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Talking About Numbers and Letters

teacher showing child toy letters

About this video

In this video, 4-year-old Martín plays with letters in a bilingual prekindergarten classroom, where teachers provide instruction in both Spanish and English.

Martín is placing plastic letters and numbers on a tray he has set on the table. The two upper rows have large letters of various colors, and the third row has large and small letters and numbers, all orange. He places a blue capital “W” (upside down) at the beginning of the orange row. He picks up the tray and starts to leave the table with it, but he comes back and continues to add more pieces.

He calls for the teacher’s attention, and she joins him and begins to discuss the letters Martín is exploring. They discuss uppercase/lowercase, the sounds the letters represent, and the names of the letters. To show how letters can be meaningful, the teacher encourages Martín to examine letter sounds and names by encouraging him to look for the letters in his friends’ names. His friends’ names are words with special meaning because these names represent people who are important in Martín’s daily life.

Teachers and children have many opportunities to learn to identify letters and numerals when materials that showcase letters and shapes, such as magnetic letters, tiles, or alphabet blocks, are available for exploration. Signs in the environment, such as tags with children’s names on cubbies or tags on shelving that identify where toys are stored, are other opportunities for children and teachers to discuss print in meaningful ways.

The transcript provides a translation of the discussion (in Spanish) between the teacher and student, which begins about 50 seconds into the video.

Note: Having promised parents at the school that the children’s identities would remain anonymous, IEL has dubbed out any mentions of the children’s names in this video. In the transcript and the introduction to the video above, we have inserted pseudonyms for the children.


Note: The dialog in this video is primarily in Spanish. For an English translation, you can choose English under the closed caption feature in the video player (above) or click on Transcript (below).


Note: The video begins with general background chatter in the bilingual classroom. The teacher engages Martín about 50 seconds into the video.

Martín: Look!

The teacher comes to see the boy’s work.

Teacher: Martín, hey! Look. What is this?

Martín: An E.

Teacher: An “e”? Which one is it again? Which one is it again?

Teacher: An “e?” There’s no room. I see some numbers. Do you want to take off those numbers?

The teacher removes the numbers from the tray and puts them back in the box. Martín puts the yellow “e” in the box and takes out a different letter.

Teacher: An orange one? A “z”? Let me see, where should we put it? Look, I have an idea.

Teacher: You can fit more in here. What are you going to look for?

Martín: Eight.

Teacher: Eight? And this one?

Martín: Three.

Teacher: Three, ah hah. Look, look, look those are the same. Look, those are the same.

Teacher: Ah hah, the “a.” And the “o.”

Teacher: What? What is this one, do you know? What is it called? Y, y. Emily has a “y” [unclear] … more. I’m not sure if we can fit more in.

Teacher: Can one more fits? A “y.” You can look for some little ones. Look, here’s a letter, a little “s” that you can put in.

Martín and the teacher look for more small letters in the box. Martín adds a blue one.

Teacher: The “p.”

Teacher: And an “m,” an “m.”

Teacher: Don’t you want to put in the “m”? There’s the “m”?

Teacher: And this one?

Martín: Two are the same.

Teacher: Two are the same, you are right.

Teacher: Let’s see. What else?

Teacher: The two little “m”s. What do they say? Mmmm.

Martín: A school.

Teacher: A school? It’s a four.

Martín: Four.

Teacher: Yeah, it’s four. Like you, you’re four, aren’t you?

Martín: Yes.

Teacher: What’s that? Oh, they’re two, they’re two rectangles, look.

Martín: Look, this one same.

Teacher: Oh, yes, it’s a long one.

Martín: Yes.

Teacher: Should we put it in the middle?

Martín: OK.

Teacher: Does it look nice?

Martín: One here.

Teacher: Another one?

Martín: An apple.

Teacher: Another one?

Martín adjusts the rectangles in the teacher’s hand. He wants to stand the green one up on top of the other two, but it falls.

Teacher: I don’t know if it’s going to fall over [unclear] …My hand isn’t very flat.

Martín: A “d.”

Teacher: What?

Martín: It’s a “d.”

Teacher: A “d”? No, it’s an “a.”

Martín: A.

Teacher: A. A. Like … who?

Girl: Susana.

Teacher: But who starts with an “a”?

Girl: No, Alan.

Teacher: Alan! Thank you!

Martín: Where is Alan? There!

Teacher: Over there! A, A, Alan. Alan.

Martín: Alan.

Teacher: Alan’s letter.

Girl: It’s an “a.”

Benchmarks and How They Were Met

BenchmarksHow They Were Met
Language Arts
1.A.ECb: Respond appropriately to questions from others.
Throughout the interaction, Martín responds to his teacher with words and with gestures that indicate his understanding of the words.
Language Arts
1.B.ECc: Continue a conversation through two or more exchanges.
Martín and his teacher engage in an extended conversation about letters, numbers, and friends’ names.
Language Arts
1.D.ECc: Understand and use question words in speaking.
Martín responds appropriately to his teacher’s questions throughout the interaction with his actions and words.
Language Arts
4.A.ECe: Recognize that letters are grouped to form words.
Martín is able to determine that his friend’s name starts with an “A,” which indicates his understanding of how a group of letters forms a name.
Language Arts
4.A.ECf: Differentiate letters from numerals.
Martín explores magnetic numbers and letters that are in the same box, giving him a chance to learn to differentiate the letters from the numerals.
Language Arts
4.B.ECb: Recognize and name some upper/lowercase letters of the alphabet, especially those in own name.
Throughout this interaction, Martín can name and hear the names of the letters that are in his name and the names of his friend.
Language Arts
4.B.ECc: With teacher assistance, match some upper/lowercase letters of the alphabet.
Martín and his teacher look closely at the letters and find pairs of upper and lowercase letters (y, o, and m)
Language Arts
4.C.ECd: With teacher assistance, isolate and pronounce the initial sounds in words.
The teacher demonstrates how the letter “a” makes the first sound in Martín’s friend’s name.
9.A.ECa: Recognize and name common two- and three-dimensional shapes and describe some of their attributes (e.g., number of sides, straight or curved lines).
Martín and his teacher discuss the attributes of a rectangle as they explore the box.
Physical Development and Health
19.A.ECd: Use eye-hand coordination to perform tasks.
Martín uses the small muscles of his hand in an intentional manner as he searches for particular letters and numbers and picks them up.

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program
  • Kindergarten
  • Home
  • Family Child Care

Intended audience(s):
  • Faculty / Trainer
  • Parents / Family
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2018