The ABCs of the ABCs


My favorite series of novels is The Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series by Sue Grafton.  My children are Zack and Alex, Z to A.  I am beginning to wonder how much of my life has been influenced by my many years of teaching the alphabet to Pre-K and Kindergarten students!  Sadly, I recently encountered some research on teaching the alphabet that makes me think I was doing it all wrong.

First, letters should not be taught in order from A to Z (sorry, Sue Grafton).  Although children are more familiar with A, B, and C, it is more effective to teach the letters in a child’s name first.  Those letters are meaningful and motivating to a child and are letters with which he or she has a connection.

Second, teaching the “letter of the week” is not a teacher’s best strategy.  Doing so ignores each child’s background knowledge about the letters as well as the differences in how each child learns the letters.  “Letter of the Week” also gives an equal amount of time to learning each letter which ignores the research showing that some letters are easier or harder to learn than others.

Third, teaching letters and sounds in a whole group format is less desirable than doing so in small groups.  When working with students in small groups, the teacher is able to differentiate instruction based on the letters and sounds children already know or those with which they are struggling.

Lastly, letters and sounds need to be taught in a variety of ways to target all modalities of learning.  Using hands-on activities that address the needs of visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic learners is proven to be much more effective for young children than doing alphabet worksheets, for example.  Everything from going on a letter hunt, singing alphabet songs, making letters with their bodies or tracing letters in a tray of sand can benefit our students.

Early alphabet knowledge is one of the best predictors of later literacy achievement, so let this information be food for thought as you reflect on your alphabet knowledge teaching practices.  While it isn’t as easy as A, B, C, making small changes in how we teach the alphabet will certainly have a lasting impact on our students. 


Bailet, Laura L., Ph.D.  (April 4, 2017).  Why the ABC’s  Aren’t as Easy as 1-2-3 for Preschoolers.  [Webinar]. Retrieved from


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Training Spotlight

1st-3rd grade educators worked together to learn engaging ways to develop number sense. Students will develop fact fluency while playing games that use their number sense strategies. By learning their facts in this way, students are not merely memorizing, but rather learning to work with numbers flexibly.  “Low achievers are often low achievers not because they know less but because they don’t use numbers flexibly – they have been set on the wrong path, often from an early age, of trying to memorize methods instead of interacting with numbers flexibly.” Jo Boaler,  Stanford University, 2009


April 8, 2019

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