The most basic information children learn about the alphabet is how to identify and form the letters in handwriting. They notice letters in environmental print and learn to sing the ABC song. By the time children enter kindergarten, they usually recognize some letters, especially those in their own names, in names of family members and pets, and in common words in their homes and communities. Children also write some of these familiar letters.

Research suggests that children don’t learn alphabet letter names in any particular order or by isolating letters from meaningful written language in skill-and-drill activities. McGee and Richgels (2008) conclude that learning letters of the alphabet requires many, many experiences with meaningful written language and recommend that teachers take these steps to encourage children’s alphabet learning:

  • Capitalize on children’s interests.Teachers provide letter activities that children enjoy, and they talk about letters when children are interested in talking about them. Teachers know what features to comment on because they observe children during reading and writing activities to find out which letters or features of letters children are exploring.
  • Talk about the role of letters in reading and writing.Teachers talk about how letters represent sounds and how letters combine to spell words and point out capital letters and lowercase letters. Teachers often talk about the role of letters as they write with children.
  • Provide a variety of opportunities for alphabet learning.Teachers use children’s names and environmental print in literacy activities, do interactive writing, encourage children to use invented spelling, share alphabet books, and play letter games.

Teachers begin teaching letters of the alphabet using two sources of words—children’s own names and environmental print. They teach the ABC song to provide children with a strategy for identifying the name of an unknown letter. Children learn to sing this song and point to each letter on an alphabet chart until they reach the unfamiliar one; this is a very useful strategy because it gives them a real sense of independence in identifying letters. Teachers also provide routines, activities, and games for talking about and manipulating letters. During these familiar, predictable activities, teachers and children say letter names, manipulate magnetic letters, and write letters on dry-erase boards. At first, the teacher structures and guides the activities, but with experience, the children internalize the routine and do it independently, often at a literacy center. The table below presents 10 routines to teach the letters of the alphabet.

Activity Description
Environmental Print Children sort food labels, toy traffic signs, and other environmental print to find examples of a letter being studied.
Alphabet Books Teachers read aloud alphabet books to build vocabulary, and later, children reread the books to find words when making books about a letter.
Magnetic Letters Children pick all examples of one letter from a collection of magnetic letters or match upper- and lowercase letterforms of magnetic letters. They also arrange the letters in alphabetical order and use them to spell familiar words.
Letter Stamps Children use letter stamps and ink pads to print letters on paper or in booklets. They also use letter-shaped sponges to paint letters and letter-shaped cookie cutters to cut out clay letters.
Alphabet Chart Children point to letters and pictures on the alphabet chart as they recite the alphabet and the name of the picture, such as “A-airplane, B-baby, C-cat,” and so on.
Letter Containers Teachers collect coffee cans or shoe boxes, one for each letter, and place several familiar objects that represent the letter in each container. Teachers use these containers to introduce the letters, and children use them for sorting and matching activities.
Letter Frames Teachers make circle-shaped letter frames from tagboard, collect large plastic bracelets, or shape pipe cleaners or Wikki-Stix (pipe cleaners covered in wax) into circles for students to use to highlight particular letters on charts or in big books.
Letter Books and Posters Children make letter books with pictures of objects beginning with a particular letter on each page. They add letter stamps, stickers, or pictures cut from magazines. For posters, the teacher draws a large letterform on a chart and children add pictures, stickers, and letter stamps.
Letter Sorts Children sort objects and pictures representing two or more letters and place them in containers marked with the specific letters.
Dry-Erase Boards Children practice writing upper- and lowercase forms of a letter and familiar words on dry-erase boards.