Who remembers Alphabet Soup? Is that still a thing? I remember once finding a bag of alphabet pasta in my Oma’s kitchen cabinet and almost lost my mind. It could never have occurred to me that those tiny ABCs and 123s existed anywhere in the world except for inside cans of Campbell’s alphabet soup. Long before the advent of magnetic poetry (or its 100% cooler and way more hilarious future iteration – Ransom Notes), I was composing pasta prose on my Oma’s kitchen table.
Fast forward to 2022, when all the education world is abuzz with Mindfulness in the Classroom, and the Science of Reading. “Alphabet Soup” has been a favorite teaching and review strategy of mine for many years, but there’s never been a better time for sharing this tool, which gives a triple-whammy of content review, mindfulness, and phonics work — all supported by evidence to help students learn, retain, and retrieve content knowledge, while cultivating reading skills and regulating emotion. Yes, it really does all of that!
All you need for this strategy is a bag or two of alphabet pasta, divided into portions. I love using film canisters, if you can still find them… but baggies or envelopes work too. Each student really only needs a teaspoon or so. Having students work on a piece of paper helps gather the pasta pieces back into the container without too much loss on the floor. Be ready to sweep afterwards though.*
Three favorite ways to use this strategy:
I offer clues to the word I want students to spell, talking for as long as it takes for students to finish. Table groups check each other’s work and correct/help each other as needed.
I give the term I want students to spell, and students take turns telling one fact, connection, example, or question about the word until everyone in the group has spelled the word correctly.
Students in pairs create puzzles for each other – writing sentences with letters missing, as in the Spanish example above, or by scrambling words. Students swap seats and race to solve each other’s puzzle.
*Even with the best classroom management, you will end up with a bit of pasta on the floor. If you have issues with students intentionally misusing their pasta — throwing, breaking, eating — just have them sit this one out, and write their words on paper over and over for the time it would take others to spell it in pasta. That’s the last time they’ll abuse their pasta privileges!
What ideas do you have for using “Alphabet Soup” with your age and content? Leave your comments below to join the conversation.