Alphabet Strategy Bank

Recognition of the letters of the alphabet and knowing the sounds they make is one of the key predictors of reading success. The alphabet is an invented system of symbols. Alone, each letter of the alphabet has limited value, but combinations of letters create words, the essence of written communication. In order to read an alphabetic language like English, children must learn the alphabetic principle—that letter symbols represent sounds. This knowledge is a critical precursor to reading words, since words are merely a combination of the letters that can be used to represent a word’s specific combination of sounds.

Children have to learn to recognize and attach sound to four sets of letters—uppercase print, lowercase print, uppercase cursive, and lowercase cursive. Some letters, such as lowercase b and d, and q and p, as well as uppercase M and W, and F and E, have subtle differences. It takes time and practice to distinguish one from the other in each pair.

By age four, most children can recite the alphabet in order. But this is not enough. They must know the printed form of each letter out of order, and they must know the common sounds attached to the letters.

It is important to assess a child’s knowledge of the alphabet at the beginning of kindergarten and grade one in order to plan the instruction needed. Accuracy and speed are both important, and both should be assessed. See the alphabet assessment reproducibles for ways to assess a child’s knowledge of the alphabet.

What follows are tips for teaching the alphabetic principle.

The Alphabet Song

Use the Alphabet Song, traditionally sung to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, to familiarize children with the letters and their names. Sing it often, if not every day. Take care not to sing it so fast that the letters run together and are not easily distinguishable, such as with l, m, n, o sounding like elemeno. You can sing it as a rap or to another tune for variety. It is also helpful to have a large alphabet chart so that you can point to the letters as you sing them.

Alphabet Books

Reading A-Z has an alphabet book for each letter of the alphabet. Because the books are downloadable, each child can have his or her own book to color, practice reading, and take home.

Use the alphabet books to acquaint children with objects that start with the target letter and sound, and to introduce them to concepts of print. This will also familiarize children with handling books. Focus on the pictures that represent the target sound. The second part of each book contains a sentence such as "A is for apple." Children can practice one-to-one correspondence, tracking print left to right and using illustrations to confirm word meaning.

Alphabet books are a good way to introduce children to vocabulary words. Second-language children will benefit greatly from the singular focus of word and picture.

You can start a letter chart where children can put pictures they find that begin with the featured letter. You can even have them make their own books or add pages to the Reading A-Z alphabet books.

Teaching Shapes

It is not enough to be able to recite the names of letters. Children must come to recognize their shapes. For preschool children and children lacking alphabet knowledge, don’t teach upper- and lowercase at the same time. Start with uppercase letters, as it is easier to tell one uppercase letter from another. Point out the similarities of features in letters—for example, the small circles that are found in the lowercase letters o, a, d, and b, as well as the lines used to form t, l, d, and b. Point out the common parts of letters like e and c, M and W, m and n, and P and R. Children should recognize that letters are made by combinations of straight lines, curved lines, circles, and dots. For example, if you show them that the letter c is formed by making a curve, you can point out that d is formed by adding a straight line to c.

The pace of introducing letters will vary from child to child. It is probably best to start with one letter per week. If children seem to have no trouble mastering one per week, you may want to try introducing more than one.

When it comes to teaching individual letters, avoid teaching, one after the other, letters that children confuse with each other. Make sure they have mastered one letter before introducing a visually similar letter. For example, don’t closely follow the teaching of lowercase d with b or vice versa.

Teaching Sounds

Focus on the most common sound for each of the letter symbols. Use picture words that begin with the sound, and have children recognize the sound by naming the picture. Be sure to segment the target sound and blend it back together. For example, show them a picture of a bat. Ask: What is this? Repeat the word by emphasizing the /b/ sound. Have children repeat and place emphasis on the /b/. Associating the sound with a picture will help them remember the sound.

Try to teach a combination of consonants and vowels that permit early word formation. For example, by teaching b, a, and t first, you can form the words bat, at, and tab. Children can then blend and segment the words to practice the individual letter/sound relationships they have learned.

Writing Letters

One of the best ways to teach letter shapes is to have children write the letters. The two most common forms of letter writing are Print style and Slant Print style. Whatever you teach, remain consistent with the method of letter formation you use. Start children off with practice on unruled sheets of paper. Then introduce them to lined sheets. Reading A-Z has practice letter-writing worksheets available for downloading and printing. These worksheets are available in both Print and Slant Print styles.

Alphabet Activities

M m m N n w s m M m W m U