8 Strategies for teaching children the alphabet| Alphabet Knowledge
Have you ever wondered whether you should follow the advice of introducing your kids with letter sounds before letter names?
Or why some reading programs don’t start teaching letters from the normal sequence of A to Z, instead they start with “s, a, t, p..”? Or whether you should introduce uppercase or lowercase first?
Who knew that teaching kids their ABCs can get so complicated. But it isn’t.
There is no perfect way to teach them reading. However, what I will share with you is what some early childhood educators have recommended when teaching your kids the alphabet. But of course, these are just recommendations. At the end of the day, you know your child best. So, do what’s best for your child.
This is the second part of my guide to teaching children reading. Below are the 5 essential skills needed in order for your child to be a fluent reader.
- Book & Print Awareness
- Alphabet Knowledge
- Phonological Awareness
This is the early reading stage which typically lasts from 0-6 years old. For this post, I will be sharing with you what you need to know when teaching your little ones their ABCs.
Knowing the alphabet encompasses knowing the following concepts listed below.
- letter shapes (recognizing it’s visual features such as direction, curves, and lines for both UPPER and lowercase letters)
- letter names
- letter sounds (e.g. A has the /a/ sound as in ‘apple’)
- letter writing
8 Strategies in teaching the alphabet
There are many ways to teach your child the alphabet. As mentioned, there is no fixed nor the ‘perfect’ method. However, here are some strategies adapted from the book “Phonics from A-Z”:
#1 Teach letter names then letter sounds
Some recommend going straight to letter sounds. For a while, I thought they had a pretty strong argument- they do not want to confuse the child and children only need to know letter sounds to read. But, for myself, I prefer letter names first because:
- Teaching letter names along with letter sounds will not confuse them as long as they are introduced at a suitable pace for children
- It will help them understand that each letter stands for a sound
- Most of the letter names, with few exceptions, are related to the letter sounds (e.g. The letter name of M is /em/ with the sound of /m/)
- Saying out the letter name will help children with letter sounds
(e.g. asking “what is the sound of letter M?” is a better prompt than “what is the sound of this letter?”)
#2 Teach uppercase then lowercase
Those who recommend the lowercase first argue that they are commonly found in books and other printed texts. However, I prefer uppercase first because:
- they are easier to distinguish visually
- in early years, they will most likely encounter the uppercase letters first as this is what they are introduced in most preschools
- only half of the letters have very different shapes (e.g. Aa, Bb), while the rest are the same (e.g. Ss, Cc)
#3 Introduce simple sounds then complex
Okay, so there are 26 letters and 44 sounds in the English language. This means that one letter can have more than 1 sound. So how do you teach your kids all of these?
Introduce simple sounds then complex sounds
- short vowels before long vowels (e.g. teach the ‘A’ sound in ‘cat’ before ‘cake’)
- consonants (e.g. b, k, l) before blends (e.g. st, cl) and diagraphs (e.g. th, ch)
#4 Use memory devices such as pictures, keywords, rhymes, actions
Memory devices are tools to help children to remember alphabets. Plus, it makes learning fun!
- Using pictures and keywords will help your child to remember letter sounds
e.g. A as in Ant, S as in Sun
- Using actions to remember letter sounds
e.g. making the action of biting an apple as you make the /a/ sound as in “apple”
- Using rhymes as a guide for writing letters
e.g. writing letter E:
Pull one line down for capital E
Then add some shelves, 1, 2, 3!
#5 Adjust pace according to the child’s needs
The beauty of teaching your own kids is that you can progress as fast as you can or work on certain areas before moving on. Don’t rush it.
#6 Provide hands-on and multi-sensory activities
Hands-on multi-sensory activities can be any activity where they can use their senses to make learning more fun and lasting. It’s all up to your creativity.
Taste: Learning about letter A? Grab some apples for a bite.
Touch: Make a sensory bin by dumping some magnetic letters and mix it with other stuff (such as water, sand, jelly, dry pasta or anything else you have). Here is an example.
Smell: Learning about letter L? Play a guessing game. Get some lemons and ask your kids to close their eyes to smell the mystery fruit
#7 Use Alphabet books
Here are some books I recommend:
#8 Use explicit instructions in your lessons
Some studies have recommended reading lessons to be explicit. This will give your child clarity in every aspect of learning how to read, which includes the alphabet. This means that you have to choose your words and ensure that your lessons are clear, no matter how simple or obvious it may be.
Example: This is letter A, it stands for the sound /a/ as in apple or ant
Why is my child getting confused and writing some letters in reverse?
Your child can and will get confused with recognizing the upper and lowercase letters. If your child is confused with the letters “b” and “d” or “p” and ‘q’, it does not mean that they are dyslexic or have any learning problem.
Okay, but why is it difficult for some children?
For the longest time, kids understood that objects remain the same no matter which way they are placed. For example, a cup is still a cup whether you place it upside down or turn it around any other way.
Recognizing letters takes good visual processing as they have to take in every detail such as the lines and directions of the letter shapes. Therefore, what they need is more exposure and practice.
Using the following guidelines will help your child distinguish letter shapes better:
- describe the shapes of letters explicitly while tracing (e.g. letter ‘B’- one line down, one curve above, and another curve below)
- help to see similarities and differences between letter shapes (e.g. letters ‘b’ and ‘d’)
- provide letter writing practice
- use a memory device as mentioned in strategy #4 to help your child write letters (check out: this alphabet formation rhymes or this “b and d” poster)
- allow opportunities for independent writing by tracing and copying
Example of a lesson:
To give you a clearer picture let me show you how you can teach you kids the alphabet.
1. Give a clear introduction of the letter, sound, and shape
- Letter name: “This is letter B”
- Letter-sound: “It stands for the /b/ sound as in bbbb-bus, bbb-big.”
Add a gesture to help your child remember the sound like the action of driving a bus when saying the /b/ sound.
- Letter shape: Trace the shape of letter B with your finger as you make the /b/ sound for every stroke
- Describe its shape, “one line down, one curve above, and another curve below”
2. Allow your child to recap by asking questions
What letter is this?
What sound does the letter M make?
Can you trace it with your finger just like me?
3. Introduce the lowercase
This is also the letter ‘F’. Big F, little f.
4. Conduct different hands-on and multi-sensory activities to reinforce the lesson
Children need many opportunities to enhance their memory of the letter names, shapes, and sounds. Below are a few examples of what you can do with them:
Letter shape: Making a collage of the letter S.
Letter-sound: Show pictures and talk about words beginning with the letter S (Sand, sea, starfish, seashells, sunny)
Uppercase and lowercase: Alphabet matching games- Lay down a few lowercase letters on the floor. Flash out the uppercase and ask your child to jump on the lowercase letters on the floor. (E.g. Show them a picture of uppercase ‘D’ and they will have to find the lowercase ‘d’ on the floor and jump on it)
Okay, so now that I’m done with all the ABCs, should I start with blending those letters to make simple words?
Like /c/ /a/ /t/ for cat? mat? Cat on the mat?
Not quite yet. There is another really important skill that you should build on. Want to know what that is? Click the link below to continue.
Part 3: Why your child can’t blend words yet | Phonemic Awareness
Intro: Guide to teaching children reading
Part 1: What your child needs to know before learning to read | Print Awareness
Part 2: 8 Strategies for teaching children the alphabet | Alphabet Knowledge
Part 3: Why your child can’t blend words | Phonemic Awareness
Part 4: How to help your child decode words when reading? | Phonics
Part 5: Helping children make sense of words and sentences | Comprehension
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The Teacher Treasury
Thank you for sharing these strategies! I am sure these will be useful especially for young kids and preschool teachers.
Thank you for your extensive research! I’m grateful 🙏.