Learning and teaching the
ABCs in English can be a challenge. The alphabet used in an
English learner's language may be completely different from
the English alphabet!
There are many important things to keep in mind
when first working with the ABCs, but don't worry! These guidelines can
help you to avoid common teaching mistakes and help your students learn
as easily as possible.
Read these tips for ideas on how to teach the
alphabet in English as you work
with the first letters and letter combinations with your ESL students.
1. Begin at the beginning!
a new alphabet is a big challenge, and it can feel like you're trying
to move mountains at first! Since the English alphabet has the added
difficulty of containing letters that are not always pronounced the
same way, it's very important to begin
with small groups of letters
that are almost always pronounced the same way.
Try starting with the consonants: B, D, N, P and the
Choose letters you can use to make simple, one-syllable
words for your students to practice.
You can explain to your students that there are two kinds of letters in
the English alphabet: vowels
and consonants. Tell them that you will learn more of each
kind as you continue with your lessons.
better to use real words, not nonsense combinations. Your
students won't remember all the vocabulary they learn right in
the beginning, but these words can stick in their memory!
Remember that at first it's a good idea to avoid vowel combinations
and letters that are
pronounced several different ways (like C as in "car" or
"city"), as well as letters
that are often used in combinations (like Q, which is not
commonly used except with the letter U) or very uncommon letters
(like X or Z).
2. Practice makes perfect
Now that your students have some basic sounds, it's important to get in
lots of practice before
important to associate the letter's form with its sound, so your games
and activities should have this in mind! Try some of the
Read a letter's name ("bee" for B) and have a
student at the board write the upper case form. Extra points for the
lower case form, too!
Use flashcards with letters and your simple practice words
on them. Hold them up and have the students say the word or letter.
a song or chant with your letters and words. You can keep making it
longer as you learn more letters, which will be a fun challenge for
your students. Play with the rhymes that will be created using your
Have the students quiz each other by
saying a letter and having their partner write the upper and lower case
forms. Or, they can write the letter first, and their partner should
say the letter name and a word that contains it.
It's always a great idea to use
pictures so that students can learn the way the letters
are written. This is very important as you learn your first
Also be sure to work just with the print alphabet (not the cursive
alphabet) to begin with.
3. Take it in phases
Now that you have some basic letters, introduce a new group. You could
try the consonants: H,
K, M, T and the vowel: O.
we are thinking about the simple, one-syllable words we'll be able to
make. These are also letters that are usually pronounced the same way
when they are not in combinations.
hot, hop, mom, pop, top, pot, bet, men, hen, hem, pen
Keep working with groups of four or five consonants and a
vowel until you complete the alphabet.
Be sure to do lots
of practice with games and different activities
on each set before moving on! As you learn more letters, you will be
able to create more interesting activities and sing the alphabet song.
In fact, it's a great idea to start working with simple stories using
Notice that we have simple consonant combinations here in which the letter sounds do not change.
It's still a good idea to avoid more complex combinations like "gh",
"ch", "qu", "ea", "oo", and silent letters. You should work on these
last, once the students are comfortable with the basic letter sounds.
4. Work with names
you noticed in the point above, names can be a good way to practice
these letters. For example, we introduced the letter K, but we had a
hard time finding simple words we could use it in. Still, this letter
is important and is almost always pronounced the same way. It's also
very common in names!
Students love to work with ideas and topics that are real for them in
their own lives. You can use names in two different ways:
Help the students write
their own names
using the English alphabet. Try to find the best equivalents for the
sounds you need and the simplest combinations. Have the students try on
their own and help the group.
Some teachers also enjoy letting their students choose "English names"
that they can use in class. This is a common practice in language
classes that might be fun for you to try as an activity. This is
wonderful to pair with your first introduction vocabulary. The students
can take turns introducing themselves with their real name and their
"English class name" for practice.
This is a good way for them
to practice the sounds
without having to learn too many new words. As we saw
above, the combinations will let you make more and more words, so be
sure to take it slow. A common mistake is to give too much vocabulary
5. Teach to your age group
Remember that children and adult ESL learners have different needs and
styles. Lessons should always be fun
and interactive, but of course your games will be
different for different levels.
Try these tips with
Use lots of pictures and flashcards
to associate the sounds
and letter names with the letter itself.
Try using blocks for very young children. They can touch
these and pass them around as they learn.
Songs and chants work very well with children. They help
them to memorize words and sounds in an interactive way with their
You can also use lots of repeating exercises to help kids
practice pronouncing the sounds and the letter names.
Keep these points in mind with adults:
Visual aids are also important! Be sure to associate the
upper and lower case letter figures with the letter names and sounds.
the students learn to spell their names out loud. This is a skill they
will need to use in English for class registrations, hotel
Put the games and activities
in "real terms" by mentioning these practical uses for the simple
skills your adult students are learning.
Use pair, group, or team activities when possible. Adult
learners enjoy working collaboratively as a team and competing against
one another or the other team.
As your students learn more letters and words, continue using stories.
These are an excellent way for your students to practice, and they can
begin to read out loud, act out what is happening in the story, tell
each other the stories for pronunciation and listening practice, and
even begin to ask each other simple questions.
Keep these tips in mind, and teaching the alphabet will be a
you and your students!