Celebrating 26 Letters

It is National Literacy Week in Australia (September 1-7) –A time to celebrate all things literate! I'm going to start at the very beginning with my celebrations. I want to celebrate the basic building blocks of our literate society –the alphabet!

In my reading about writing I often come across passages that make me sit up and really take notice. The writing of Carl Leggo had me reacting thus. Carl Leggo, is a poet and associate professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver where he has been teaching, reading, researching and writing for more than a decade. The following brief writing exercise that Carl devised for his students provided renewed awareness of the immense power contained within the alphabet.

Invite your students to write down the 26 letters of the alphabet. Then ask them to circle their five favourite letters. Following this ask them to write five words that begin with each of the five favourite letters. Some students will gasp with horror because they have ‘X’

Next ask them to look through their 25 words for poems. Many will be delighted with the music of alliteration that begins to sing in their head. They will delight in the zany connections they discover among seemingly disparate words. Celebrate these discoveries!

In this brief writing exercise students begin to look at the alphabet with a sense of heightened awareness. They catch glimpses of untamed energy that pulses through the experience of word making.

When we write we work and play with the alphabet up close and personal. All too often we take the alphabet for granted. And yet writers create their worlds in words that grow from these magical letters. The alphabet provides the building blocks for constructing knowledge. It is used to reveal identities and relationships. It is a powerful resource that has infinite potential for readers and writers as we grapple with our communication challenges.

So this week as you celebrate literacy as a window to many worlds, don’t overlook the humble alphabet -the foundation for all the reading and writing we enjoy. I am grateful to Carl Leggo for reminding about incredible contribution made by 26 little shapes. It might be time to make alphabet soup!


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