Teaching your students to recognise, read and write the English alphabet is one of the most basic roles of a TEFL teacher for young/new learners, but how to go about doing it? While teaching the ABC’s may seem like a simple concept, many first time teachers get stuck once they’ve sung the alphabet song a few times over. There are many different methods for teaching the alphabet, and ways you can make it fun for the students – and not too tedious for yourself too! Check out our top ideas on how to teach the alphabet to your students.
From A to Z
This may seem like the most obvious way to teach students the alphabet – starting at the beginning – but working from A to Z isn’t necessarily the best way. Working through the alphabet like this can be quite boring for students, and they’ve usually lost focus by the time you get to the end of the alphabet. Also, if you work in a private language school where teachers change quite often, the students may have been exposed to this method several times over – they’ll be an expert on A but still floundering by the end of the alphabet. If your school curriculum requires you to teach from A to Z, try to think out of the box and come up with ways to make this method more interesting.
Letters of Personal Importance
This is a difficult method to use in a class with lots of students, but if you have a small class or teach one-to-one, it’s a great method. Children will learn letters much faster if they see them all the time (high-frequency words) and also if they use them all the time. For example, a student called ‘John’ will be familiar with the letter J far quicker than a student called ‘Rosie’. A student who spends a lot of time with their Grandpa will recognise the letter G more easily than someone who spends all their time with Mum and Dad. Even if you teach larger classes, you can use this method with young learners by getting them to write their own name whenever possible. They might not even recognise which letters it is they’re using, but writing them over and over will help to form muscle memory, and it will all link up together when they actually learn the letters. For vocabulary, give them examples using words they already know – if you focus on new vocabulary words, they won’t be concentrating on the alphabet. For more ideas, check out these tips for teaching the alphabet: https://www.eslkidstuff.com/blog/top-10-lists/top-10-alphabet-teaching-tips-for-esl-kids
By far the best method for teaching students the alphabet is through phonics – this teaches them not only the name of each letter but also the sound(s) it can make. Phonics can be incorporated into the A to Z style, but there are many great phonics programs which teach in a much more useful way. For example, a great phonics program to follow is SAT PIN – these two CVC words are made up of some of the most frequently used letters of the alphabet, and you can rearrange these six letters to make all sorts of high-frequency words – sit, sat, pit, pin, tap, tip, sip… Teaching using SAT PIN is fun and easy – students will see that by changing one letter of a word, they alter the sound and the meaning. If you’re looking for a good phonics program to study, you can’t go wrong with Jolly Phonics. Jolly Learning has some great phonics tips.
Common Letter Clusters
If students learn each letter one by one, it can be quite challenging when they then have to master the different sounds produced by letter clusters. Examples include sh, ch, th, st, oo, and oe. One way to get around this is to teach clusters alongside the individual letters. When you are teaching S, also teach the students about SH and ST. This will help them to realise early on that there isn’t one set sound for each letter – sometimes when we group letters together they can combine to produce a new sound.
Make It Fun
Learning the alphabet doesn’t have to mean sitting in silence and copying the letter over and over again. To really engage the students, think of games and activities to make them enthusiastic about practising the alphabet. Brainstorm words of a different letter and make a poster, go letter fishing with magnetic alphabet fish, play alphabet ball games and do colouring dictations – there are endless games ideas to make learning the alphabet enjoyable. For fun videos and songs, Super Simple Learning has a huge amount of free online resources. Their phonics fun videos are a great way to introduce a new letter to students. Another series of online videos are the Alphablocks. But keep is simple: https://supersimpleonline.com/
Learning the alphabet of a language is one of the cornerstones of mastering a language – it is very difficult to excel in a language when you can’t read and write it. An important thing to remember is that students get bored if they have to do the same thing over and over again – they need variety to remain motivated. Even if your lesson plan says you need to focus on the alphabet for a whole hour, this doesn’t mean that you can’t incorporate activities using speaking and listening as well as reading and writing, and not forgetting games! Think outside the box, look up some fun new games, and keep it fresh for your students to retain interest. For more games, activities, and teaching strategies, check out our Teaching Tips blog. Are you looking for a new teaching opportunity? Visit www.saxoncourt.com for vacancies around the world.
About the Author
Celia Jenkins is a TEFL teacher and freelance writer living in the UK. She spent five years teaching English in China and Japan and now teaches Skype lessons to students around the world. She writes pedagogical articles, travel guides, and stories for children.
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