Teaching the Alphabet – Which way is best?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

No matter if your students are in kindergarten or adults that are starting to learn English for the first time, learning the names of the letters of the alphabet AND their sounds is the first step in reading. 

Sometimes, teachers disagree on whether the letter sounds or the letter names should be taught first, whether upper case or lower case (or both) should be the first AND what order we should teach the alphabet. 

What options are there for the order of teaching the alphabet?

Alphabetic Order – from ‘a’ through to ‘z’  Certainly, there is research to indicate that many children learn the earlier letters of the alphabet purely because of frequency of exposure (kids see and hear ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’ more often that ‘v’, ‘w’ and ‘x’)

But in China, in Kindergarten and First grade they also are learning Chinese PINYIN system which uses X, Y, Z, and other letters more frequently than English (and they make VERY different sounds) so frequency of exposure here is very different than in a native speaking country. 

However, most resources, games, jigsaws, books, posters and all the ‘alphabet songs’ teach the alphabet in alphabetical order.  So, there are some advantages of teaching the alphabet in this way. 

The Carnine Order  Based on research, some educators came up with a suggested order that is different from the traditional alphabetical order. Good things about this order:

  • it separates the teaching of letters that are often confused visually (‘b’ and ‘d’)
  • it separates the teaching of letters that are similar by sound (‘a’ and ‘u’)
  • it separates the teaching of the letters that are produced similarly (‘f’ and ‘v’)
  • the frequently occurring letters (and therefore often the most needed letters) are taught first
  • it introduces particular letter sound groups that mean children can start blending and segmenting as soon as possible (‘a’, ‘m’, ‘s’ and ‘t’ – mat, sat, sam)
  • it teaches both lower and upper case letters.  The upper case letters that look the same/similar to the lower case version are taught at the same time.  Upper case letters that do not look the same as their lower case counterpart are taught after most lower case letters have been introduced

Teaching letters by familiarity and importance  In preschool, children are more likely to ‘pick up’ knowledge of letters of the alphabet based on whether the letters are in their own name, in words that are important to them (such as “Mum”, “Dad”, siblings names or even pet names) and in familiar or environmental print (eg “M” in McDonalds).

It makes sense to use this knowledge to kids’ benefit – so teach the letters of their name, even if that means ‘jumping’ ahead of the “Carnine order”.

The easiest letters in the alphabet to learn? The ones in your name!

Another great way is to ask parents to help point out letters in their daily life!

Teaching letters by Letter-Name Structure

Some letters are more easily learned if the name of the letter corresponds with its most common sound (the name of letter “b” actually contains its sound /b/ as does the name of the letter ‘m’ contain the sound  /m/).  However, letters such as ‘g’ are not easily associated with their sounds.  This is true for both sound and pronunciation.  It makes sense to teach the letters more easily learned first (that have a sound similar to its name).

Teaching letters based on appearances

Some letters can be very similar looking such as ‘m’ and ‘n’.  Whereas, other letters such as ‘x’ are quite distinct and unique. There is research to support that younger children more easily learn lower case letters that are more distinct (Piasta, 2014) Children also learn lower case letters more quickly if they are the same (or similar) to their upper case counterpart.  This fits in with the Carnine order.

Other Examples:

So which ways have you tried? Why? Would you try something different? 

Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below! The highest rated comment at the end of month (12/31) will receive a gift certificate from us. 


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This article adapted from https://starfisheducation.com.au

Starfish Education Center is a place where you can visit for great educational advice, products, assessments and tutoring. Starfish Education grew from an Educational Consultancy that provides highly specialised service to individuals and agencies (for children who have significant educational needs).


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