What does it mean to really know the Aleph Bais?

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This post is in honor of all the wonderful children who give me such nachas when they light up every time they learn something new and when they do something special.

The purpose of this blogpost is to discuss not only how to teach Aleph Bais in a fun and engaging way, but also how to plan purposeful learning so all kinds of learners can have a successful experience preparing for “Ben Chomesh LeMikra”. I hope this blogpost will be the first of a series on Lashon Hatorah posts as a method of supporting parents and educators in the important work of teaching Hebrew and English literacy.

This post includes links to free and purchasable resources. All resources from Walder can be downloaded for free or can be purchased printed and laminated. I have included some components of Goldie Winder’s packages of pre-made Montessori Aleph Bais works. I have provided her contact information at the end. I put source links for most products as a caption under the picture. I hope you will enjoy and benefit from this post and share it with others who you think will too.

One more thing before we start: I want to state that teaching Aleph Bais and Kriah is not a means to an end, but it has its own spiritual purpose. Every detail of the process has a reason and a lesson. For instance, Kumatz Aleph “U’ is the first sound of the ten commandments which encapsulates all 613 Mitzvoes which encapsulate all of the oral and written Torah. The letters and the vowels hold the key to Jewish spirituality. Therefore, it is important that we follow the Mesorah and teach the letters and vowels in order and then teach blending afterwards.

You can read more about the secret of the letters and the vowels in Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book.

I do not see any conflict with teaching our children according to Mesorah and applying the latest research on literacy acquisition. I think that with Hashem’s help,  if you understand the basis of the theories and approaches that you have access to a selection of resources, you should have no problem in providing best practice instruction that is spiritually nurturing and correct.

Here a link to a PDF file of a compilation of what the Lubavitcher Rebbeim taught us about teaching Aleph Bais, Nekudos and Kriah by Rabbi Levi Goldstien.
Get a glimpse of the Rebbe talking about “Kumatz Aleph Uh”:

The Seven Objectives of Aleph Bais Knowledge:  

There are seven components to knowing a letter. I will attempt to show you lessons for all of these objectives and lessons that purposefully target multiple objectives simultaneously, so the learner can make the connections and associations. Afterwards, you can use your own creativity to mix and match the materials to design your own curriculum based on your resources, interests, and areas of focus.

  1. The Spiritual Stories of the Letters
  2. The Shape of the Letter
  3. The Name of the Letter
  4. Writing the Letter
  5. The first sound of the Letters (Not Aleph and Ayin)
  6. The Order of the Letters
  7. The Gematria of the Letters

Multi-Sensory Instruction:

I have integrated a standard to incorporate Multi-sensory Instruction. Learners can be more successful in making long term memories when they learn through simultaneous experiences: VAKT- Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Tactile. When multiple brain centers fire together, it creates long term memories. For example, a learner can see a letter 75 times and still not store it their in long term memory, but if the child writes the letter on the chalkboard, traces it in sand, while engaging with it orally, a long term memory can be created. The big muscles are especially effective at making long term memories since they activate a large center in the brain.

Image result for multi sensory

There is one special activity that can use all the VAKT senses while simultaneously tapping into the narrative and visual imagery centers too; writing and erasing large letters on a chalkboard while seeing and saying a letters name and keyword chain can be a valuable activity. Writing on a chalkboard would provide both kinesthetic and tactile input. I would try to get the largest blackboard possible, but you can also use some outdoor wall surfaces. I would use Rabbi Nemtzov’s images from his book The Articulated Aleph Bais (more about it below), since his embedded pictures include a story too. You can also use these letter keyword flashcards from Walder.

 

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Amazon link- Chalk Board

Here is a video of Rabbi Jonathan Rietti demonstrating  a couple of the following works:

Objective 1: The Spiritual Stories of the Letters

Amazon link to Poster with the Siddur Quadrants

Rabbi Mordichai Zev Nemtzov wrote and illustrated a powerful book on the secret of the letters. His book can be used to tell the stories of the letters and can also be used as visual and sound mnemonics.

It is important to note that our brain was not biologically designed to read and recognize symbols. It was designed to practice visual discrimination of real-life objects. Thus embedded pictures that merge real-life objects and letters, can support children in remembering the letter symbol. Embedded pictures have been supported by research as a strategy to accelerate learning and to increase memory of letter symbols. Another value of this work, is that the pictures tell a memorable story. Stories also arouse emotions that have a direct path to memory.

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Amazon Link to the Book

Image result for the articulated aleph bais

Tzvi Freeman has a collection of essays and animations for children on Chabad.org on the secrets of the letters. Here is a link to the series. Chabad.org- KabbalahToons

After telling the story, learners can retell the story by drawing their own visual representation of the story on a letter outline. You can download free letter outlines from Walder.

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Walder- Letter Outline

Part 2: The Shape of the Letter

Children can demonstrate their knowledge of the shape of the letter by matching, sorting and pointing to the letters. Matching letters has a couple of levels: matching manuscript to manuscript, and matching manuscript to script or to matching manuscript to Rashi and other fonts. Matching the Hebrew letters can be challenging at times, because there are a couple of similarly looking letters. Included will be games to provide practice for discriminating similar letters.

Here are a couple of ideas for matching letters:

Sensory Bin with Foam Puzzle.

I like to use plastic rice or beads that can be washed and reused for hygienic and food respect reasons. Hide the letters in a sensory medium. Students search for the letters and match it to the puzzle that can be inset into the cover.

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Amazon Link for Container; Amazon link for plastic beads; Amazon link for foam puzzle

Aleph Bais letter hunt with script or manuscript checklist. Children find letters in the sealed rice jar and mark it off on a checklist with a dry erase marker or a sticker.

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Amazon Link for Beads

Aleph Bais Fishing by Goldie Winder

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Letter Match Clip Cards

I repurposed a letter matching sheet from Walder and made them into clip cards. You can just cut the worksheet into strips and mark the matching letters on the back.

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Walder: Matching Aleph, Use as Clip Cards
20180816_215109.jpgCrayon Same/ Different (Goldie Winder)
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Shin/ Sin Tic-Toc-Toe (Goldie Winder)

Aleph Bais Front to Back Match Up:

You can cut a stack of flashcards in half vertically and stamp the back as a control of error. Students can make matches and check the back to see if they got it correct. You can divide the letters into groups as it may be hard to manage all the cards at once.

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Aleph Bais Font Game by Goldie Winder

The editing feature is not working so you will have to face that this picture will remain upside down for now.

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Objective 3: The Name of the Letter

Sensory Letters with Blindfold:

For this activity, learners can blindfold themselves, try to name a letter by only feeling it with their fingers. You can play in groups of two and keep track of the score by holding onto the letters that were guessed correctly.

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Blindfold with sponges- Name the Letter

Here is an Amazon link for a blindfold.

Playing go fish would set the circumstances that players would need to name the letters in order to participate. I like these cards because they incorporate an additional opportunity to practice similar letters.

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TPT Link

Objective 4: Writing the Letter

Here is my view on weather we should teach children how to write script or manuscript letters:

When using instructional time to teach a learner a skill, I want to teach them a functional behavior that they will need long term. Children will not need to write box letter, they will need to learn how to write in script. So if a student is able to learn two sets of letter symbols, I will try to teach them to recognize and write script letters when they are ready for handwriting practice. On the other hand, if a student is having a hard time remembering the manuscript letter symbols, I will not want to overload them and teach them a second set of symbols, even though most of the symbols have clear similarities. For this population of students, it is worthwhile to learn how to write box letters for temporary use. Firstly, as we discussed earlier, VAKT- multisensory and simultaneous experiences will help the learner make long term memories for the letters so that writing the box letters can help the learner recognize the letter symbols. Secondly, the learner should have a means to participate in encoding- spelling activities with readily available writing materials, and they should have to rely on specialized writing materials such as moveable alphabets, letter tiles or stamps.

For handwriting instruction, we employ a gradual release of responsibility where we slowly decrease our support as the students gains mastery and independence. We begin with tracing, then copying, and finally writing without any visual prompt.

Sand Paper Letters

You can begin by giving a three period lesson on the letters names with tracing the letters with the sand paper Hebrew letters.

Sandpaper ALef Bais Box Letters

Here is another video demonstrating how to give a three period lesson using the sandpaper letters.

Motor Board

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Allison’s Link to Hebrew Tracing Board

Here  is a link to see how to use the Letter tracing boards.

Sand Tray

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Walder- Sandbox Alef Bais Flashcards;Amazon Link to Sand Tray

Here is a video demonstrating how you can use the sand tray.

Rainbow Letters: 

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Here is a video demonstration on how to write rainbow letters.

Walder gradual release tracing sheets: 
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More about writing on a future post.

Objective 5: The First sound of the Letters

(Not Aleph and Ayin)

According to Kabbalah, letters are like a body and the Hebrew Nekudot, the vowels, are like the soul. Thus, a letter without a vowel, is like body without a soul, it has no life. The Hebrew letters without vowels have no sound. However, we can teach learners to match initial sound objects and initial sound pictures to the letter they begin with. In short, we do not match letters to pictures, but we can match pictures to letters. Additionally, the names of the letters do have initial sounds, and we can teach children to segment and isolate the initial sounds of letters (not Aleph and Ayin). Let’s begin with the most concrete experience.

Initial Sound Objects:

I bought these sack and a starter set of objects from TES. I added a couple of objects I found around my home and I repurposed some polymer creations I made a while back. I tried to choose objects that are worth learning in Hebrew such as Parsha and Mitzvah items numbers. I tried to include objects that the student most likely already has the vocabulary for such as religious item (besomim) and cognates such as banana.

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Here is a link to see how you can work on vocabulary, initial sounds phonemic awareness with initial sound objects and the sand paper letters.

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Amazon link: Treasure chest storage
TES -Alef Bet Sacks and Initial Sound Objects

Initial Sound Picture Sort:

Children can learn Hebrew vocabulary while isolating the initial sound of pictures and matching them to either sandpaper letters or or moveable alphabet. Children can check the back to see if they were correct.

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Walder- Pictures for Initial Sounds Sort or Match to Letter

Initial Sound Clothe Pins 

Here is another great opportunity to learn and practice Hebrew vocabulary which will be integral for comprehending Hebrew text.

Kefar: Alef Bet Initial Sound Clip Cards 

Initial Sounds Locks

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Amazon- Aleph Bais Locks
Initial Sounds I have, Who Has in Hebrew or English
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Walder: Who has something that starts with… Dominoes

Objective 6: The Order of the Letters

Alphabetizing is a great skill to learn. They can use this skill when locating Pesukim in Chumash, Chapters in Tehilim, when identifying the day of the month and many other practical skills for Jewish life.

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    Flower Sequencing Garden with Clay (Goldie Winder)

Objective 7: The Gematria of the Letters

You can print out a set of Gematria flashcards from Walder and match them to letter flashcards or moveable alphabet.

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Walder- Flashcards

How can you use the following materials? 

Which one of the 7 objects for letter knowledge would these materials help you meet?

Which ones of the senses would the learner use to participate in these activities?

Which activities do you think has the most value and why? 

Which activity do you think your learner will appreciate? 

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Alef Bet Mini Books
Aleph Bet Puzzles
The Aleph Bais Trip
Amazon- Wood Puzzle

Amazon- Mitzvah Boulevard
Amazon-Train Puzzle 
Amazon- Matching Game
Amazon- Hebrew Mangnatab

I hope that you found this blogpost helpful. I hope that you feel inspired, informed and prepared to teach the seven objectives of the letter knowledge including,

  1. The Spiritual Stories of the Letters
  2. The Shape of the Letter
  3. The Name of the Letter
  4. Writing the Letter
  5. The first sound of the Letters (Not Aleph and Ayin)
  6. The Order of the Letters and
  7. The Gematria of the Letters

I would love to hear from you. I would love to hear your questions, your thoughts, your comments, your suggestions, your ideas and your feedback. I know these learning experiences can be wonderful for many students, but I know teaching Aleph Bais can be very technical and complex for many learners.

Please be in touch if you would like support in implementing an Aleph Bais or Kriah curriculum or if you need assistance in meeting specific students’ needs. We can work together to identify learners’ assets and deficits and the reason for the struggles and then make a plan for targeted instruction with evidence strategies for successful language acquisition.

Visit Scenicrouteliteray.com or contact me at nechamy@scenicrouteliteracy.com to learn more about our approach or to set up a time to talk.

Yours Truly,

Nechamy Segal Ms.Ed

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You can call Goldie Winder at  917-650-0185 to learn about her selection of ready made Montessori Aleph Bais works.

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