Learning the letters and their names doesn’t have to be difficult! Follow these seven easy tips and your students will be learning the letters and their names in no time! Learning the letters and their sounds is a critical step in the early literacy skill development and it should be done while working on other important foundational skills, like phonological awareness.
Letter Identification Activities
No more letter of the week
Research shows that teaching one letter a week is not effective. Now, it could be done in preschool as a way to introduce letters. But once we get to kindergarten, that would take 26 precious weeks to learn all the letters of the alphabet. By then, we want students already starting to read and write! How can they if they don’t even know all the letters yet? Only teaching one letter a week is just not how young children learn letters naturally. They don’t learn them in isolation they learn them in groups. Start with what they already know – their names.
Start with the letters in their names
For children learning the letters, the best way to start is by learning the letters in their names first. Their name is important to them and it’s something they read and write a lot. Those should be the first letters they learn. I love to start the year by doing fun name activities, like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and name graphs.
Give time to explore letters and letter formation
Children need time to explore with the letters and notice how some letters are formed with lines whereas others are formed with curves. Have magnetic letters available for students to explore and play with. I like to use different magnet letter activities that let the children explore the letters before even teaching letter names.
Don’t teach uppercase and lowercase in isolation
Learning the letters shouldn’t be done in isolation. This goes for uppercase and lowercase too. We don’t want to only teach uppercase letters and wait until the children have learned all 26 before moving on and exposing the children to lowercase letters. No! We want to do lots of activities that involve uppercase and lowercase at the same time. I like using letter cards and word walls that have both the uppercase and lowercase for playing different letter identification games or for chanting the alphabet names and their sounds. I flip through the cards a few at a time before every writing block.
When I know that students need extra practice with a few letters, I do focus more on the uppercase to start before switching to lowercase. I do this to target my instruction and support their skill development before confusing them. But, I never wait until they know all their uppercase to move on to lowercase. Once students know about 15 uppercase, I start introducing and mixing in lowercase letters. And if you only work on lowercase, then they forget the uppercase ones they just learned! So it’s good to switch up uppercase and lowercase!
Don’t teach in ABC order
Students should not learn the letters in ABC order. If they only know the letters in that order, it means they have memorized the alphabet song and/or order, not that they actually know the letter names. If they need to say all the letter names in ABC order before they know which letter you are showing them, then they don’t really know it. You want to switch up the order for the letters when you are doing letter practice.
Connecting writing to identifying the letters
Whenever you get a chance, give students a chance to practice writing the letters while identifying them. This not only practices their handwriting, but it provides another entry point to learning the letters. Children need different ways to learn and one of the best ways is kinesthetic. Tracing the letters in sand, building with playdough, writing with dry erase marker… these are all great ways to connect with learning the letters. Call out a letter name and have them find it on the alphabet chart. Then have the students trace the letter in sand. It’s one more step, but it’s also one more opportunity to practice learning the letters.
Assessing after learning the letters
When children are learning the letters, it’s good to have frequent check-ins with them to see how they are progressing. I like to use my monthly assessments with them to see which letters they are learning and which we still need to work on. They love seeing the graph grow and grow. This helps you know when to start working on other skills with them and how to group your students for targeted phonics or literacy skills.
With these seven tips, learning the letters and their names doesn’t have to be difficult! Just remember that learning the letter names isn’t the only thing children need to be doing to develop early literacy skills. In fact, it’s just one tiny piece of the puzzle! Don’t wait to teach them other important literacy skills until they have learned all their letters because they need it all! Which tip are you excited to try with your students or children?
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