I’m just going to come out and say it. If you’re teaching letters in alphabetical order, you’re doing it wrong. Not because I say so, but because research says so. Now you’re asking yourself, “Well, what order should I teach letter recognition?”
I’m going to tell you…what the research says.
Stop Teaching Letters in Alphabetical Order
When I was in school back in the eighties, we learned the alphabet with jumbo flashcards and picture associations. I remember my kindergarten teacher holding up a large poster size hand-colored drawing of an apple.
“A says /a/. /a/, /a/, /a/, a-pple,” she would say before dropping it to the floor to reveal another hand drawn picture.
“B says /b/. Like in ball. /b/, /b/, /b/, b-all,” she would say, before dropping it to the floor.
We would go through the entire alphabet this way.
Every single letter.
Every single day.
Until we “mastered” them. I say that in quotation marks because I recently stumbled across my kindergarten report card and found that I only knew half my letter names and sounds upon exiting kindergarten! (But my teacher did praise me for how well I could write my name with perfect monkey tails).
Times have really changed.
Not just because of the pushdown from the upper grades to do more at a younger age, but also because we simply know so much more about how children learn to read.
And that includes having an understanding that there is a better order to teach letter recognition that makes learning to read that much easier!
But First – the Importance of Letter Recognition
Letter recognition is the ability to name letters, identify characteristics (like shape) specific to said letter, and letter formation of all 26 uppercase and lowercase letter symbols used in the English language. That’s 52 letters total.
Children’s reading development is dependent on their understanding of the alphabetic principle – the idea that letters and letter patterns represent the sounds of spoken language. So in turn, letter identification and letter sound knowledge is a critical piece to developing reading skills.
We can’t skip it, and we can’t spend precious time teaching letter recognition in the wrong order, either.
The Right Sequence of Letter Instruction
There is no one agreed upon order in which to introduce letter sound relationships. However, it is generally agreed upon that:
- Letters should be introduced in an order that allows children to begin decoding as quickly as possible.
What does this mean?
Well, we aren’t going to start with letters s, q, f, k, l, and a. You can’t make any words from those letters! We want to empower children by teaching them letters in an order that gives them the knowledge to begin reading as soon as they feel confident enough in the letter-sounds they have already learned.
For some of my preschoolers, decoding basic cvc words happens at the first vowel I introduce. For other preschoolers, this doesn’t happen until the end the school year. It’s important to remember that either is appropriate development for preschool, but learning to read during the preschool years is not typical of most students.
Order to Teach Letter Recognition to Promote Letter-Sound Relationships
We follow the recommendation of reading experts in the Daily Lessons in Preschool Phonics Curriculum in that letter-sound relations that occur with high frequency get introduced first. Letters are taught in the following order:
- m, s, r, t, n, p, o, c, a, d
The above list of letters are taught explicitly the first twelve weeks of preschool. Take a break every fourth week to review all the previously taught letters. Once a child has mastered these letters, she may (but not always) be ready for simple decoding.
For example, using the above letter set, the following cvc words can be decoded:
- cat, mat, sat, rat, pat
- ran, tan, man, Dan, can, pan
- mad, sad, Tad, Dad, pad
- am, Sam
- cap, tap, sap, nap, rap, map
- pot, rot, not, Dot, dot
- rod, sod, pod, nod, cod
- Mom, Tom
Now, add a few high frequency words like the, a, and to, and preschoolers cab begin reading simple sentences like:
- A rat!
- A tan rat!
- The cat ran.
- The cat ran on the mat to the rat.
- Mad Dad.
- Dad ran to the cat.
- Dad pats the cat.
- The rat nabs a pot.
Using a list like this to guide the order in which you introduce letters and sounds to your students is a powerful way in which to teach children to read. And the above examples are only a small snippet of what is really possible when phonics instruction is supported by systematic oral language development and phonological awareness.
The Next Steps in Letter Recognition Order
During week thirteen, we introduce the letter i, which, because it is a vowel, opens up new word families for decoding.
The nest set of letters taught are in the following order:
- g, f, b, k, o, l, h, w
From here, we spend at least another week reviewing the previously taught letters of the alphabet. Letter recognition and letter sound relationships are critical to reading success, so taking our time to learn visual discrimination between the letter shapes is mandatory.
Remember, this is in a preschool setting, so the goal is for preschoolers to have mastered the letter names and sounds by the end to the year. the goal is not to be reading decodables by the end of the year. That’s a kindergarten standard.
The Last Group of Letters to Teach
Finally, during weeks 25-34, our Daily Lessons in Preschool Phonics curriculum leads us through teaching the following letters:
- e, v, j, u, y, z, x, q
Again, every fourth week is a review week, and this becomes especially important as we progress through the alphabet because students have more and more to remember. Don’t skip these valuable review weeks! They are designed for teachers to really hone on the missing skills so that overall progress does not unnecessarily slow down.
But Don’t Stop Yet! There’s More to Teach!
The Daily Lessons in Phonics Curriculum is a 36 week curriculum that can be extended to 40 weeks. These last four weeks were added for school calendars that are a little longer. Literacy activities should be taught every day of the school year, even at the beginning when we are still working on routines and even at the end of the school year when our minds are already on summer break.
During the last few weeks of school, we go back and review all the vowels. The curriculum includes these weeks as well as all the instructional activities needed to really master these difficult sounds.
And the difficulty is exactly why the curriculum was extended. It takes acute skills to hear the different vowel sounds, especially within words, so spending some extra instructional time at the end of the preschool year is beneficial.
Get a Free Scope and Sequence for Teaching Letter Order
Looking for a scope and sequence of instruction for teaching letter recognition? You can download a free copy of the Daily Lessons in Preschool Literacy scope and sequence. It will share exactly what letters we introduce each week, and well as how we teach oral language and phonological awareness.
I’m Sarah, an educator turned stay-at-home-mama of five! I’m the owner and creator of Stay At Home Educator, a website about intentional teaching and purposeful learning in the early childhood years. I’ve taught a range of levels, from preschool to college and a little bit of everything in between. Right now my focus is teaching my children and running a preschool from my home. Credentials include: Bachelors in Art, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction.