In the last post, I wrote about the importance of incorporating exercises for strengthening little hands into our daily classroom routines in the early grades. My colleagues and I noticed that kids’ hands were much weaker across the board when we came back from quarantine. This made sense to us because we knew how much time kids were spending in front of screens. They were spending less time in organized sports leagues or just playing outside with friends on playgrounds. Gross and fine motor development suffered greatly during Covid. For this reason, I spent some time brainstorming ways I could add exercises for little hands into my intervention lessons. Here are some alphabet activities to help students develop hand strength. I have used them, and kids enjoy each one!
Another reading specialist colleague suggested that that we look for ways to have kids use clothespins as answer markers in our daily activities. I wasn’t sure how effective this would be until I watched a small group of Kindergartners wrangle with these little contraptions. The struggle was real, but I could see how needed this fine motor practice really was.
One simple way I incorporated this practice was to write the alphabet around paper plates. I did a plate for upper-case letters, and one for lower-case letters. I gave each kid a plate, called out the letters, and had them put the clothespin on the correct answer. To change up the activity, I would call a sound and have them match the corresponding letter with the pin. So simple, yet so effective!
Letter Oval Alphabet Activities to Help Students Develop Hand Strength
I found that the paper plate activity was much better suited to first grade who came to me knowing at least half of their letters. It was a great review once I had retaught the letters that had eluded them the year before. For Kinders, however, the plates were a little overwhelming. We teach the letters in the following order in my division:
t, b, f, m, n, i, u, c, o, a, g, d, s, e, r, p, j, l, h, k, v, w, y, x, qu, z
I could have made many sets of plates to reflect what we were doing at the time, but I found that all those paper plates were hard to store and cumbersome. Instead, I made myself sets of letter ovals. First, I printed some ovals with the upper- and lower-case letters we were learning, then I printed other ovals with pictures that had the beginning sound of those same letters. Next, I printed them on bright colored cardstock, laminated them, and cut them out. At the beginning of an intervention lesson, I distributed an oval with letters and one with pictures that reflected letters I had already taught. I would call out a sound and have kids match the corresponding letter with a clothespin. I would them call the letter and have kids match the picture with the same initial sound. This was a great review, and watching the students struggle with the oval and the clothespin told me that this activity was a fine motor exercise that their little hands needed.
To change this up occasionally, I gave them dry erase markers and had them draw lines on the oval to match upper-and lower-case letters. I would also have them point out each letter for me or say each initial sound of the pictures. These little oval alphabet activities to help students develop hand strength have provided my students and me some solid review!
When I want to focus on vowel sounds, I give my students a grid. With my younger students, I call out a vowel sound and have them clip the letter with a clothespin. As we begin segmenting words, I call out CVC words and have kids clip the correct medial vowel on the grid. This is a great review and quick practice for a small classroom reading group or intervention group. This was one of the easiest of the alphabet activities to help students develop hand strength that I had to put together.
Letter Searches in Dough
My kids love it when I get out the tubs of clay or dough. I hide letter beads in the tubs, and the students have to dig them out of the dough. I wrote about the activity in this article. Digging the dough out of the tubs and kneading the dough works on hand strength. Pulling the tiny letter beads out of the clay helps the students with their fine motor skills. Identifying the letters on the beads will check the alphabet practice box. This little activity is easy to put together, gives you LOTS of return, and is extremely engaging.
Whether you are a primary reading specialist or a classroom teacher, I hope this game adds engagement to your lessons. Check out this article on managing small groups in the lower grades here. Here is another article on ideas for teaching children the letters in their names as well.
Looking for fun activities for teaching the alphabet? Here are a few links to check out!
Alphabet Games Bundle: Here are some digital and PDF games for you to share with your students to help them learn their letters and sounds.
Alphabet Activities Bundle: These are instructional activities in digital and pdf form for your whole and small group instruction.