Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Teaching Similarities & Differences in Letter Shapes/Forms, Part 1

This is the fourth of a progressive series of posts that we will be featuring on the Hameray Blog every Thursday for 10 weeks (for the other posts,  click here ). It's authored by special guest blogger Paula Dugger, who is an educational consultant with a rich-literacy background that includes serving as a Reading Recovery Teacher/Teacher Leader, first grade teacher, Title I and high school reading teacher, as well as a Reading Coordinator. Hameray is thrilled to be able to share with you Paula's classroom-tested ideas and experience in helping young learners achieve their early literacy goals.

Magnetic Letters and Cognitive Development 
Activities using magnetic letters can help in cognitive development both consciously and unconsciously in young children. The letters are colorful, three-dimensional, and they lend themselves to movement and touch. Letters are a part of the print we see around us in the world. Using soft foam letters (Hameray offers a great set of  uppercase  and  lowercase  foam letters), children can learn many skills:

                  -To categorize by sorting, matching, and classifying

                  -To differentiate colors, shapes, and letters

                  -The concept of letters by name, sight, shape, and sound

                  -The concept of words by sight or by putting together sounds to form words

As mentioned last week, my series of guest blogs is on specific activities that use magnetic letters to help with the cognitive development of preschoolers. No activity should exceed five to ten minutes depending upon the age, ability, and interest of the child. These activities should be seen as fun games, and each will be a little more rigorous than the one before. The blogs will be divided into four groups:

                  -Teaching colors

                  -Teaching similarities and differences (or comparing and contrasting)

                  -Teaching the alphabet (letter names)

                  -Word analysis (making words)

Teaching Similarities & Differences in Letter Shapes/Forms

Colors are one of the first ways young children make distinctions between things in the world.  A natural progression from colors is shapes. Each letter is different, but many are similar.  Magnetic letters are a great tool for matching letters that are first alike, then similar, then different. This post and the following two will address these activities. Whenever introducing a task, make sure the child understands what s/he is to do.  A great framework is listed below that demonstrates how to scaffold an activity by modeling and gradually releasing the activity to the child.

  Materials used in this Activity: Lowercase Foam Magnetic Letters and Magnetic Whiteboard

Activity #4: Match, pair or group the same letter

Suggestion: Whenever possible, use lowercase letters for activities. I often encounter students who only know the “capital” or uppercase form of the letters in their name, etc. It is very difficult once a child has learned to use only upper case letters to relearn words using only lower case. The print we attend to on a daily basis contains mostly lower case forms of the letters in writing. Saying the name of the letters will help the child too.

Select several pairs of letters and place randomly in front of the child (such as   c, m, f,   g)   or use letters found in their name.  Try not to have letters at this time that are visually similar (such as   n, m, r, h   or   p ,   b, d, q ).  Since you are switching from colors to shapes, it may help to trace over the letters with your finger to indicate the shape/form of the letter.

Choose one letter and say to the child, “Here is a letter. This is a  c . Here is another  c   that looks just like this one.”

“Let’s do one together. I am going to choose this letter. This is a g. Can you help me find another one that looks just like it?”


“Now you choose a letter and see if you can find another one that looks just like it. I’ll help if you need me to.”

Continue until you get to the last pair. Then ask, “Do these two look the same?"

This was the fourth activity in the series. If you'd like to see the other lessons,   click here !

- Paula Dugger

Paula Dugger has a B.S., M.Ed., and Reading Specialist Certification from The University of Texas at Austin and Reading Recovery training through Texas Woman’s University. Paula does educational consulting and training through Dugger Educational Consulting, LLC and can be contacted at np.dugger@att.net

Paula and her husband Neil are parents to two wonderful daughters, Alicean and Ashley, two son-in-laws Kevin and Patrick, and grandparents to Carter. She also raises registered Texas Longhorns on the weekends. The longhorn cattle are featured in her first book published by Hameray Publishing Group, titled   Longhorns .

If you'd like to order some magnetic foam letters to try out this activity for yourself, you can find them on the  Hameray website . If you're teaching at this stage of literacy, you might also be interested in the Letter Buddies books. Click on the images below to see some key features of the series!