How would you like to give your students a solid foundation for reading and writing at the beginning of the year?  How would you like to get your students reading faster?!  You need a fun, engaging way to introduce and have your students master all 26 sounds and letters to your students quickly and effectively.  What if I told you that we have a way for you to cover all 26 in only the first 26 days of school and what if we told you it’s aligned to the science of reading and has been in use for 10 years?  Well, we do!!! It’s one of the components of our year-long math & literacy program called TKS Bootcamp. The component you are looking for is called ABC Bootcamp! Teachers across the country and around the world are raving about the success of ABC Bootcamp in their classrooms. We could talk about all 9 components of TKS Bootcamp but for now, we want to focus on just the ABC component which is the first component of our phonics curriculum.

Intrigued yet?! I am positive you are, which means you have questions! We hope this blog post can help answer many of them. Ready to get started? Remember TKS Bootcamp is the year-long curriculum but in this post, we are focusing only on the ABC component. If you want to learn more about the entire program, visit our new website at www.tksbootcamp.com.

What Is ABC Bootcamp?

So you’ve probably seen or heard about ABC Bootcamp on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter.  You’ve seen it mentioned in my lesson plans….and you’ve had TONS of questions about it.
Quite simply:  ABC Bootcamp is a research-based, science of reading-aligned, classroom-proven 26-day introduction to all letters and sounds.  ABC BOOTCAMP is an explicit, systematic, highly effective phonics curriculum based on best practices.

Why ABC Bootcamp?

The idea came about during our team planning 10 years ago.   We were….gasp….a letter a week crowd.   We were tired of still “introducing” a letter in April or May.  It didn’t work.  It doesn’t work.  And it really doesn’t make sense.  So we decided to try something new.  What we decided to do was a letter a day and introduce  26 letters in 26 days at the beginning of the year.  We decided to call it BOOTCAMP because it was going to be fast and intense!    So BOOTCAMP was born out of necessity for us to try something new that we hoped would be better for our students.  There was some research out there at the time but not like there is now.  We also started that first year by introducing the SOUND FIRST and the letter name was “how do you spell the sound?” so we really were cutting edge!
By introducing the letters/sounds this early we can move our focus to reading and writing words.  For students who need more help, they get extra help during small groups, one on one instruction, and centers!

The Research

The TKS Bootcamp curriculum is built on the research of The Law Of 10-20 For Memory Sets. This research says that the optimal time to learn a set is 10-20% of the time you want to remember that set.  The school year is 180 days.  10%-20% of 180 is 18-37 days.  26 days falls in the middle of this range.  Therefore ABC Bootcamp and the TKS Bootcamp curriculum is the optimal time to learn letters and sounds. This research carries throughout the entire Bootcamp curriculum.

And yes, ABC BOOTCAMP is aligned to the science of reading.  And it has always been built on this body of research.  From day 1, ABC BOOTCAMP was built on the principles of the science of reading because that is how I was taught to teach reading!


Another benefit of Bootcamp?   EXCITEMENT!  The kids are excited to come to class.  How do we know? We experience it year after year AND we hear it from teachers across the country! Students know what to expect the next day and often start talking about it as we leave to go home. It brings a whole new level of excitement to learning. WAIT…WHAT?! Fun? Excitement!?! Kids are excited about learning?! YES PLEASE! Where’s the glitter?! Someone throw some glitter!

Does It Work?

YES!  In a blind study of 200 classrooms across all demographics, the following growth occurred after 26 days of BOOTCAMP:
In 10 years of using BOOTCAMP in my classroom, I have consistently seen 90-95% mastery at the end of 26 days! 95% of my students leave kindergarten at benchmark on our nationally normed benchmark assessment.   A majority of my students are ELL and enter the classroom with little to no English!

How Does ABC Bootcamp Work?

The how is pretty simple.  That’s the beauty of BOOTCAMP:  It’s easy!  Each day of BOOTCAMP we work on a sound and letter.  We recommend you start with A and work through the alphabet from A to Z.  The reason we go in order is that we are only focused on letters and sounds during ABC Bootcamp. The predictability is exciting for students because they can know what letter is next!  This is an immersive phonics curriculum.  After BOOTCAMP we apply the letters and sounds we’ve learned to start reading and making words using Word Family Bootcamp!  (NOTE:  We have now done ABC BOOTCAMP in alphabetical order and in order of utility.  There was NO change in the data.  The outcome was the same, but the loss of predictability impacted the excitement of the students!)

Morning Message:

  We mention the letter in the morning message but before reading the message, I ask if they can identify the sound and letter just to get a quick idea of where we stand with a particular sound and letter!   As part of the morning message, I model how to write the uppercase and lowercase letters.  Then each child comes to the message and writes the letter (upper and lower case!).  This serves as an informal assessment for me and the students start the day hearing and seeing the sound and letter!

Circle Charts

During our morning literacy routine, we do a circle chart.  The circle chart features the letter.  When introducing the sound and letter for the day, we introduce the SOUND FIRST because the science of reading tells us that kids need a speech-to-print approach.   So I might say:  “Today we are learning the sound /b/!”  Then students repeat and identify the sound.  I might say:  “What sound?”  After we repeat the sound, I say:  “We spell /b/ with the letter b.”  The letter’s name is how we spell the sound.  This helps students make the connection between sounds and letters and writing.

Student-Generated Words

The students generate ideas for words that begin with the sound of the letter.  (WE DO NOT INCLUDE LONG VOWEL SOUNDS at this time.  Long vowel sounds are introduced during our Vowel Bootcamp.) This is where the SOR idea of connecting sounds to known words comes into play.  We’re connecting the beginning sound to words the kids know because the kids are generating the words.     If a student suggests a word with a vowel sound, we talk about how the letter makes that vowel sound….and we say we will remember it when we come back to the vowel sounds! (We also only introduce the HARD consonant sound.  We introduce the soft sound later in the year.)
When they suggest a word, we ask “What sound?” and students identify the sound.  I ask “Does this belong on our circle chart?”  And again, I ask “What sound?”

Drawing The Pictures

 Mr. Greg attempts (very badly attempts…) to draw the picture!  After I draw the picture, they name the picture.  I ask them what sound the word begins with.  Then I ask them:  “HOW DO WE SPELL (the sound)?”    Next,  I write the letter for the sound.  And then I spell the rest of the word.    Finally, we read the word again and identify the sound!   If students struggle to generate words for the circle chart, we give them hints and describe words that would go on the circle chart.  I might say:  “You eat this on a bun with ketchup.”  And they would say “hamburger”!  After we finish the chart, we go back and say each word and the sound to build initial sound fluency.
NOTE:  One of the foundations of ABC BOOTCAMP is the teacher drawing the pictures.  Yes, we’re bad artists.  That’s half the fun.  Our pictures make the kids giggle and laugh and that laughter increases engagement and focus!  Pre-printed pictures don’t have the same impact because it loses the personal connection and that relationship piece.  By drawing the pictures, we’re activating those emotional centers of the brain which increases learning and engagement!
The circle charts are being displayed on our anchor chart rope.  When we finish all 26 letters, I take a picture of each circle map, have it printed in an 8×10 photograph at Walgreens, then laminate and bound into a book!
ABC BOOTCAMP also includes explicit phonemic awareness instruction and practice.  We count the syllables in the word, we identify the onset sound, we segment sounds in the words.  And once we have learned enough sounds we start blending simple CVC words!  

Circle Charts In Action:

Handwriting:  Explicit Instruction And Independent Practice

Research is clear:  handwriting and forming the letters help solidify the sounds and letters because the motion/movement builds more brain pathways!  ABC BOOTCAMP is when we explicitly teach correct letter formation.  After ABC BOOTCAMP we work on handwriting all year but in a more informal way.  I place the handwriting sheet on our document camera.  And again we identify the sound and letter.  Then I explain how to form the letter while modeling how to form the letter on the paper.  (NOTE:  I use a marker to model the writing so it’s easier to see!)  I model how to trace the uppercase and lowercase letters and then model how to do the independent practice.
Next, each child gets a handwriting page and practices writing the letters.  While they are writing, I am moving around the room monitoring and assisting students with correct letter formation.
  The handwriting pages included in ABC Bootcamp are in manuscript and D’Neliean style! So you choose which one to use in your classroom. Again, that is part of the beauty of how we designed the entire TKS Bootcamp curriculum. It will fit any classroom’s needs and therefore will compliment any curriculum you might already be required to use.

Handwriting Modeling Video from 2018:

ABC Hats

One of the highlights of ABC Bootcamp is our alphabet hats which are included in the download when you purchase ABC Bootcamp.  For each letter, we make an alphabet hat. Everyone makes each hat, including me! Again, teacher involvement and buy-in is a huge factor in the success of ABC BOOTCAMP!  Don’t be afraid to go all-in during these 26 days!   In fact, you might walk in and find me laying on the floor making my hat with the kids.  And guess what?  We’re getting more phonemic awareness because the kids have to identify the hat and the beginning sound when they bring me their hat to staple!  



Here is a Hat Modeling Video from 2018:

The First Week

One thing we hear the most about ABC BOOTCAMP is how much time we spend on Bootcamp, especially during the first week or two.  Here’s the truth:  the first week or two takes time.  Students aren’t really working independently at all so everything is being modeled step by step and being done whole group.  It’s OK!  The explicit instruction is a MUST!  Don’t let the time factor scare you.  We’re also using this time to work on fine motor skills, listening, following directions, and routines and procedures.  And it’s the beginning of the year so we have the time to invest in laying a solid foundation.  During the first week or two, ABC BOOTCAMP takes about 40-60 minutes.  The hats are the most time-consuming piece AT FIRST!  Keep reading….and see how we are able to speed up this process!

Working Independently

After a week or so of making the hats as a whole group activity, we switch to doing the hats independently.  And just like that, we have shortened the amount of time we spend on ABC BOOTCAMP.  This is also introducing them to working independently and I can start pulling informal small groups during week 2!
I have my hat prepared ahead of time as a model.  Again, we review the sound and letter by identifying the hat.  We explain how to make their hat and the students make their own hats!  Students usually have 15-20 minutes for the hat.  If your hat isn’t finished before time is up, it goes home.  No excuses!

Assembling The Hats

 After they finish their hat, they glue the hat on a sentence strip and bring it to me.  They identify the hat, the sound, and the letter, and then I staple the sentence strip so they can wear the hat.  This is another area where students become more independent.  After about 2 weeks, they come to the table with the sentence strip already sized and ready to staple!
The hats in ABC Bootcamp are differentiated.  For each letter, there is 2 hats: one that requires some assembly and on that is a simple cut and paste.  The hats are created by  Jenny at Jen Hart Design and are all yours when you purchase ABC Bootcamp!
alphabet hats
 We wear our hats all day!  However, we do have some rules for hats!  Rule 1:  on your head or in the trash!  We don’t play with them and if they’re a distraction they get trashed.  The kids can choose to put their hats in their backpacks but most wear them.  Rule 2:  We do not wear them to lunch, recess, or specials.  This is just to avoid issues!  Another benefit to the hats?  I can pull a child or a small group while the others are hard at work on a hat.
letter activities
The hats reinforce the letter sound of the day in a fun, meaningful way!    And they’re silly and fun.  We get lots of giggles from the hats! The students love to look up and see me wearing my hat. They’re also great to get other adults involved.  Adults ask the kids about their hats throughout the day.  They’re recalling the sound and letter and explaining why we did a certain hat.

ABC Bootcamp Dog Tags

Students also receive a dog tag each day.  The dog tag contains the letter that we learned.  When students come to me to get their hats stapled, they identify the sound and letter and receive a dog tag.

The dog tag is placed on a necklace with their other letter dog tags and hangs in their cubby.  At the end of our 26-day ABC BOOTCAMP, they proudly wear their dog tags home!


So how long does this take?

ABC BOOTCAMP:  Small Groups

Alphabet Books

One of the biggest keys to students’ success as readers is confidence. Decodable readers help boost the confidence of our readers. And if a child feels like a reader, they will be better readers. Using decodable readers allows students to apply and practice the phonics skills we’ve taught in whole group lessons during our BOOTCAMP phonics time. Decodable readers are a key part of the systematic, explicit phonics instruction that helps our students succeed as readers and writers!​  

We use the alphabet books in ABC BOOTCAMP to practice and review the sound and letters in context!  Learning letters and sounds must happen in context (which is why we use circle charts with words!).  I pull small groups and we use the alphabet readers to practice the sound and letters in books!

How To Use The Alphabet Books

I pull a group to my table.  First, I ask them to find the front cover of the book.  Then they identify the sound and letter on the front cover.  I might also ask them if they know any words for the sound.  Then we read each page.     After reading the book we identify the pictures and sound.  We then do another reading where students read independently with my assistance as needed.  We’re also working on vocabulary with the books.

With ABC Bootcamp you will get 26 alphabet books in the download. These books are differentiated with 2 levels. For each letter, there is a one-word book which is great for building vocabulary and confidence in readers. There is also a predictable pattern book with a simple sight word sentence to build fluency and confidence. Each book is available in color and black line, so you can choose to save on ink!​

Alphabet Books In Action:

Letter Sound Hunt

One way that we are able to target students who need some extra practice with a particular sound is with our sound hunts.  These are included as part of ABC BOOTCAMP and make a great small group tool.
I pull a group to my table.  We look at the paper and identify the sound and letter.  Next, we discuss that we are looking for pictures that begin with our sound.  Then we point to each picture and say the name of the picture.  I ask:  “What sound?”  and the students identify the sound.  Finally,  I ask:  “Do we color this picture?”  And they answer appropriately.  Also ask:  “Why?” to get them to justify their decision.    After we color all of the correct pictures, we name each picture and identify the sound to build initial sound fluency.

Student Circle Chart Books

Another option for differentiation and small group work in ABC BOOTCAMP is the Student Circle Chart Books.  These books can be used to challenge students who have mastered their sounds and letters or they can provide additional, scaffolded practice for students who need extra support.
Students are called to my table to work on their alphabet book.  We identify the sound and letter.  Then we differentiate the work.  If the group needs additional practice, we can refer to the class circle chart and add pictures to their book.  These students would write ther letter for each picture.  Students who have mastered their sounds and letters, they are challenged to think of DIFFERENT words for their alphabet book.  After quickly drawing the pictures, they are encouraged to attempt to use their sounds to write the word.

Daily Review

I get asked if this is the only time we will learn the letter and sound….NO!   We review every letter and sound every day during our morning literacy routine! And we work with letters and sounds in small groups and centers using the centers included with BOOTCAMP!

Each day of the year we also review and practice all letters and sounds with songs and our letter sound chart.  This allows a student who misses a day to still learn the letter they missed and makes sure we’re constantly practicing all 26 sounds and letters.
We use a letter/sound chart every. day.  of. the.  year.  BOOTCAMP is introducing the letters but it’s not the only time we see the letter and work on the sound!
Click the picture above to get your free copy of our alphabet chart!  Thanks to Graphics From The Pond for the amazing clip art!
ABC Centers
We are also working with letters and sounds during our literacy centers.  This gives students hands-on, independent, and engaging practice with letter identification, letter formation, and identifying beginning sounds.  (ABC BOOTCAMP includes blackline centers for letters and sounds!)
alphabet centers

ABC Bootcamp Fashion Show

To celebrate the end of ABC Bootcamp….each child will get some camouflage dog-tags and a certificate!  The editable certificates are included in ABC BOOTCAMP!
And finally, we celebrate with THE ORIGINAL ABC Bootcamp fashion show!  Each child receives a vest made from brown grocery bags.  Each vest will feature a single letter.  Students take the vest home and work with the family to decorate the vest with pictures for the sound and letter.
Then, we walk the runway with our vests!  (For certain letters we send home clip art for the letters to make it easier….and the vests are required to be returned 2 days before the fashion show so we can help anyone who might not have completed the vests at home!)  For more on our ABC BOOTCAMP fashion show, check out this post!
abc bootcamp fashion show

How To Cut Out The Vests:


Fashion Show from 2018:

Our ABC Bootcamp download contains everything you need for complete science of reading-aligned phonics instruction with your class.  It is 100% flexible and adapts to fit any scope and sequence and/or curriculum!  ABC Bootcamp is only one component of our year-long math and literacy curriculum called,  TKS BOOTCAMP!

The TKS Bootcamp Curriculum can be purchased as a Bundle that contains all 9 math & literacy components at a 25% discount, or you can purchase only the components you wish to use. Each component and/or bundle is available in 5 different themes: Army, Monsters, Safari,  Superhero, or No Theme!

Available in 5 themes:


For more details on the entire TKS Bootcamp Curriculum, check out the TKS BOOTCAMP website:

For more research into ABC BOOTCAMP, check out this blog post!


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