Learning the Alphabet

The first pillar in developing a solid foundation is to learn to recite the alphabet, by rote.

Be patient with the unlearning of "lmnop, qrs, tuv, and wxyz." As pointed out earlier, children often think of the letter clumps in the song as one letter...with a longer name.

A good way to introduce the task of learning the alphabet is by asking your child if she wants to be called "Zougoulougoubamba?"

Your child is sure to say, "No!"

"Why not?"

It's a safe bet your child will respond by saying, "It's not my name!"

Materials Needed

Use a deck of cards with one LOWER CASE letter printed on each card.

You may have to make your own since commercial products are likely to have both UPPER CASE and lower case letters printed on each card.

Ninety-five percent...yes, 95%... of what you read is printed/written in lower case letters.

So, why spend 50 percent of your time working on upper case letters? Upper case letters are learned much more easily AFTER a child has learned the lower case form.

Many children come to kindergarten able to write their names in upper case letters. Most likely the parent believes the upper case form is easier for the child. It's true. Fifteen of the letters are formed with straight lines. Only 11 of them have curves.

It doesn't make much sense, though, when you consider the utility of each case, even in light of the more frequent use of upper case in primary print materials.

Next, tell your child that each letter has a special name, just like you, and it doesn't want to be called by any other name.

Alphabetical Order Presentation

That done, introduce the letter cards, in alphabetical order, saying the name while showing the card. Encourage the development of memory of what the letter looks like while you are doing this.

You will want to drill it in this way to imprint the full set, in such a way that the child remembers what the letter looks like and tells you its name, accurately.

It may take a few weeks of 5 repetitions, daily, BEFORE your child is able to recite the alphabet by rote.

If your child is able to recite the abcs, by rote, in a shorter time, so much the better. That's a sign of being a quick learner.

ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS keep the cards in alphabetical order!

You might be tempted to shuffle the deck too early.

If you do, it will create...

confusion... and


That will require UNLEARNING.

Take your cues from your child...but pepper them with common sense. Rushing your child does no good.

ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS keep the cards in abc order.

Because you want to set the stage for success.

ALWAYS review the alphabet, in abc order, at the beginning of every session of work with your child...

especially BEFORE asking for a rote recitation.

The benefit is that the review allows your child to fill in the lapsed information needed to perform, accurately. Make sense?

Continual review sets up the child for success. It also provides the necessary practice to REDUCE the time it takes to respond correctly. You simply cannot overlearn the alphabet.

When you are quite certain that your child will be at least 95 percent accurate, it is time to ask for rote recitation. Until then it is a paired activity where you present the cards and you both say the letter name

Reverse Order Presentation

When rote recitation is 95 to 100 percent accurate, a second activity can be introduced.

Does the child know the alphabet when rote recitation has been attained? Not necessarily.

Gradually reduce the alphabetical order presentation by one...over several days. Follow that by introducing the reverse order presentation. That means, present the cards in Z to A order.

Can the child call the letters by name, accurately, in the Z to A presentation?

More than likely, the answer is "No!" If she can, so much the better!

As in abc order presentation, this activity of Z to A presentation is repeated five times daily until that magical 95 percent accuracy level has been attained.

Does the child know the alphabet at this point?


It may be simple mnemonics. My "at risk" first graders learned to recite the alphabet in reverse order. It was not until I noticed that they weren't looking at the letters that I realized they weren't bothering any longer. They could recite it from Z to A, flawlessly.





When the reverse order milestone has been achieved, the time to prove letter knowledge is at hand.

Are you eager to shuffle the cards?

Why bother?

What is the point of learning the alphabet?

To read and to write!

Why continue with flash cards? Why not go to the source immediately?

To have randomization in a realistic setting, go to any print source -- book, magazine, cereal box, a personal sentence you have printed, such as, "My name is Amanda."

Isn't that where your child is going to use that knowledge? Of course!

Ask your child to tell you the names of the letters of the words in a line of print.

When your child has finished, read the sentence.

What will this do for your child?

It will give your child practice in holding the alphabetic system in mind while searching for the correct information

It will stimulate thinking.

It will improve speed of recognition and accuracy in letter-naming... with gentle nudges, if need be.

If the sentence runs on to the next line, you can demonstrate the purpose of an end mark (.?!).

Many children do not understand that a sentence may exceed a line.

When your child can name the letters in lines of print, easily and readily, you can maintain the skill with periodic returns to this activity.


You've just accomplished the MOST fundamental aspect of learning to read!

You've also made a significant contribution to your child's well-being in school.

Recipe Cards

1. Show lower case letter cards in abc order 5 times daily until 95 percent level of accuracy is predicted in being able to recite the alphabet by rote.

2.Continue to review the letter cards in alphabetical order before asking the child to recite the abc's by rote.

3. When 1 and 2 are accurate, reduce abc presentation from five times to one over a period of several days. Add alphabet presentation in reverse order, Z to A.

Drill five times, daily. Continue with at least one abc order presentation, daily, at the start of the session.

Work at reverse order presentation until the 95 percent level of accuracy is achieved.

4. Continue presentation of abc order and Z to A order once, daily. Verify alphabet knowledge by practicing with print material from any source. Work on speed and  accuracy.

5. Continue with periodic reviews of all of the above throughout the remainder of the activities suggested.

Developing alphabet knowledge need not be more than a 5 to 10 minute drill, daily.

Since you've made a commitment to spend from 20 to 30 minutes, daily, to work with your child, another pillar of the skills and abilities required can be added to fill the other 10 to 20 minutes.

What might that activity be?

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