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How does knowing the alphabet help with later reading skills?

When working with students of all ages, the very first thing I do every session is to practice the alphabet. Yes, even with my middle school students. Yes, they already know the alphabet very well. So why would I have them start with saying the alphabet every single time?

I tell all of my students that beginning with the alphabet is a brain warmup. Do they really want to jump straight into the hard stuff? No way! So we start with something easy, saying the alphabet. But it's doing so much more for them every time we "practice" the alphabet. And it's not always the traditional way of saying the alphabet from A-Z.

So why is knowing the alphabet important? Well, for our younger kids, their alphabet knowledge can be a predictor of future decoding skills (reading words), reading comprehension skills, as well as encoding skills (spelling). Children who are fluent with the alphabet, and can identify letters out of sequence have the potential to be stronger readers as they grow. Knowing the letter names also helps with spelling, you can't spell words without knowing the alphabet. The National Literacy Panel compiled lots of data and information about this, as well as other early literacy skills, in their report Developing Early Literacy.

But isn't saying the alphabet every day boring? You bet it is! That's why I change it up and use the alphabet to work on other skills. Here are some activities I use with the alphabet with my students.

Alphabet Strip

The very first activity I do with students, is touching and naming the alphabet on an alphabet strip. Together, we work through discovering all the information we can about the alphabet. By the end, it looks something like this:

My before hand is my left hand, my after hand is my right hand. A is the initial letter. Z is the final letter. M and N are the two letters in the middle. All the letters between A and Z are called medial letters. There are 26 letters in the alphabet. There are two kinds of letters, Vowels and Consonants.

Then, I have them touch the alphabet strip with their left hand on A and their right hand on N. As they touch and name each letter, they switch hands at N. This allows for them to cross their mid-line as they are saying the alphabet and activates both sides of their brain.

You can get these awesome alphabet strips from Payne Education Center, or you can make your own.

Alphabet Arc

The next activity I do with students, is to use letter tiles and put the alphabet in an arc. The first step, is for the students to place their anchor letters down. Those anchors letters are the first and last letter of each half of the alphabet: A and M, N and Z. Starting out, the student uses their dominant hand to place each letter tile, in order, and naming the letter as they place it. Afterwards, they do a repeat of the alphabet strip, but with their placed tiles. They place their left hand on A, right hand on N, then touch and name to check.

A way to make it more challenging, is to use your left hand when placing the first half of the alphabet, A to M, and then your right hand for the last half of the alphabet, N to Z. This is harder than it sounds. It also crosses the students mid-line again, which activates both sides of their brain.

Punctuation in the Alphabet

A fun activity I like to do, is to practice fluency with the alphabet. I'll write out the alphabet, and inset punctuation within it. Then have the student read the alphabet, observing the punctuation. They have pause, stop, and use the correct emphasis. It's a fun way to jazz up the alphabet warmup, but also work on a needed skill.

Here's an example of what I would do:


I'll write it the first time, and have the student read it. Then I'll have the student write the alphabet "sentences" and I'll read it to them. Once I think they're ready, I'll even make mistakes on purpose for them to catch me and correct me.

Missing Letter Cards

One of the final activities I like to do with students, is to create cards with 3 sequential letters on it, but one or two are missing. Then we flip through like flash cards, and they tell me the three letters. I start out in order, then shuffle the cards. I have 5 kinds of decks that I create

  • Last letter missing: A B ___

  • Middle letter missing: A ___ C

  • First letter missing: __ B C

  • First and last letter missing: __ B __

  • A mixture of all of the above

These cards help the students to identify letters out of sequence so they are more fluent in their reading. Sometimes, I will even have students read each set of three as a statement, exclamation, or question. Keeps it exciting and they really like it!

Are there any other activities you like to do with the alphabet to help build those beginning reading skills, warmup brains, and keep things interesting? I love finding and incorporating new games into my sessions. Just like my students, I get bored quickly with the same thing every time.

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