The child combines the individual sounds of the letters to form three-letter phonic words.

The Large Moveable Alphabet

The Large Moveable Alphabet

Roberta Frosolini


The child attains familiarity with the moveable alphabet and learns to build simple words.




  • A complete set of wooden letters (the vowels are distinguished from the consonants by colour; each letter has its own compartment)
  • Floor mat
  • Set of sandpaper letters


The phonic sound of the letters; elementary three-letter phonic words

Control of Error



Show the child the boxes containing the carved wooden letters and describe their contents. There is no need to follow alphabetical order when working with this apparatus. Place each box on the top end of the mat so that you have a clear space for the letters underneath the box. Remove the lids and place them one at a time underneath each base.

You may start by saying the sound and asking the child to find the corresponding letter. The child takes out the letter, places it on the floormat underneath the box, then puts the letter back in the box. Continue this way until the child has become familiar with the arrangement of the letters, each symbol placed in its own compartment.

Now you may extend this activity by using the sandpaper letters alongside the Large Moveable Alphabet (LMA). Let the child take a sandpaper letter card, trace and sound out the letter, then find the matching letter in the LMA. Let the child place the wooden letter either to the right of the sandpaper letter card or on the bottom right-hand corner of the card.

Once the child has abundantly familiarised herself with the LMA and is proficient in matching the letters, you may take a step further in encouraging her to build a simple three-letter phonic word, such as"dog", “cat”, “mat” or “pen”.

. “A child evidently composed these words with the moveable alphabet, not because he remembered them with the help of his ordinary memory, but because he had ‘carved’ and ‘absorbed’ them into his mind. It was from this image — which he had, as it were, before his eyes — that he copied the word.” —Maria Montessori in The Discovery of the Child

You may start with asking: “What sound do you hear when I say […]?” Encourage the child to repeat the word and to find the letters corresponding to the sounds in the LMA. Show the child how to set out the letters alongside eachother. Sound out the word phonetically, very slowly stressing each sound, then blend the individual sounds and say the whole word. Place emphasis on those sounds that the child finds difficult to hear (children have most difficulty with vowels).

You may help the child to carefully listen to the sound in the middle of the word. You may say: “The letter in the middle of [the word] is a vowel. Vowels are blue.” Repeat the sound and say the word very slowly so that the child can hear each sound again.

Remember not to correct the child, but to guide her along the process of word-building.


The word-building basket is a Montessori-inspired activity

Once the child has learned the sandpaper letters and is making words with the LMA, you might wish to prepare a few baskets, each with a small confetti bag containing a miniature object, each object representing a three-letter word.

Let the child take the object out of the bag. Encourage her to sound out each letter, find the letters in the basket, and place them beside the object in the order in which they occur in the word. Use a small plain felt mat as a working space. Give the child plenty of space and freedom in which to practice by herself.