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How to Teach Writing the English Alphabet

Updated on February 2, 2016

Writing Practice

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Lesson Plan: The Alphabet

Whether you are teaching young students to write in their native tongue, or teaching the English alphabet to your English learning students, this lesson can help you.

Lesson Target: Beginners at reading and writing the English alphabet

Prior Lessons Needed: The letters Ss Ii Tt Aa Rr Mm Gg Nn Uu. This lesson goes along with a series of writing and reading worksheets designed to help students learn letters and gain reading skills. For the lesson starting with Ss Ii Tt, go here.

Lesson Focus: writing and reading

  • Teaching Letters
  • The Alphabet Song
  • Writing Practice
  • Teaching Reading
  • Reading Materials

Teaching Letters

The first step in teaching anything is to know your students. Preschool students whose first language is English and who are learning to read and write as part of their early education will probably have different learning needs than an adult whose native language is Chinese who is learning to read and write English letters as part of their English language education.

That said, both students can benefit from similar lesson plans. Here are seven helpful tips for teaching the alphabet.

  1. Do not overwhelm your students with information. Trying to teach the entire alphabet at once will not help your students to learn faster. Start with a basic introduction: this is the alphabet. The letters make sounds, the sounds make words, and the words make stories. If you like, you can sing the alphabet song. See if your students already know some letters. If they don't, don't worry. This is an introduction to the alphabet; your students don't need to know any of it yet.
  2. Teach two to three letters at a time; enough so that at least one word can be formed by the letters. For instance, if you started with 'cat', your students will immediately be able to read the word 'cat'. If you started with 'sit', your students can read such words as 'I', 'its', or 'sit'. They can even form complete sentences: I sit. It sits.
  3. Teach those two to three letters fully. There are three aspects your students should be able to recite for any given letter: its name, its sound, and whether it is upper case or lower case. For the sound, again, don't overwhelm your students. The letter 's', for instance, when read, forms makes several different sounds. There's s as in sit, s as in was, s as in shoe or mission, s as in Asian. Do not teach students that 's' makes a ssss sound a zzz sound a shhh sound or even a soft g sound. You can teach those sounds after you've taught the entire alphabet, as lessons on different letter groupings or it will come up as you go along and teach specific reading words. Teach the main sound associated with the letter. For vowels, teach the long vowel sound and the short vowel sound, and for consonants teach only the main sound it makes (the only exception being 'y' which is sometimes a vowel and 'x' which has two main sounds).
  4. Practice pronunciation. If your students are not native English speakers, then try to learn what sounds occur in English that do not occur in their own native language. For instance, the Korean language does not have sounds for f, v, th, or z. 'H' is not pronounced in French. R and L are also problem sounds; R is often pronounced differently from language to language and even native English speaking children have difficulty with pronouncing an 'r'; do not except young non-native speakers to do better than one would expect of a native speaker.
  5. If you are teaching the alphabet, even a bit at a time, do not always teach the letters in the order of the alphabet. Your students will memorize the order the letters come in rather than the letters themselves. When I was teaching in a kindergarten in South Korea, I had alphabet flashcards. When I showed my students each letter, if I showed them in the order of the alphabet the majority of my students got the letters correct most of the time. When I mixed up the order, far fewer students were able to name the letters, and in the case of similar letters like 'b' and 'd' or 'p' and 'q', they would often get the letters wrong. Mix things up to encourage students to pay closer attention to the actual letters and not just the order of the alphabet.
  6. Read. Show your students what they are learning the alphabet for. Even if it's very simple sentences, the fact that your students are able to read it themselves will go a long way in motivating them to keep at it. Find reading materials that use the letters your students have already learned or create it yourself. You can 'read together' material that is a mixture of simple words using the letters your students have learned, and words that use letters they haven't learned yet or that use sound combinations they don't know. First have your students identify the target letters, and practice the words you want them to be able to read themselves. Then read the passage together, taking turns.
  7. Have fun. Young students enjoy running around rather than sitting at a desk to practice writing. Let them run up to the board to write. Send them around the room to find objects starting with the letters of the day. Give your students letters and let them try to arrange themselves into different words. Put pictures or objects at the front of the class and have your students identify the objects and then correctly match the first letter to the object based on the sound. Are your students older? Perhaps even adults? That's no reason to not have fun. Students who are having fun are more likely to remember the lesson. If they are allowed to be silly or make mistakes then they will be more likely to try. That said, older students may feel embarrassed rather than relaxed in a silly lesson where you ask them to run around and point at pictures of cats. You can still play games, but perhaps your vocabulary choices might reflect your students' older age; less pictures to capture their interest and more magazine and newspapers they can use to identify the target letters, though advanced reading materials might have a detrimental effect by showing them exactly how far they still need to go which can be discouraging.

The Alphabet Song

A basic for all students learning the alphabet to know; it practices the correct names for all the letters and adds an element of fun to the lesson. As stated before, do not just teach the letters in the order of the alphabet. The song is a good supplement to the lesson but should not take the place of in depth teaching of each letter.

The alphabet song is sung to the tune of 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star'. A simple search for the alphabet song, particularly at a site like YouTube, will bring up hundreds of examples of this song. Note there are occasional variations; the 'lmnop' is sometimes adapted so that each letter is more distinguishable. Whether 'z' is pronounced 'zee' or 'zed' is regional, Americans favoring the first and British people the second. And the final phrase sometimes changes or is omitted completely, but the basic idea is to sing through every letter of the alphabet:

ABCDEFG
HIJKLMNOP
QRS, TUV
WX, Y and Z
Now I know my ABCs,
Next time won't you sing with me!

Writing Worksheet

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Writing Practice

The key to learning anything new, particularly something physical like writing, is to practice. I have created a series of lessons, starting with the letters 'Ss Ii Tt' that teaches, in groups of three, how to write each letter. The lessons each have a worksheet showing the target letters, instructions in how to write them, and a line to practice tracing the letters. The lessons also contain a short story to be read which use the target letters and build upon what was already learned. The first lesson can be found here.

Once the letters are learned, however, or even just to continue practicing, I have created a worksheet that allows students to practice every letter in the alphabet, giving an entire line to each letter, upper case and lower case. You can have your students fill out a bit at a time, or do it all as one big homework assignment. You can also have your students go in order of the alphabet, or you can have them skip around and use it to review earlier lessons by practicing writing those letters. The worksheet with the entire alphabet can be found here.

Other than filling in worksheets, writing practice can be had in a more practical way: give your students writing assignments. It can be simple things, like filling in blanks left in sentences, writing their own name, or copying words or sentences from the board. Or, depending on your students' skill levels in the English language, you can offer more complex assignments like writing a short letter to a friend, or a short essay of their hobbies. These writing assignments can be part of a larger lesson. Are you teaching about animals? Have your students practice writing animal names. Are you teaching about 'can' and 'can't' phrases? Let your students create a survey and write in the survey options and the results afterwards. Or just ask your students what they did or will be doing on the weekend or over a holiday.

Do you know some students in another country your students could write to? That's a fun way to practice writing and to show its practical application. Pen pals is a real world use for writing and reading.

Let's Read!

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Teaching Reading

The entire point of learning the alphabet is to be able to read. Teaching reading at the same time that you teach letters will encourage your students to want to learn more. On the other hand, just tossing a book at your students and them seeing exactly how far they need to go to be able to read it can be discouraging. The best way is to find materials that are simple and that showcase the particular letters your students are practicing.

For their first words, start with the letters. Put the letters of a simple word, like 'it' where your students can see it. Point to each letter and have your students identify it. Then have them make the letters' sounds one at a time. If you taught the long and short vowel for the vowel, be sure to just have your students recite the short vowel sound. Have them go faster and faster as you point to each letter in turn, until the sounds start to sound like the word. See if any of your students have made the connection; ask them to read the word.

Next add a letter in front of the first two. If you are going by the 'learn three letters at a time' method, then for these first words there probably aren't many variations you can teach, but teach what you can. Add 's' to 'it' and you get 'sit' or 'its'. The word 'is' can be the first introduction to an alternate pronunciation of 's'. You don't need to explain this to your students, particularly young students, just teach them that 'i s' spells 'is'. 'I' is a word that uses the long vowel sound for 'i'. 'I sit.' or 'It sits.' can be your students first full sentences.

As your students learn more letters, they will be able to form more words. By choosing a root 'base' word and adding to it, you can demonstrate how word combinations work...and occasionally show the 'irregular' words that don't follow the rules. 'at' becomes 'cat, bat, rat, mat, sat, fat, pat, hat, flat, splat, batting.' 'ear' becomes 'fear and clear' but also 'bear and wear' and the word 'tear' can be pronounced either way depending on the word's meaning. Silent e words have an effect of turning a short vowel long; you can devote a lesson to this: 'hat' becomes 'hate' becomes 'hating. Sh, th, and ch can all have their own lesson separate from when you teach the letters s, t, c and h.

You can also teach words as 'sight' words. This means that instead of sounding out the letters, your students learn to recognize the word as whole just as 'that word'. The word 'the', 'are' or 'she' all make good sight words, particularly in early lessons when you haven't gotten around to teaching what sound the letter combination 'th' or 'sh' makes and the vowels in them tend to not follow the normal sound rules; 'are' has a silent e but the a isn't a long a, the e in 'she' is long, 'the' can have a long vowel sound or more commonly it can have a schwa sound and not an 'e' sound at all. These are all common words as well and so are likely to come up often in reading assignments.

Finally, just as when writing, have fun! Play reading games. You can play memory by making cards that have a picture that pairs with its written word. You can make simple command cards that say things like 'sit' or 'bed' or 'run', and then play a silent game of 'Do as I command'. You can also create a silent 'Simon Says' by creating cards that either say something like 'yes' and 'no', color coded cards with green for go and red for stop, or even written out words like 'Simon says' and alternatives like 'Sam says' which will tell your students whether to do what the other written card tells them to do or not. Make a simple scavenger hunt with simple instructions like 'Go to a desk' or even more simply 'desk', which will send your students to different objects around the room until they find the treasure. And of course, you can always read books with your students, and let them read the few words they do know.


Reading Materials

To begin with, you can go through my lessons that teach the different letters of the alphabet in groups of three. Each lesson contains a reading worksheet to go along with the writing worksheet. The first lesson on Ss Ii Tt can be found here.

If you have gone through those or want more of a storybook style lesson, you can find very simple fairy tales in my English teaching lessons. They have the added benefit of teaching your students some English vocabulary as well as practice reading. A few examples of such stories is here:

Snow White: teach greetings and pronouns. You can also practice counting up to seven.

Little Red Hat: the simple version of Little Red Riding Hood. Learn directions and body parts along with the traditional lesson to beware of strangers.

The Ugly Duckling: learn about farm animals and the weather.

Jack and the Beanstalk: learn about feelings like 'happy' and 'hungry' and the rewards of stealing from giants in this simple tale.

You can also find materials in various libraries. For more reading materials and instructions in how to use stories to teach, try this article here.

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    • thebrownbear profile image

      thebrownbear 23 months ago

      Handwriting Without Tears is an excellent program. Have you heard of it? I always liked the little rhymes it used to help remember the letter formation. For example, for lower case 'e' we'd say "hit the ball, run the bases".

    • Mir Foote profile image
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      Mir Foote 23 months ago

      It sounds like a fun and effective way to learn letters, though I'm not sure it would have helped me to teach...unless I could find a way to translate all the little rhymes into Korean. Thank you for sharing.

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