American education » Alphabet method

Published: 1-03-2011, 17:20

Alphabet method

An outmoded method of reading instruction that uses the alphabet and letter combinations as sounding devices with which to build words and phrases. Originated in the 16th century, the alphabet method required the beginning reader to memorize the alphabet first, then, with each letter, memorize all the sounds of that letter (for example, ba, be, bi, bo, bu, by for the letter “b”). In the third step of the method, the teacher presented students with word lists of successively increasing difficulty, progressing from monosyllabic words of two, three, four and more letters to words of two, three and more syllables. Each word list ended with one or more short reading lessons incorporating words from that list for students to practice by pronouncing each letter and word as they read aloud in unison. Thus, the first lesson in Thomas Dilworth’s New Guide to the English Tongue, the most widely used speller in 18th century England and America, asked children to recite this poem:
No man may put off the Law of God.
The Way of God is no ill Way.
My joy is in God all the Day.
A bad man is a Foe to God.

Using the alphabet method, children in school recited the first line: “En, o, No; emm, ai, en, man; em, ai, wy, may; pee, you, tee, put; o, double eff, off; tee, aitch, ee, the; ell, ai, double you, Law; o, eff, of; gee, o, dee, God.” They recited longer words by syllables and combinations thereof, until they built the complete word. The word “example” was read: “ee, ex, ex; ai, emm, am; ex, am, exam; pee, ell, ee, ple; ex, am, ple, example.”
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