How to teach the Alphabet to kids | Warmers, activities & games
By Allan Sweeney
By Allan Sweeney
The alphabet is the foundational stage in any language learning journey, so it's best to equip yourself with as many fun and creative teaching ideas as possible.
This blog post provides warm-up activities, practical ESL activities, and fun classroom games designed to make learning the alphabet an enjoyable experience for your young students.
If you are looking for ideas for older students, check out our article on how to teach the alphabet to adults and teens.
Warm-up activities for revising the alphabet with kids
Warm-up activities set the stage for effective learning by activating prior knowledge and engaging the students.
Point and shout
Students enhance their alphabet recognition and pronunciation skills by identifying and saying out loud different letters of the alphabet pointed out by the teacher on the board.
To start this activity, prepare your board before the students arrive. Add all the alphabet to the whiteboard using a marker or by attaching flashcards.
Depending on your students' familiarity with the alphabet, you can modify how you add the alphabet to the board each time you do this activity. By adding the letters in random order or using a mix of upper and lower case, you can perform this activity in several ways to revise and challenge your students on the alphabet. We have three free alphabet flashcard sets in our library that you can use for this activity.
The activity is simple. Point to a letter on the board and have a student shout out the letter. Depending on your class size, you can ask volunteers to say the letter aloud, select a student to do it or have the group shout it back to you. This approach allows you to ensure all students participate.
As students pronounce the letters, correct any pronunciation errors. Emphasise the correct pronunciation, and encourage the students to repeat the more challenging letters a few times to ensure they've understood and practised the right way to say it.
When the students are comfortable with the activity, you can add an element of fun by increasing the speed at which you point to the letters.
Students pass a parcel 'bomb' around in a circle, saying each letter of the alphabet before a set countdown timer runs out.
Begin by having the students form a circle. Introduce the activity to them: they'll be passing around a parcel 'bomb' while saying the letters of the alphabet. The aim is to get through the entire alphabet before the 'bomb' goes off.
For the first round, start with a slower pace to ensure all students understand the activity. As you pass the parcel 'bomb' to the first student, say "A." The student then passes the package to the next person and says "B." This continues around the circle, with each student saying the following letter of the alphabet as they pass the parcel.
Record the time it takes for the students to get through the entire alphabet. This time will serve as the benchmark time for the following rounds. After the initial round, share the recorded time with the students and encourage them to beat it in the next go.
For the subsequent rounds, set a countdown timer based on the previous round's time. The objective for the students now becomes passing the parcel 'bomb' and saying the entire alphabet before the timer runs out. This element of competition and time pressure will add excitement and challenge to the activity.
Remember to monitor the students during the activity, correcting mispronounced or skipped letters.
In this activity, students take turns representing a letter of the alphabet using their bodies while their classmates try to identify it.
To start the activity, gather your students and explain the concept: they'll take turns forming the shape of a letter with their bodies, while their classmates try to guess the letter they represent. Reinforce that the goal of the activity is to represent and identify different letters of the alphabet accurately.
Begin the first round by choosing a student as the 'letter actor'. Whisper a letter of the alphabet to this student, making sure the other students don't hear. The 'letter actor' then uses their body to form the shape of the given letter as accurately as possible.
While the acting student forms the letter, the other students should observe. Once the student has formed the letter with their body, ask the other students to guess which letter it is.
If the guess is correct, the student who guessed correctly becomes the next 'letter actor'. If the guess is incorrect, allow more guesses until they get it. Continue this process until all the students have had a chance to be the 'letter actor'.
For this fun listening activity, each student holds an alphabet flashcard and must raise it when they hear it in the alphabet song.
Start the activity by distributing alphabet flashcards to each student. If you wish to make the game more challenging from the start or after a few rounds, you can assign two letters to each student. Make sure each student knows the letter or letters they've been assigned.
Explain the activity to the students: they will be listening to the alphabet song, and their task is to raise their flashcards when they hear the letter they are holding. This task will require them to listen carefully and be ready to respond when their letter is sung.
Begin the alphabet song, ensuring it is loud enough for all students to hear. As the music plays, monitor the students to see if they are raising their flashcards at the correct times.
If students forget to raise their flashcards, pause the song. Gently remind the student and then continue the song.
ESL activities that teach the alphabet to children
Here are ten ideas for classroom activities that you can use to teach the alphabet to children. We have tried to make them as resource independent as possible, but when teaching kids, visual aids and audio/video are always encouraged where possible. That being said, you can adapt most of these activities for use in low-resource classrooms.
Use a catchy and simple song to teach children the alphabet, promoting active listening, repetition, and participation to ensure students can confidently recall and pronounce the English alphabet.
To prepare, select a simple, catchy, and suitable alphabet song for children. Check out the suggestions in our 'Best Songs for Teaching English to Kids' article. Also, you should think about creating a visual aid by adding the alphabet or alphabet flashcards to the whiteboard.
Start playing the chosen alphabet song. As the music plays, point to each letter on the whiteboard. Encourage the students to listen carefully during the first round. After the song finishes, play it again, but this time, ask the students to repeat each letter aloud as they hear it. Monitor the students during this stage, providing corrections for pronunciation as needed.
- Depending on your students' age and familiarity with the Roman alphabet, it may make sense to break up the alphabet into smaller parts and tackle each piece individually before bringing it together. You can see an example of this in the suggested board work for our beginner lesson on the alphabet and spelling.
Students throw a soft object around while matching letters of the alphabet to vocabulary.
Start this activity by gathering your students in a circle. Hold a soft object like a ball or teddy bear in your hands. Explain the rules of the game to the students: they will be throwing around this object. When a student throws it, they must shout a letter of the alphabet. The student who catches it must then think of and say a word that begins with that letter.
Begin the game by throwing the object to a student while saying a letter of the alphabet. This student must quickly say a word beginning with the letter you shouted. After they give their word, that student throws the object to a classmate, shouting a different letter of the alphabet, and the activity continues in this pattern.
Ensure you monitor the activity closely. Ensure each student gets a turn and that the letters of the alphabet are varied. If a student struggles to come up with a word, give them some time but also be ready to help with a prompt.
If you have time, end the activity by reviewing some of the words that were said during the game. Reiterate the pronunciation and meaning of these words and add them to the board.
Before and after
The teacher uses three boxes drawn on the board to elicit the letters that come before and after a given letter in the alphabet.
To prepare for this activity, draw three large boxes on the board, arranged in a line from left to right. Each box should be large enough to hold an A4 sheet of paper. Above the first box, write the word 'before'; above the third box, write 'after'. You will use the middle box for the current letter.
Explain the activity to your students: you will be writing a letter of the alphabet or placing an alphabet flashcard in the middle box, and their task is to identify the letters that come before and after it in the alphabet.
Start the activity by writing a letter or placing an alphabet flashcard in the middle box. Then ask the students what letter comes before it. Wait for the students to answer. Once they correctly identify it, write it in the 'before' box or use the corresponding flashcard. Repeat this process for the 'after' box.
Continue this activity with different letters of the alphabet.
Students have to identify the letter and word corresponding to the image on a flashcard.
You will need a set of phonic alphabet flashcards to prepare for this activity. You can use our free phonic alphabet flashcard set if you wish.
Start by explaining the activity to the students: you will show each of them a random alphabet flashcard, and their task will be to identify both the letter and the word corresponding to the image on the card.
Begin moving around the class, showing each student a random flashcard. Ask them to identify the letter and the word depicted by the image. Correct any errors on the spot and provide the correct pronunciation, if necessary.
If a student struggles to identify the letter or the word, give them some time but be ready to help with a hint or suggestion.
Students have to arrange themselves into alphabetical order when the music stops.
To start this activity, you'll first assign each student a random letter of the alphabet. You can do this by handing out alphabet flashcards or simply telling each student which letter they are. Make sure everyone understands their assigned letter before proceeding.
Next, explain the activity to the students. They'll be moving around the class while music plays. When the music stops, they must quickly arrange themselves alphabetically based on their assigned letter and as quickly as possible.
Once the instructions are clear, begin playing the music. Encourage the students to move around the room freely while the music is playing. After a short while, stop the music.
When the music stops, the students must remember their assigned letters and quickly arrange themselves into alphabetical order. As the teacher, monitor this process, assisting where necessary.
Repeat playing and stopping the music several times, reassigning letters as the students get used to the activity.
Complete the sequence
In this collaborative activity, students work in pairs to identify the missing letter in five-letter sequences of the alphabet presented as prompts on the board.
To prepare for this activity, write a list of prompts on the board. Five should be enough. Each prompt should have a five-letter alphabet sequence with a blank middle letter. For example, you might write:
- "H - I - _ - K - L"
- "A - B - _ - D - E"
Explain to the students that they'll be working in pairs to solve the problems on the board. Their task is to identify the missing letter in each sequence.
Pair up the students and give them a few minutes to discuss and solve the prompts.
Once all the pairs have finished or after a set amount of time, review the correct answers with the whole class.
I found one!
In this collaborative group activity, students have to find and write down objects in the classroom that begin with specific letters.
This activity works best if your classroom has a variety of objects and the students are familiar with classroom vocabulary. An alternative would be to stick an assortment of familiar ESL flashcards to the classroom walls using blue tack.
Begin by explaining to your students that you will write five letters of the alphabet on the board, and their task, in their assigned groups, will be to find an object in the classroom that starts with each letter and write it down.
Groups of 3-4 work well for this type of activity. Each group will need a piece of paper and a pen or pencil to record their findings.
Write five letters of the alphabet on the board, ensuring that they correspond to objects in the room. When the students are ready, they can start the activity.
Move around the room as the students work, offering hints if necessary and ensuring they are working together effectively.
When everybody's ready, or once a set time limit has elapsed, have each group present their list to the class. Add their answers on the board next to the corresponding letter and any obvious ones they missed.
A random flashcard
Students have to identify the first letter of the word represented by the image on a flashcard.
This activity requires a collection of ESL flashcards your students are familiar with. These flashcards should have pictures of objects or animals with names the students recognise.
Begin by explaining the activity to your students. You will be showing them a flashcard, and they will need to tell you the first letter of the word that represents the image on the flashcard.
Start by holding up a flashcard so all students can see it. Ask the students to identify the first letter of the word it represents. Ensure all students get a chance to participate.
For students more comfortable with the alphabet, you can challenge them further by asking for the first and last letters of the word or having them spell it.
For this craft activity, the students create their own alphabet booklets.
Provide each student with a simple booklet that can serve as their alphabet book. You can find these booklets on a few websites, many of which are free. Ensure that the booklet is suitable for the age and level of your students. We like the Alphabet Booklet by Literacy Learn.
Explain the activity to the students: they will create their own alphabet book. Each page of the book will be dedicated to one letter of the alphabet. Depending on the book you use, they will need to draw, colour or trace letters.
Before they start, show them an example of what you expect by completing the first page of your own booklet.
Now, the students can start creating their alphabet books. Give them markers, crayons, or coloured pencils for their drawings.
As the students work on their books, walk around the classroom to monitor their progress. Ask each student a few simple questions about their book:
- What is that?
- What colour is it?
- Do you like ___?
Once the students have finished, have them share their work with the class. Doing this will boost their confidence and enable other students to learn from their peers' work.
In this activity, students practise their handwriting skills and familiarise themselves with letter shapes by completing a letter tracing worksheet.
To prepare for this activity, you will need to find and print a letter tracing worksheet for each student. Numerous free resources are available online that offer printable worksheets for all letters of the alphabet. We found a good selection of free alphabet tracing worksheets by App Studios.
Start by explaining the activity to your students. They will be given a worksheet with letters, and their task is to trace over them.
Distribute the worksheets and ensure each student has a suitable writing implement, such as a pencil or crayon.
Begin with a demonstration using one letter as an example. Trace the letter on the board while the students observe. Pay attention to starting points, direction of lines, and overall form to help students understand how to write the letters.
Once the students understand what to do, they can begin tracing the letters on their worksheets. Monitor their progress, offer guidance where necessary, and give plenty of positive feedback.
For students who finish early or find the activity easy, you can encourage them to practise writing the letters freehand beside their traced letters.
To conclude the activity, review the students' worksheets and provide feedback on their work. Highlight the importance of careful handwriting and correct letter formation.
ESL classroom games for revising the alphabet with kids
Here are eight ready-to-teach games that are enjoyable and highly effective for young learners to practise and reinforce their understanding of the alphabet.
Whiteboard alphabet relay
A team-based game where students race to write the alphabet on the whiteboard one letter at a time.
You will first need to split your class into two teams. Arrange the classroom so there is enough space for two lines to form at the back of the room, facing the whiteboard.
Begin by explaining the rules of the game. The aim is for each team to write the alphabet on the whiteboard, one letter at a time, in the correct order. Each student is responsible for writing one letter.
Give the first student in each line a marker. When you say "Go," the first student in each team will rush to the whiteboard, write the letter 'A', and then rush back to their team and hand the marker to the next student.
The second student will then rush to the board and write the letter 'B' next to the 'A', return to their team, pass the marker to the third student, and so on. This will continue until one team has successfully written the entire alphabet on the board in the correct order.
If a student writes a letter out of order or incorrectly, they must erase and correct it before the next student can go. This ensures that students are mindful of their letter formation and sequencing.
Monitor the game closely to ensure the students follow the rules, and provide guidance where needed.
When a team correctly writes the alphabet, they should raise their hands and shout, 'Finished!'. Check their work; if it's correct, they are the winners!
Stopwatch challenge: Flashcard alphabet order
In this fast-paced team game, students are given random alphabet flashcards and must quickly arrange themselves in the correct alphabetical order.
We can modify the 'Alphabet Order' activity into a fun team game.
Start by explaining the rules of the game to the students. You will hand out random alphabet flashcards to each member of a team. When the stopwatch begins, they will need to arrange themselves in the correct alphabetical order as quickly as possible.
Begin by handing out the flashcards to the first team. When all members are ready, shout "Go!" to start the timer. The students will then need to quickly arrange themselves into the correct order according to the alphabet letters on their flashcards.
As the teacher, you should monitor the activity to ensure that the students arrange themselves correctly. If a team sets up incorrectly, they must adjust their positions to correct their sequence before they can stop the timer.
Once the team believes they are in the correct order, they should signal to you. If they are correct, stop the timer and record their time. If they are not, they must continue until they get it right.
Repeat this process for each team. The team that arranges themselves in the correct alphabetical order in the quickest time is declared the winner.
In this memory match game, students take turns flipping over pairs of flashcards with letters written on them, aiming to find matching pairs.
To prepare, print multiple copies of alphabet flashcards, ensuring at least two copies each month per group. There are three alphabet flashcard sets that you can use for free in our ESL flashcard library. Use the print settings of '9 pages per sheet' described in our printing instructions section on printing playing cards. This makes the cards the perfect size for the game.
Next, lay the flashcards face down on a table or the floor, ensuring they are all mixed up.
Briefly explain the rules of the game to your students. For each turn, a student will flip over two flashcards. If the two cards match, the student keeps the cards and takes another turn. If they don't match, the cards are flipped back over, and play continues with the next student.
Divide your class into small groups or pairs to play the game. Encourage students to say the letter of the alphabet out loud when they flip over a card.
As the game progresses, monitor your students and assist them if they have difficulty pronouncing or remembering the letters.
The game continues until all the flashcards are matched. The student with the most pairs of matching flashcards wins the game.
Noughts and crosses: Spelling
Students must spell words correctly to claim squares on a grid for their team.
This game idea is taken from our free beginner-level ESL lesson plan on the alphabet and spelling.
Divide the class into two teams, draw a 'noughts and crosses' grid on the board and number the squares from one to nine. Assign words to each square, but don't show the students. For example:
On each turn, a student must spell a word correctly to claim the square on the grid. If you need a more comprehensive selection of words, check out this list of beginner's vocabulary on islcollective.
This game is based on the popular Japanese word game "Shiritori". It's a fun way for students to practise vocabulary and spelling while thinking on their feet.
To begin, arrange your students in a circle and ensure everyone understands the rules. You will start by saying a word, and then the student to your right must say a word that begins with the last letter of your word. The game continues around the circle in this fashion.
Here's how you might explain the game to your students:
"Listen carefully to the word that the person before you says. You must think of a new word that begins with the last letter of their word. For example, if I say 'bus', the next person might say 'snake', and the person after them could say 'elephant', and so on. You can't repeat a word that's already been used."
Once the rules are clear, you can begin the game. Start by saying a word, then turn to the student on your right for their word.
If a student makes a mistake - such as saying a word that doesn't start with the correct letter, repeating a word, or being unable to think of a word - they are out for the rest of the round. Continue playing until only one player remains.
Playing 'I Spy' is a fantastic way to reinforce the alphabet and vocabulary in an ESL setting.
This classic is another idea from our free beginner-level ESL lesson plan on alphabet and spelling.
Start by explaining the rules of the game to the students. You will pick an object in the room and give your students a clue about it, starting with the phrase "I spy with my little eye something that begins with..." and then you'll say the first letter of the object's name.
Here's an example of how a dialogue might go:
Teacher: I spy with my little eye, something beginning with D.
Student 1: Is it a desk?
Teacher: No, it isn't.
Student 2: Is it a door?
Teacher: Yes, it is!
When students correctly identify the object, they get a point, and the student with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.
For more advanced groups, you could challenge them to be the 'spy'. This way, they can practise identifying objects and their corresponding initial letters.
Students have to complete a challenge to earn a throw of the snowball and a chance to win points for their team.
We can modify this fun idea from our post on ESL whiteboard games.
To prepare the game, draw a circular target on the whiteboard with several concentric layers of score values, with the highest score in the centre. Also, crush some old paper into a ball shape to use as a snowball.
For each turn, give a student a challenge related to the alphabet
- Identify a letter from a flashcard(Or written on the board)
- Spell a word beginning with a letter
- Show a random flashcard and ask for the first or last letter(Or both for double points)
If the student completes the challenge, they can throw a snowball at the board and try to win some points.
Depending on the class size, play as an individual or team game. Tally up the scores at the end and declare a winner.
Students work in teams to brainstorm as many words as possible that begin with a given letter.
Start by organising your students into equal-sized teams. It's important to ensure that each team has ample space to collaborate and discuss among themselves during the game.
Next, explain the rules of the game to your students. The objective of the game is to brainstorm as many words as possible that start with a specific letter. As the teacher, you will write a letter on the board at the start of each round, and the teams will have a set amount of time to generate words that start with this letter.
When you're ready to start the game, write the first letter on the board. Set a timer for an appropriate length of time based on your students' proficiency level. A time limit of 2-3 minutes is often sufficient, but feel free to adjust this.
When the time is up, have each team take turns volunteering one word at a time. You should note down the words on the board next to the corresponding team's name, ensuring no words are repeated. If a team repeats a word another team has already said, or if a word doesn't start with the given letter, it doesn't count for their score.
After all the teams have shared their words, tally up the scores for the round. Each unique, valid word earns the team one point. Continue the game for as many rounds as you like, choosing a new letter each time.
Incorporating regular warmers, hands-on activities, and fun games into your lesson plans will create an enjoyable and effective learning environment for your students.
I hope that you find more than a few of these ideas helpful, and don't forget to adapt them to your students' age and needs.
Allan is the Co-Founder & Lead Developer on the TEFL Handbook project. He spends his time building software and creating resources that support English teaching. You can learn more about his goals for the project here.