaker do just that. LOL!)