Learning the alphabet: Let us count the ways!












The Question:

Carmen Hathcock writes: About a third of my class is not learning. They still cannot spell their own names, let alone name all of the letters in the alphabet. It’s frustrating for me and my on-grade-level students are bored. How can I reach these kids? We play games (alphabet bingo, I have a letter mat), we sing songs…nothing seems to stick. Any ideas welcome.

The Answers:

Katy Rose Mitchell

 One idea I have used is to spell their names in a song! Pick a song that “fits” their names, and teach each one separately. It’s a bit of effort to find the right song, but it sure helps those who are struggling. It’s the same idea of singing/spelling sight words to a known song–it really stays with the children!

Cara Johnson Whitehead

  Try educational websites. I have found that technology is the best motivator for my students. Sites like learninggamesforkids.comspellingcity.com and vocabulary.co.il should meet your needs. There are also great learning games on starfall.com and pbskids.

Jenn Kram

  Bring in parent volunteers to play alphabet games with them. Fill a cookie sheet with a layer of salt and have the children practice writing their names, letters, numbers, sight words, etc. Try online game sites such as scholastic.com and PBS.com etc. “Between the Lions” is a great teaching show. Maybe your library can purchase the DVDs. They also have games on their site. Hope this helps!!

Adrienne Choma Sodemann

 Try the tactile approach with them… make their name with Wikki sticks, make them with Playdoh snakes, etc… Also, try Starfall on the computer for the alphabet. If you have computers in your room, they can be working on the letters they need independently as you’re doing reading groups. Leappad books are great for catching up slow learners independently too and the Leappads are pretty good with combining learning styles. Hope this helps!

Matt Halpern

  I’m using The 3 Habits of Highly Successful Reading Teachers  this year and it’s AMAZING. MIRACULOUS. 🙂

Shannon Dougherty Hutchinson Huff

Ask their parents and your administrator if it would be possible to do some before or after school tutoring. I have always found one-to-one time works really well. Just 30 minutes is enough for these little ones.

Sheila LaGrou Hanson

For my kiddos that would struggle with writing their name, I would write their name with a highlighter and they would trace inside of it. This way they know they are writing their name and getting support at the same time. It’s good practice. I would just do it ahead of time on any work that they have, so that it’s not obvious to them that I am doing anything different for them.

Libby Norris

  Take their picture and make a card with their picture and name on it. Makes it more fun and then they can spell it using the card and magnet letters, wikis, all the above mentioned things. Have them practice several times a day. I have also found in my 27 years of teaching that for some reason they tend to “wake up” after Christmas and do better…good luck

Michelle Vanston

  I use Zoo Phonics for letters, the movement and animal charecter really help the kids get the letter sounds, even my struggling kids. I have a beanie baby for each animal and the kids have to make the animals sound (letter sound) to get to play with them. This really helps to motivate them.

Diane Trepiccione Dean 

Three mornings a week my kids come in and practice name writing. I make up traceable names on a sheet of paper and the kids use fine point markers to trace their names. I only have one student now who can’t write her name, but she has some other learning issues as well. The rest of my students are now writing their first names with lower case letters in the right places. I am about to add their last names to the sheet. May I add that I teach in a title 1 school where 95% of the students qualify for free or reduced meals. We are also lucky to have a full day program with good resources.

Tracee Mendenhall

 Do centers. Put together groups based on level so they are doing activities based on their needs and then work with the low students

Summer Bodiford Beech 

I have about 3 out of my 17 children that are just not making the progress that they should be making. I was getting frustrated when I had to look at their ages compared to the rest of the class. These 3 had just turned 5 when school started and most of the rest of the class is now turning 6. Don’t get frustrated. I changed from teaching to my low kids last year and I teach to my high kids so they don’t become behavior problems. Worked great! When we came back from Christmas, it was like the lightbulbs came on and suddenly they were all high students. When I teach to my high kids, I expect them to write all of the sounds in a word. I expect my lows to write the first sound in a word. Have patience and persevere!

Allison DeNoyelles

 Have you talked to their parents? What are they doing at home to support their child’s learning? I usually find that my students who take a little longer to catch on aren’t being supported at home. Talk to the parents, share your concerns, give them ideas to work with their child at home (most have no idea how to do it), and send home extra practice pages and readers.

Libby Norris

Also google Preschool Prep…they have a DVD intended for toddlers but it works.

It’s called Meet the Letters…I let mine watch it in the morning when they come in, during center time, whenever they can…beyond annoying to adults, but they claim if they watch it AT LEAST once a day they will learn letters in 2 weeks…it HAS worked for some of mine.

Trella Collins

Several good ideas here…I also make up song names, like…”K. E. N. N. E. D. Y. That spells Kennedy give it a try.” I just look for a word that rhymes with the last letter in the child’s name. Write their name with a highlighter. Try making up funny little sayings with each letter and then draw a picture that matches the saying and incorporates the letter, like…”m & m’s for the letter Mm & then draw some m & m’s” or for Zz draw a “Z truck … A truck with a Z on it. Hope this helps.

Caitlin Brown 

For name writing, I’ve found that it’s easier to break it down. I have one little guy that went just by the letter of his first name for two weeks, then two letters, then three, kept adding on a letter every two weeks. Went far better than the whole thing all at once.

I agree with the poster up above about leveled centers. I do three rotating centers. We often do the same activity for all groups, but scale it back for some, or have higher expectations for others.

Karen Burnat

 Wow, this is awfully late in the year for them to not be able to write their names. Even the EL kids should be able to do that by this time in the year. For sure, you should not be teaching to the low group. I have always taught towards the higher group and have had very good success. If you use a workshop format, you should be able to have time each day to pull these kids for help at their level.

Nancy Carr Dunnagan

 Those are all great comments!! LetterLand is a fun phonics program that makes learning the letters fun! I love teaching it!! It has cute characters that the kids identify with. And they have a great system called “picture coding” that helps the kid to remember what the letter looks like – instead of plain old c it is clever cat and she looks in the reading direction and kids have fun making a c into clever cat! It is loads of fun and LEARNING!

Jessica Moffitt Barnes

I use the Daily 5 and this helps me to be able to get to all of my groups or individual students. Leapfrog Letter Factory is another good video to watch! Good Luck 🙂

Jana G. Arneel

Check out Jessica Meacham’s web site-just google her. Look under the link for “names” . She has a great number of ideas for using student’s names for learning activities. I use a program called “Fonts for Teachers” to print dotted names for tracing. I also write their names on their table name tags how I expect for them to write them. I recently had a SPED teacher introduce me to “Roll and write” which is a multi-sensory approach to teaching letter formation. A marble rolls the path that you want the letters formed. We also added words to go with each letter to describe the movement. One example is “around and down, a /a/.

We say the moevement, the name of the letter and then its sound. We also do “letter aerobics” with our “giant marble” in hand. It is just a large movement of an imaginary marble in our writing hand on giant imaginary paper. This school year has been a great one for letter formation in my class due to all of these combined efforts. Good luck and try these!

Melissa McLaughlin Muralles 

I put an alphabet bag together for my parents that includes flash cards, songs, an alphabet book and other goodies that they can help their child at home with. I also give them step by step ideas and instructions in a letter that goes inside the bag. I can email it to you if you would like. I use a ton of Dr. Jean songs, but you could sub. any alphabet songs if you do not have the ones that I use! I also suggest items for them to purchase. The alphabet book is usually Chicka Chicka Boom Boom which is the first gift to all of my kinder babies the first week of school. Scholastic sometimes has it for 1.00 and I use bonus points and order 25 at a time! Let me know if you would like it.

Melissa K. Harris Armann

 You can sing a song to the tune of “Bingo” that goes: “There is a friend who’s in our class and _____ is his name-0” Then you spell the name. I use name cards so we can point to the letters while we sing. Names with more than five letter require some adjustments, but we just sing them really fast and make everybody laugh.

Erin Ebeck

I have my kids who know less than 40 letters of the alphabet trace an alphabet book with my assistant or a parent everyday. They also have a book at home to do with their parents each night. I had kids who only knew four letters in September but now know 40+ because they trace everyday. They trace the capital and lowercase letter with their finger, say the name of the letter and say the name of the picture that goes with the letter. It takes about 10 minutes per child but is more than worth it. It helps with letter formation and sounds too.

Jill Brown

  Sometimes sign language letters work for some kids. I also still use the Animated Alphabet by Jim Stone. It has a song and actions for each letter-it really helps my second language and delayed learners.

Amelia Valdez 

Have you tried making letter books? You can use half pieces of paper (for easy copying/cutting) and you put the letter on the front (such as Rr). Then, each page has a picture of something that starts with the letter (robot, rake, etc) with the word written on the bottom, sans the letter of the book (so, __obot).

The students write the letter several times. There are blank pages at the back as well where they add their own Rr words and pictures. Then, student read the book (many, many times), being sure to use good pre-literacy skills such as 1:1 tracking, L/R reading and pages, etc. At the end, the kids can color the pictures. If you use Fountas and Pinell Phonics, the template and letter pictures are in the resource binder. Or, like I do, you can make them yourself with word you’re sure the kids will know.

I’ve done every letter with some of my kids. After we read them a few times (at a few Guided Reading Lessons) the books are sent home and the students read them to their parents. We’ve also kept 2 whole sets in the classroom. That way, the low students can refer to them as needed and use them for independent reading, buddy reading, etc. This way, not only are they learning their letters and reading skills, but everyone can feel successful; everyone can read.

Gina Jones Hodge 

Some ideas for learning to spell and write their name: Tracing the highlighted or dotted name a lot is helpful. Also we put the letters of their names on popsicle sticks and put them in an envelope. They then have to build their name with the letters using the sticks. Mix them up and have them do that about 3 times. We also use word art in Microsoft Word to make bubble letters for their name and have them paint their names.

Letters of the alphabet: Sing Spell Read and Write is a great program that comes with a workbook and a CD. There are 2 songs on the CD that really help. My kids sing the songs about 3 or 4 times a week and it comes with a flip chart and covers the names of the letters and the sounds they make. I use this in addition to my reading series, LOTS of tactile activities (playdough, paint, wikki sticks, letter rubbings, lacing letters, dobbing the letters with bingo dobbers in a template for the letter). I teach a combined pre-k and Kindergarten class and usually all my kids know their letters by the end of the pre-k year. All of the pre-k can write their names at this point. It just takes practice doing it over and over and over. I hope this helps you!

Mary Rosiak Bingham

  In my school, we use the Leap Frog Letter Factory DVD from day one. They love the songs and actions. What kind of phonics program do you use? My son learned through Jolly Phonics and we use Michael Heggertey’s Phonemic Awareness everyday. On level students are more prepared for the next step to reading and below level students get what they need and usually a double dose helps.

Nancy Bittner 

Here is the confession of a desperate teacher. When I have a child who is having a hard time learning the letters and sounds no matter how hard we have worked and worked on it, I give them THE assignment. (Shhhh, don’t tell) I check out one of several copies I have of “The Letter Factory” DVD or VHS by Leap Frog learning. Then they have an assignment to watch and sing along with the video 4 times a week. It is about 30 minutes for three weeks. I hate to admit it but it ALWAYS works. I can’t stand to even hear the tune.

Jeanne Carden Royer

Jolly Phonics works miracles!! Combining a motion with the letter and sound gets them to connect in another way! I have seen progress from very low students using this.

Marilyn Little Huff

 Leap Frog Letter Factory is WONDERFUL for those kids that have trouble with letter names and sounds. There is also Word Factory and a math dvd . I had 4 students that went from no sounds to about 20 sounds in a matter of weeks!

Brenda Smith Browning 

Parents give us the best children they have. We need to be consistent and differentiate our instruction as much as possible. Our district recently began a focused learning period each day (8:30-9:10) called Power Hour. For kindergarten,we spent the first 9 weeks using various assessment pieces and acclimating ourselves to each other and the routines. Beginning Monday, we will group our children into specific needs groups and enhance their learning – Mondays/Tuesdays (all things Language), Wednesday (focused reading) Thursdays/Friday (Math). I’m excited about this.

Nancy Jones

I, too, am a big fan of Leap Frog Letter Factory. It works miracles for my kids. They beg to watch it over and over, too, even when they know the letters. Love Word Factory, too. They sing about the “sticky” letters all the time and know which letters are vowels and that words need vowels. It’s amazing what they can spell already, and we just started school after Labor Day. I also use a highlighter and have them trace over it when teaching them to write names and letters. Parents can see that I helped and the children can easily see where to write. Much easier than dotting the letters.

Ginna Williams

I know what you mean. I have a smaller class and a para pro and no matter what we do, 1/3 aren’t getting it. I change it up so we aren’t doing the same thing day after day but not having a reading program (books), they can’t use it and follow along. It is so frustrating.

Kathy Price Collins

I have a lending library of the Leap Frog Letter Factory. I sent it home with one boy who knew only 3 letters and no sounds, and within 2 weeks he knew every letter and 24 sounds.

Kathrene Beasley

We just finished the first quarter. So most should know only one fourth of the letters right!. Also I teach sound first and the the names of the letters next. Try using their names in games to teach the letters. If I have a little one who can’t write their name I shorten it as much as I can (like Ty from Tyson) then I use letter tiles until they can put them in order then we move to acutally writing it. It works every time.

Also there is far too much emphasis on academics in Kindergarten – it is like first grade and developmentally many of the children are not ready for first grade in kindergarten.

Nancy Jones

I agree with Kathrene that K has become first grade, but we have to follow the curriculum, so I have no choice but to teach reading and writing, etc. I have found that the large majority of my students can do it with an all day program and lots of repetition. We also have an RtI program to help bring the lower level kids up. There are lots of fun ways to teach the skills, many mentioned in posts above. You just have to find what works with each of your students. Multiple approaches are necessary. What works one year might not work the next. But the Letter Factory has been successful in my class for the past few years. I often recommend it to parents as a Christmas gift for their child.

Megan Lacy Locke 

I do A LOT of small group activities with my low babies especially at the beginning of the year. After I have worked at least 20-30 minutes with my 3 to 4 low babies I have the para who comes into the class work with them on letter naming, sounds and their names. I try to double/triple dip my child who need that extra push. It really has been success! I know the students that still are not catching on having something else going on and RTI def. Needs to be happening for them. It is amazing to see these children who have never been to school or have had any exposure to anything make such sensational gains in such a short time! So rewarding!

Lisa Bourquin Bell

Where I work we are guided by the saying, “You haven’t taught it if they haven’t learned it.” So it’s all about teaching in a new way. Think Multiple Intelligences and a sensory approach to teaching.

Nickki Del Pizzo-Schreiner

Focus on the letters in their name first. Go to You tube and type in letter a.. it will give you a song for every letter of the alphabet. It is really good. My students love it.

Courtney Cagle Davis

I make name puzzles for my struggling learners. (Name written on an index card with marker, then cut apart like a puzzle.) Each morning I pull them to my table and we put their name together. Sometimes I pull several students to my table with their puzzles and we swap with friend. We also play letter bingo with their puzzles. I also put a photo above the letter of the alphabet that begins each students name. This helps the kids begin to associate letters with their friends.

Marilyn Little Huff

Now if you have $$$$$ then I would recommend Sopris West’s Read Well K. It is an intervention program but it is expensive. There are whole group and small group components, Presently we are only allowed to use small group as our county adopted SRA.

Valerie Schuetta 

Do small group reading while others are in centers that involve literacy. Usually one of my centers is a name writing activity such as cutting name out with scented playdough, rainbow writing, and writing name in salt or on themed paper. For the kiddos that can’t write names, use yellow highlighter and have them trace. Eventually, they will be able to do it. Takes times. I also start off my reading groups with a letter/sound chart we do together. The kids say a a ant, /a/ ant, etc. They use craft sticks with glitter on the tips to track print. Also, do you follow a reading series such as Harcourt? Phonemic awareness, such as rhyming, sound deletion, etc. is extremely important. Good luck! We also cook to a letter of the week, use puppets, and lots of manipulatives.

Sandi Greko Starland 

I have 25 kids, with no help and teach in a school that is 100% Title 1. Many kids don’t have preschool. In Michigan, our age cut off is 5 by December 1st and that means we have a huge age gap. Amazingly, most of the kids are writing their names and know their letters because we do language arts all morning. Centers help, along with all of the activities mentioned above. Thanks for the highlighter activity…never thought of it! I use wiritng strips, laminated after writing their names and during center time they practice writing with me. I only have 2 kids still doing it on a daily basis now! It is hard teaching to the high group, but that is what I am doing this year. I am also using wholebrainteaching from Chris Biffle. I Love It!!!!

Randy Goff 

I put out a grid from an old calendar bulletin board display I don’t use anymore and with the kids lay out, saying the names of the letters, 4 upper case and 10 lower of one letter and the same thing for one sometimes adding a few I know they already know in their name. We cheer for every match, and a match is any upper and lower case of the letter or twe lower so they match most of the time and they have to say the name of the letter each time they turn it over. So everything is a win…yeah yeah..you got a lower and upper case m or yeah yeah you got tw lower case n’s etc…they say the name of the letters over and over and there are only two they are working on so it is one of them or the other…does not take long for them to know one of the two and then I add in another letter and make fewer of the ones they know and more of the new one upper and lower again…..little by little it is slow but seems to be fairly sure. And they are not struggling to say them over and over because they are doing the same letter. They seem to love it as they “know” the letters we are using. It has worked very well. We meet two times a day, 15 minutes each and at least one of the times we play this until they know the letters by themselves. I also put it at a center, with different cards for different levels. They all seem to like it.

Probably the most important, I have a serious talk with mom and dad. I tell them that my goal is that by Thanksgiving their child should know all of their alphabet, that after that Christmas is coming and people get so terribly busy it is a hard time to work on things at home and before you know it is is spring and become a big problem if they do not know them. Then I make a plan with them for what they are willing to do. One parent got a bunch of sound[ letter and leveled scholastic books sets and letter sound books -their child is sailing now compared to where she was!!! All of the things of course that you can do that everyone mentioned of course …Also, first thing in the morning as they come in do a quick check with them and tell them what you will be looking for to really know the next day.

Cindy Branam Boyer 

I have several students in the same situation. It has helped my students to have a sticker on their shirt or a cardstock “key” necklace they wear on a string of yarn around their neck. On the sticker or key is the letter(s) they are working on. Every staff member in the school that they see can ask them what that is they’re wearing, and if the student can’t remember, the staff member can “reteach” it right there in the hallway.

Amy Whitehurst Frankforter 

small groups…Jan Richardson’s book, The Next Step in Guided Reading is a gem…get it.

Sue Graham-Craig 

Get their families involved. Start a ABC Challenge. Write a letter home asking their families to work with them and by the end of January you would like each child to know all 52 letters. Once they know all 52 letters, you will give them an award and place their names on the ABC Challenge board. I also put their first names on my website. http://teacherweb.com/CT/JFK_Milford/MrsCraig/apt22.aspx

You can also send home progress reports. Letting the parents know what their child knows helps them know what they need to work on at home. Even the families that don’t usually work with their child will because the children will start to ask for help because they want their name on the board. I have some progress reports on my kindergarten resources site.http://teacherweb.com/CT/MilfordSchoolDistrict/KindergartenResources/photo6.aspx Good Luck

ReShawn Brown 

I am curious to know what you are already doing. How are you teaching them the letters and do you use a program or not? You could try using the letter of the week in science and social studies too.  Also, someone mentioned it earlier, but getting the families involved at home is priceless. The kids that are bored could work on on-level centers, while you slow down for the other third.

For name writing I print 5 lines of their names that they can trace. I laminate this sheet and they practice everyday before we start our first subject. I just use Vis-a-Vis markers for tracing. Then rinse them off.

Joyce Huddleston Johnson Raney 

Drill, drill, drill! Differentiated small group instruction. Learning games. Songs–Dr. Jean, Heidi songsLeap Frog–Letter Factory DVD.

Sara Steward Cooper 

I have a handful as well. No parent support, I have no aid, just me all day. All my.kids are second language learners. I’ve done Everything as well. Sadly, I can jump over the moon, but if a parent won’t help with homework (one kid has turned in hw twice all year), its really hard. Some of these kiddos will be retained….it’s my hardest year yet.

They are on starfalleveryday…small group everyday, and even smaller intervention groups twice a week. And I sent home a CD with learning song and visuals in a book form to support each song. I offered to have parents stay in the room to see what we do each day. Its very sad.Paula Savina Rosa


Sylvia Lusk Harwell 

Sandpaper letters… take 2 letters they don’t know and have them trace each letter as you say the name of the letter and have them say it too. Then say, “Point to __. Point to ___.” Then point to one of the letters and say, “What is this letter?” The next day quiz them on those two and reteach if needed (probably will be needed). After they “get” one down add a new one. It takes time, but it works. Keeping a collection of the letters they know on a keyring and adding the new ones as they master them keeps them motivated.

Julie A. Hunter

LeapFrog Letter Factory DVD, over and over!!! I play all kinds of alphabet/sound songs (Dr. Jean, Jack Hartmann, Letter Factory, etc) and use flashcards during the song. I made a phonics Listening CD that I put in the listening center with an alphabet chart (in a ziploc bag with a popsicle stick/pointer).

Erin Ebeck

I have my lowest students trace the letters of the alphabet everyday with my assistant (a parent volunteer or older buddy would work too). I made a graph with my kids of how many letters we know then talked to my kids about it and we made a list of things we will do to learn the rest of the letters. Every student is responsible for helping each other. Another K teacher in my building used the idea of having the child wear the letters and have every adult in the building review the letters all day which has helped her lowest student. My three lowest students also have a 3rd grade reading buddy who visits several mornings a week before school to work on letter activities.

Bec Smith 

You are all amazing educators and I too have learned from you!

One thing that I do is mindfully watch my strugglers as we sing, say, cheer, chant etc. Often they are the ones who need to but don’t participate and verbalize along with the group! If the are not, then auditory input is not happening. That is a huge missing piece to our “puzzle kids” who are not progressing. I have to help them learn about that part of their brain that wants/needs to hear it, just like the eyes want/ need to see it and the hands want/need to hold it.

Shelley Griffiths 

All but 2 of my 19 know all their letters to date…Those 2 have been struggling also. I have placed them front and center in front of the smartboard in assigned front row seats. Tried tying a letter around neck, being pulled by me and by a reading interventionist and still progressing slow. One thing I have started that seems to work with one of them is to ask them each morning to identify the last 3-4 letters that we have done. The ones they dont identify correctly they have to trace and write about 10 x’s. The one after writing for a week went from knowing 5 letters to almost 20….Decided it was easier to concentrate than write! Hasnt worked for the other one yet. Will just keep trying until I hit what works for that one. Carmen Hathcock 

‎@ReShawn- We do letter of the week. I use Alphatales and other “letter” books, I try to come up with creative ways to present/teach the particular letter. We sing songs, play games (alphabet Bingo, for example, where I have them name some things that start with each letter I call out).

@Sara Steward- I feel your pain. I do have an assistant and we each take a different group (differentiated) each day. My bottom group is just not retaining anything. I have spoken to these parents over and over. Not much use.

Jennifer Gilbert 

We do “name puzzles” at the beginning of the year, and usually within the first several weeks ALMOST everyone knows how to spell their names. Just write each name on a sentence strip, cut the letters apart, and place them in an envelope with the name written on it. They take out the letters and place them in order to match the envelope, then spell the name aloud. If necessary I have them repeat after me as I spell it.

Also, the Florida Center for Reading Research has some great RTI ideas that I’ve used with quite a bit of success for learning letters. http://www.fcrr.org/ Good luck!

Carmen Hathcock 

Jennifer, I think I will try this strategy with my really low group. The thing is, my main two I worry about can recognize their names, but they can’t tell me the letters.


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