Teaching the Alphabet

Before you embark on teaching the alphabet to your child…STOP! There are a few things to be aware of….

When asked “What is the first thing you should teach a child when they are learning to read?” Most people reply “the alphabet.”

But there are in fact a few steps you can introduce to your child before and during the more formal instruction of teaching the alphabet letters! You are most likely teaching these steps without even realizing – but it is good to be aware of them to help give structure to your play times together so you will instinctively know when it is the right time to move onto the next level. This ‘pre-reading’ time is often referred to as Phonemic Awareness (P.A). The steps are:

 Listening: Yes! You can you teach a child to listen! There are many activities you can introduce to hone your child’s ability to isolate sounds they hear on a daily basis. The skill of listening is required for children to be better able to recognize sounds (phonemes) in words that they will be introduced to in the months ahead. Look out for listening games in educational toy stores. Listening is also encouraged by reading rhymes and poems, which swiftly takes us to step two:

 Rhyming and Alliteration: As adults we recognize when words like /gate/, /eight/, /late/ rhyme. However, for a child this skill has to be practiced and practiced before it becomes a natural process. Nursery rhymes and poems are an excellent way to introduce rhyming and alliteration. Do you remember saying Tongue Twisters as a child? Chances are you were being introduced to alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of the first letter sound in a phrase – six slimy smiling snakes! There are some wonderful nursery rhymes and poem books available today to help you introduce rhyme and alliteration. Put on your ‘to do’ list today – “Before teaching the alphabet I must read nursery rhymes and silly poems to my little one today!”

 Comparing & Contrasting Sounds of Rhyme: This step is sometimes referred to as an ‘Oddity Task’ – where a child learns to spot the ‘odd one out’. This is an important step that is often overlooked. By encouraging children to compare and spot the odd one out you are helping them fine tune their listening skills for later on when they will need to recognize patterns and phonemes in words. One activity I like to do is read a familiar nursery rhyme and swap things around. Children will love to ‘catch you out!’ as they compare the version they know with your odd one! For example “Dumpty Humpty sat on a horse”. Great fun and sure to produce lots of giggles!

The following skills are often taught along side the teaching of the alphabet:

 Awareness of Syllables: After a child becomes aware of words the next step is the awareness that words are divided into parts or beats we call syllables. An awareness of syllables will enable your child to perform phonemic segmentation (counting out the number of phonemes in a word). One easy game to play is to clap and count the syllables in their own name or other family and friends names and ask “Which name has the most syllables?” or “Which name is the longest?” My daughter is the ‘longest’ in our house – much to her brothers annoyance!

 Phoneme Recognition: Phoneme Recognition (remember a phoneme is the name given to the smallest unit of sound in our English Language – of which there are approx 44 sounds or phonemes) is really referring to an awareness that the words we are saying are made up of small sounds. For example the first phoneme in the word /cat/ is the /k/ sound. After listening to all those nursery rhymes and poems your child will quickly begin to pick out the more obscure sounds and patterns in words they are hearing. There are many oral activities you can do at home to help your child have good phoneme recognition. This should be a fun time. I always try and play games. I am working on putting a collection of phonemic awareness games together – watch this space! In fact I have just added the first one – see the link at the bottom of this page

 Phoneme Spelling: This involves becoming so familiar with phonemes (sounds) that a child will be able to manipulate words by adding and deleting phonemes at the beginning, middle and end of words to make new words. For example /r/at, can become /p/at or /s/at because the first phoneme has changed. Or /rat/ can become /rot/, /rut/ when the middle phoneme is changed – and /rat/ becomes /rap/, /ran/, /rag/ when the end phoneme is changed. Phoneme Recognition and Spelling are ongoing steps that your child will now build on for the next few years.

By committing to spend just a few minutes each day with your child in the above steps you will be well on the way to teaching the alphabet and helping them become successful readers and spellers.

Here is a simple powerpoint phonics game to teach rhyme. This is my first attempt at making powerpoint games – let me know what you think! I have deliberately made it short. Of course, nothing can beat the times you play games around the kitchen table, but they do have their place:

rhyme powerpoint


Teaching Reading

You are reading ‘step 1’ on how to teach your child to read. Next we will look at:

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