Using Alphabet Mats with Newcomers

Alphabet Mats are wonderful tools for developing letter recognition and phonemic awareness (letter sounds). Although Alphabet Mats are often used in grades K-1, they are also very useful for teaching grade 4-12 and Adult Newcomers.  They are particularly helpful for emergent/Students with Limited  or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE). 

Newcomers who do not know the English alphabet need to be exposed to English letters and sounds multiple times and in a variety of ways which are engaging, challenging, and fun.  Alphabet Mat activities engage visual, aural and kinesthetic learning modalities. They are appropriate for all ages and can be used for a wide selection of educational games. The hands-on learning is great for emergent/SLIFE students because it does not require writing skills.  Alphabet Mat activities can be done with individual students, a small group or a class. Literate students will learn quickly while emergent/SLIFE students will require much more practice. I suggest doing the Alphabet Mat activities for several minutes each day until Newcomers have learned the names and sounds of each letter. It is surprising how such a simple tool can be so effective!

Below are some of the activities for using Alphabet Mats & Letters.

1. Touch & Sing - Students touch each letter while singing the ABC Song. K12 newcomers often begin with the Lowercase Mat. Adults usually start with the Uppercase Mat and then move to the Lowercase Mat.

2. Reverse ABCs – Say and touch the letters from Z to A. Or say the letters in each row in the reverse order. Changing the order causes newcomers to focus on the individual letter instead of using rote memory.

3. Column ABCs – Say and touch the letters in each column. You can begin with the top  and go down or begin with the bottom letter and go up. 

4. Show Me  the Letter! – The teacher calls out a letter and the students touch their finger on the letter.

5. Letter Bingo – The teacher calls out the name of the letter and students put a marker on top of the letter. This can be done until all the letters are covered or students can yell BINGO! when they get four letters row. 

6. Match the Letters – Students use the Uppercase Mat and place the uppercase letters on top of the same letter. Then students use the Lowercase Mat and place the lowercase letters on top of the same letter.

7. Match Upper & Lowercase – Students use the Uppercase Mat and place the lowercase letters on their counterparts. Students use the Lowercase Mat and place the uppercase letters on their counterparts. (Many languages do not have an uppercase and lowercase.)

8. What’s Missing? –The teacher covers five letters on either the Uppercase or Lowercase Mat. Students must determine the missing letters and name the correct letters or choose the correct letter tiles. 

9. What’s Missing? 2 – Students work in pairs.  Student A closes their eyes while Student B covers 2 letters. Then Student A must name the missing letters. Students take turns covering and naming letters. Gradually increase the number of covered letters from 2 to 7.

10. After / Before Game – The teacher names a letter and the students say the letter after it. If the teacher says ‘x’, then the students answer ‘y’. Play the same game, but have students say the letter before the one named.

11. Preposition Game - The teacher names a letter and asks which letter is above or below it. The teacher names two letters and asks which letter is in between/ the middle. Right/left, next to/beside, over/under are all possible prepositions to use. This game can be played with pairs or small groups. 

12. ABC Order – Students place the Uppercase Letters in order on the Blank Mat.  OR Students place the Lowercase Letters in order on the Blank Mat.

13. Sound ABCs - The class says/sings the alphabet using the sound of each letter and students  tap on the letter. /a/  /b/  /k/  /d/ etc.

14. Sound Bingo – The teacher says the sound of the letter (not the name) and students put a marker on top of the letter. Students put markers down on both c and k for the /k/ sound.

15.What’s the First Sound? / What's the Last Sound?– The teachers says a word and the students point to the letter it begins with. If the teacher says ‘bus’, then the students point at ‘b’.  For What's the Last Sound?, the students would point to 's'.

 16. I Spy – The teacher calls out a letter and the students puts the letter on the mat. One student or more students name something that begins with that letter. 

17. Clap for Consonant & Snap for Vowels – The teacher should point out that consonants are black and vowels are  red on the Alphabet Mat. Then the class says/ sings the ABCs together and claps for consonants. Next say/ sing the ABCs again and snap for each vowel. Lastly, say/ sing the ABCs and clap for consonants and snap for the vowels. 

18. Twenty Questions – Student A selects one letter from the set of letters. Other students take turns asking yes or no questions to discover the correct letter. They can ask questions like, “Is it a vowel? or Is it red?” or “Is it in the second row?” or “Is it round?” or "Does it come after the letter R?"  This can also be done in a class, pairs or small groups.


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