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How to teach the alphabet to different learner types?

When teaching the alphabet it is important to remember that everyone learns in different ways, so we want to cover all of these learner types (see our article on “6 different types of ESL learners”). Simply showing a flashcard of a letter and getting students to say the letter will not be enough to help a child who is, for example, a Tactile learner (learns by touching and manipulating objects). Here are some methods you can include in your alphabet teaching routine to ensure all of your students get the most out of your alphabet lessons:

  • visual: show alphabet flashcards with a letter on the front and a picture on the back (e.g. a / apple). Have alphabet posters on the walls and alphabet picture books.
  • listening: say the sounds of each letter clearly and repeat a few times so your students can clearly hear the sounds. Play the ABC song.
  • touch and manipulation: use alphabet blocks which students can touch and pass around. They can also use the blocks to put the letters in the right order. Let students trace the shape of the letters on the flashcards and then “draw” the shapes with their fingers on the floor and doors, etc. Use play-doh to make the letters. Play the ABC song and have the students touch the letters as they are sung.
  • movement: have students make the shapes of the letters with their hands and bodies. For example, for the letter “c”, students can cup their hands or bend their bodies into a “c” shape. For more difficult letters, students can make the shapes in pairs or 3s (e.g.two students can make the body shapes for “b”, “d”, “m” etc. by working together).
Notes:

We strongly advise NOT dedicating a full lesson to the alphabet – we suggest including a 10-minute section each lesson for teaching and reviewing the alphabet. The full alphabet (lowercase first, then uppercase) should be taught over a series of lessons and reviewed each lesson. The number of letters you teach each lesson depends on the ability and age of your students. We suggest teaching 3 letters per lesson for 5-7-year-olds and 5 letters per lesson for over 7s.

Lesson Procedure:

New Learning and Practice:

1. Sing the "The ABC Song"
Start this section of the lesson with the ABC song to indicate that it’s alphabet time. If possible, have the letters of the alphabet stuck around the walls of your classroom, high enough so your students can’t take the down, and point at each letter as it is sung. If not, it’s not a problem, sing along with the song and have fun.

Lyrics for "The ABC Song"

Verse 1:
A B C D E F G
H I J K L M N
O P Q R S T U
V W and X Y Z

I can sing my ABCs,
Won’t you sing along with me?

Verse 2:
A B C D E F G
H I J K L M N
O P Q R S T U
V W and X Y Z

I can sing my ABCs,
Won’t you sing along with me?

(download MP3 here)

 

Alternatively, play the song video and have everyone sing along with the performer.

The ABC Song

2. Introduce the letters with flashcards
We suggest teaching 3 letters per lesson for 5-7-year-olds and 5 letters per lesson for over 7s. Start with lowercase letters and once mastered your students can move on to uppercase letters.

If you have already taught some letters, do a quick review of each letter by holding up alphabet flashcards – e.g. hold up the “a” flashcard and elicit its name, its sound and then elicit the picture on the other side. Do this for all the review letters.

For the new letters, follow this basic procedure. This section of the lesson should be fast paced and fun.

  1. Have everyone gather around you so they are close – have them sit on the floor with you, if possible. You want everyone to be close enough, so you can easily pass cards back and forth with them.
  2. Hold up an alphabet letter flashcard so all students can see it.
  3. Chorus the letter 3 to 5 times. Then ask each student individually to say the letter.
  4. Teach the sound of the letter (e.g. "A is for 'ah' ... ah - ah - ah"). Chorus again and check individually.
  5. Provide an example of an object that begins with the letter. Double-sided flashcards with the letter on one side and a picture on the other are great for this. (e.g. "What's this?" (elicit "A"). "And A is for...?" (elicit "ah"). "And 'ah' is for ... (turning the card over) "apple!". Chorus the word and check individually.

    Therefore, a typical interaction for a single letter (covering points 2-5 above) would be as follows:

    Teacher: (showing a flashcard of the letter A) “A .. A .. A .. repeat A”
    Students: “A”
    T: “A”
    Ss: “A”
    T: “A”
    Ss: “A”
    T: “A is for ah .. ah .. ah. Repeat ah”
    Ss: “ah”
    T: “ah”
    Ss: “ah”
    T: “ah”
    Ss: “ah”
    T: “A, is for ah, is for (turning the card over) apple .. apple .. apple .. repeat apple”
    Ss: “apple”
    T: “apple”
    Ss: “apple”
    T: “apple”
    Ss: “apple”
    T: “Good! What’s this?” (showing “A”)
    Ss: “A”
    T: “Is for?”
    Ss: “ah”
    T: “Is for?” (turning the card)
    Ss: “apple”
    T: “Well done!” (now asks individual students)
  6. Do a final check:

    Teacher: What's this? (holding up the 'A' flashcard)
    Students: 'A'
    T: And 'A' is for...?
    Ss: 'ah'
    T: And 'ah' is for...?
    Ss: 'Apple! '
  7. Then move onto the next letter.

As you teach each letter, use a combination of the activities in 3 below to practice and reinforce each letter.

3. Do a combination of activities to practice the letters
Below are some activities you can use each time to teach a new letter. Use different activities for each letter to keep things fun and interesting.

  • Give and give back: Give the letter flashcard to a student and get him/her to say the letter, sound and picture before passing back to you. Then do the same with some other students.
  • Pass It: Sit with your students in a circle. Hold up a flashcard letter and say the letter (e.g. "A"). Pass it on to the next student who also says it and passes it on to the next student.
  • Pick it up: Put the flashcard on the floor and ask individual students to pick it up, say the name, sound and picture and then give back to you.
  • Write on the board: kids love writing on the blackboard or whiteboard. After teaching each letter, give a chalk / marker pen to a student and ask him/her to write the letter onto the board (as large as they can). You can have more than one student do this for each letter.
  • Magic Finger: Hold the flashcard letter up in front of each student and let them trace the letter on the card with their 'magic' finger. Then the teacher, using his/her magic finger, traces the letter in the air and the students follow suit. The teacher and the students can then use their magic fingers to trace the letter on all sorts of fun places. For example, "Draw 'P' on your hand. Now on the floor. Now on your partner's back. Now on your cheek. Now on the wall. Now on your foot" etc.

4. Review letters with games
When you have finished teaching the 3-5 new letters you can play a series of games to reinforce these letters, mixed in with the letters your students have learned in previous lessons. Here are some popular games, rotate them so you have new games each week:

  • Slow motion: Hold the pack of alphabet flashcards with the letters facing towards yourself. The first letter card should be turned around, so the letter is facing the students but is hidden as it is behind the pack. Slowly pull the flashcard up inch by inch so the students can only see part of the letter. As the letter is slowly revealed, students try to guess what it is. The first student to guess correctly keeps the card (for 1 point). Variation: to make it a little more difficult turn each letter flashcard upside down.
  • Letter touch: Place the alphabet letter cards, face-up, on the floor. Students sit in a circle around the cards. Tell everyone to hold up their hands. The teacher then says a letter and the students must race to touch that letter first. The person who touches the letter first picks up the card and keeps it. At the end of the game, the student with the most letter cards is the winner.
  • Vanishing Alphabet Flashcards: place the flashcard letters in front of your students, in the correct order. Tell everyone to close their eyes. Take away one of the flashcards and then tell your students to open their eyes again. The first student to shout out the missing letter can keep that flashcard. At the end of the game, the student with the most letter cards is the winner. Variation: to make it a little more difficult, lay the letter flashcards out in random order.
  • Hold it up: Give out all the letter flashcards to students. Students can have more than one letter. Say a letter and the student holding that card must hold it up in the air. Variation: say different actions as well, which the student holding the card must do, e.g. “The student with card “D”, jump 5 times!”.
  • Find It: Hold up a letter flashcard and the students search around the room for an object beginning with that letter. (e.g. A - arm, B - book, C - clock).

5. Do a letter practice worksheet
Give out a worksheet to each student to practice the new letters. As students are doing the worksheets, circulate and ask individual students questions about the letters (what is this letter? “A”, What sound is it? “ah”. And what is the picture? “An apple”.)

A note on alphabet printing
Alphabet printing exercises are an important first step in learning to write. Printing exercises don't have to be boring - they can be really fun! They should also help students to internalize the letters.

  • Before the students begin printing, model each letter print showing the directions of the letter strokes.
  • When printing letters, get students to call out each letter as they write it.
  • If writing lower and uppercase have your students say "big 'A', small 'a'" as they write.
  • Let students write letter sets in different colors and allow students to draw little pictures on their printing sheets.
  • Continuously monitor the students while they print, helping with letter strokes, spaces between each letter, letter size, etc. Also, while monitoring, point to letters the students have already printed and ask them what they are.
  • Encourage students to circle their best printing effort for each letter set.
  • Finish by holding up each student’s sheet, asking questions ("what is this letter?") pointing out any mistakes, etc., but above all give lots of praise and encouragement!

6. Sing “The ABC Song” again
Sing the song once again, to indicate this section of the lesson is over. Place the letter flashcards you have taught so far on the board and point to each letter as it is sung.

 

Review Activities for the Whole Alphabet:

1. Sing the "The ABC Song"
Start this section of the lesson with the ABC song to indicate that it’s alphabet time. Students can do various activities with the song:

  • Simply have your students clap along or pat their laps as they sing the song.
  • Print out our song poster and give to each student. As they sing along they point to each letter.
  • Give letter shapes or blocks to students. After they have arranged them in the right order have them touch each letter as they sing the song.
  • Make an A4 poster of each letter and attach them to the walls of the classroom. Make sure they go all around the 4 walls of your room in alphabetical sequence. As the song is played have your students point to each letter
  • Prepare one set of alphabet flashcards. Give them out in the correct order to your students and make sure each student has approximately the same number of letters. As the song is played the student with the letter holds it up in the air (so the first student holds the letter “A” up as the letter “A” is sung, the second student “B” is held up as letter “B” is sung, and so on, down the line of students).
  • Prepare flashcards of each letter of the alphabet. Give them out randomly to each student and make sure each student has approximately the same number of letters. As the song is played the student with the letter holds it up in the air (so the student with the “A” letter holds it up as the letter “A” is sung, then “B” is held up as letter “B” is sung, and so on, so letters will be popping up and down all around the class). This is fast and furious, so this activity is best done with classes who have had enough time to learn the alphabet.

2. Play an alphabet game
Here are some games you can play when practicing the full alphabet:

  • Alphabet scramble: Use alphabet flashcards or plastic letters – enough for 2 or more groups of students. Mix all the letters up and put in a pile – one pile per group. Students race to put them into the correct order.
  • Bingo: Make bingo cards with letters instead of numbers. The winner is the first to either get a line or full house.
  • Concentration: You need 2 sets of alphabet flashcards for this game. Place both sets face down on the floor. Students take turns in turning over 2 cards (saying the letters aloud). If the cards match, then the student keeps the cards. If the cards are different the cards are turned back over again in their original places. The student with the most pairs at the end of the game is the winner.
  • Hot Potato: Write a letter of the alphabet onto the board. Get a soft ball and throw it to a student. They must say a word beginning with that letter and then throw the ball back to the teacher, or to another student.
  • I spy: Teacher says, "I spy with my little eye something that begins with B". Students try to guess the object (e.g. "book").
  • Yell it: Have your students close their eyes and turn their backs so they can't see what you are doing. Take a letter flashcard, letter block or letter shape and hide it somewhere in the classroom (behind a curtain, on a chair seat, under a book, etc.). Then shout "Go!" and students race around the classroom looking for that letter. The student who finds it yells it out and wins a point. This can be done a letter at a time, or with a number of letters at the same time.
  • Letter Shapes Race: Alphabet blocks or shapes are great for this activity. Scatter all the alphabet shapes randomly around the classroom floor. Line up all the students against the front wall and have them race to find the first letter: 'a'. The first student to find it stamps on it and shouts "A!" and wins the 'a' flashcard (picks it up). Students then race to find 'b' and once again the first student to stamp on it and shout "B!" wins the 'b' flashcard. Continue until 'z' is reached. The student with the most flashcards is the winner.
  • Alphabet Boxes: You need: 26 baby wipe boxes / tissue boxes with one letter of the alphabet written on each box. Get your students to fill each box with items that begin with that letter. Some can even be pictures of items (this can be done slowly over a matter of weeks/months). Each class show the items to the students and pass them around.

3. Do a full alphabet worksheet
Before class, print off one of our full alphabet worksheets. These can be writing, tracing or matching exercises. As students are doing the worksheets, circulate and ask individual students questions about the letters (what is this letter? “A”, What sound is it? “ah”. And what is the picture? “An apple”.)

4. Read classroom reader "The Alphabet book"
Before class, download and print off the reader "The Alphabet book". As you go through each page, point to the letter and pictures and ask your students what they are, for example:

Read classroom reader "The Alphabet book"Teacher: (reading from page 2) What are these letters?
Students: A, B and C.
Teacher: Yes, that’s right! And what is this? (pointing at the tree)
Students: It’s a tree.
Teacher: Yes, good! (Reading) “a b c sitting in a tree.”

The sentences rhyme and are fun to say, so you can get the class to repeat along with you, for example:

Teacher: (reading from page 3) “d e f cooked by a chef”
Students: “d e f cooked by a chef”

After reading the story, give out a reader worksheet to each student and have them match the letters to the correct pictures from the reader. Then go through the answers as a class.

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Alternatively, watch our video version of the reader (Internet connection required):

5. Sing “The ABC Song” again
Sing the song once again, to indicate this section of the lesson is over.

 

Moving onto full words:

You can judge when your students are ready to move onto reading and writing full words – often this will be before you have finished teaching the full alphabet.

1. Start teaching common letter clusters early on
Kids are surprisingly good at picking up on clusters and this will help your students when they start to read. For example, when you reach teaching the letter “h” introduce the cluster “ch” (you will have already taught “c” in a previous lesson). Teach the cluster in the same way as individual letters. Other clusters include: sh, th, ch, st, oo, ee, ou. We have letter cluster worksheets for your students to do.

2. Begin teaching simple words early on
You’ll be surprised how quickly your kids will be able to read simple words. For example, by the time you have reached the letter “O” put the flashcard letters “d – o – g” on the board. Elicit the sound of each letter and then see if the students can string the letters together to make the word. Some good early learning words are:

  • bag
  • bat – man (batman)
  • bed
  • big
  • cap
  • cat
  • cup
  • fat
  • fox
  • hat
  • hop
  • hot
  • jam
  • jet
  • kick
  • kiss
  • leg
  • pen
  • pot
  • rat
  • sit
  • sun
  • van
  • wet
Wrap Up:

Assign Homework
Always assign an alphabet worksheet at the end of each lesson to help internalize the new and previously taught letters.

Print Outs / Worksheets / Flashcards:

Songs & Readers:

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Notes:
  1. To view and print a flashcard or worksheet click on the thumbnail image.
  2. For detailed printing instructions, click here.
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