Teaching the Alphabet seems so basic that most ESL teachers believe it is unnecessary. My experience has been the opposite. I teach the ABC names and sounds everyday for my literacy level English learners and review the Alphabet for higher level students as often as they need.
English learners must learn to recognize the name, capital (tall), lowercase (small), and sound/s for each letter. Most Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal English (SLIFE) make the letter-sound connection slowly. I teach/review the whole alphabet every day. I give (or I ask my students for) 3-4 examples of words which begin with the same sound of the letter. Sometimes I ask a student to teach the class one row of the chart (with my help). Students really pay attention when they think they might be called upon to teach. Below are essential vocabulary words to reinforce the sound of each letter. This simple exercise also helps students acquire new vocabulary.
- Short A = apple ant answer ask and add adult attend
- Short E = exercise exit extra elevator expensive enter exam
- Short I = in inch into inside insect itch instant interpret imagine
- Short O = on off October office odd opposite online object
Short U = up under unhappy upset ugly umbrella uncle untie
- Long A = April apron aim ate ape alarm ache area agent alien
- Long E = eleven evening eraser eat even email equal electricity
- Long I = ice ice cream idea iron item island icicle ivy
- Long O = open over orange o’clock old ocean odor obey oval
Long U = U.S. uniform use unit universe usual utensil unique
- Bb = bus baby book blue backpack bag bed banana boots bye
- Cc /k/ = cup coat cake car cook computer corn cloud country
- Cc /s/ = city cents circle ceiling cereal center
- Dd = doctor dime down dollar daughter day Dec. dad desk drink
- Ff = fish five four family father February foot feet fly floor flower
- Gg /g/ = gift grapes go gum game good gas God goodbye
- Gg /j/ = gym general gel gentlemen gem giraffe giant
- Hh = hat hi hello hair house he head hand happy husband
- Jj = jacket juice January June July jeans jar jump joy janitor jam
- Kk = kids key kitchen kind king kiss ketchup kite keep
- Ll = left light lamp leg love letter little lunch like look
- Mm = milk moon Mon. man May money mother marker movie
- Nn = nickel nine name neck night number nurse nut Nov. no
- Pp = paper pencil penny pen pants purple police purse plane
- Qu /kw/ = question quiet quarter quiz quick quart quit
- Rr = run right rug rain red rice read ride restaurant ring
- Ss = six soap seven sister Saturday son spoon Sept. shirt socks
- Tt = T.V. table tea telephone teacher Tuesday ten two truck tree
- Vv = vegetables vote vacuum van violin video visit very volcano
- Ww = window week woman Wed. white water watch walk
- Xx /ks/ = exercise x-ray exit exam extra
- Yy = yes year yesterday yellow you young
- Zz = zipper zero zoo zebra zip code
In addition to the daily alphabet review, we focus on one consonant a day and one vowel a week. Vocabulary, life skills, writing/handwriting, computer skills, and speaking skills round out the class.
- Beginning Sounds: b, d, p, t, v, z, j, k
- Ending Sounds: f, l, m, n, r, s
- Unique Sounds: c, g, h, qu, w, x, y
Some Newcomers have been taught the alphabet as sounds /a/, /b/, /c/, but do not know the name of the letter. I do several practical activities to reinforce the letter name that are very effective. I ask one student to spell their first name while I write it on the board. (This is a common question students with unique names must answer often.) Then I hand the marker to that student and they write another student's name on the board. We continue until each student has had practice spelling and writing a classmate's name. This spelling exercise can be done with other personal information like addresses and phone numbers (for numbers).
Games are a fun and effective method for teaching letter name and grapheme recognition. Play 'Go Fish' with uppercase and lowercase letter pairs. This simple game helps English learners remember the names of letters and gives them practice asking and answering questions, (Do you have a 'P'? No, go fish!) Students also enjoy playing 'Concentration' with letter pairs. Be sure to limit the number of letter pairs used at a time. Both of these games help Newcomers learn and remember the names of English letters.
Of course, music is a very effective way to teach the Alphabet. Many cultures, particularly oral cultures, love singing and use it to teach and remember their history. The standard ABC song is good, but there are others tunes which you may prefer. Use rhythm and chants, too.
Many of my English Language Learners struggle with the alphabet because they use the same letters, but have different names and sounds in their native language. For example, vowels are different in French - A is /long i/, E is /long a/ and I is / long e/. Students who use the Cyrillic alphabet and other similar alphabets also have difficulties with the English alphabet. One day as I was reviewing the alphabet sounds with literacy level students in my multiple level classroom, heads around the room began to turn and watch. Then my beginning and intermediate level students came over and began participating. I have found that many beginning and intermediate level English learners were taught read to whole words, and do not know the letter sounds. Phonemic awareness knowledge is necessary to decode new words. This epiphany caused me to begin reviewing the alphabet with my beginning to advanced level students.