How to Teach the Alphabet
The old “Alphabet Song” has proved to be a remarkable tool to assist learning the pronunciation and sequence of the English alphabet. The melody, written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, has certainly stood the test of time. As the classic introduction to phonemic awareness, most beginning readers usually “catch on” to the concept that distinct sounds correspond to graphic representations known as letters. However, a small percentage of chidren does not grasp this relationship and so the children develop a shaky foundation for the alphabetic system. This poor foundation of “shaky sand” frequently washes away when the teacher attaches sounds to these alphabetic symbols.
Additionally, the alphabetic system can present problems for many English language-learners. Many of these students may have been very good readers in their primary languages. However, their written language may not have been based on the alphabetic system. For example, the Chinese connect vocabulary to symbols in a logographic system of writing, while Ethiopians use symbols for syllables. Thus, the alphabetic code may be quite different from the way some of your students began reading and writing.
With the following instructional adjustments, those who have never fully understood and those who have never learned the sound-letter connection will grasp this concept. First, do teach the “Alphabet Song.” For middle school and high school students, use a less melodic rap tone, but still hit the key notes of the Mozart melody to access prior knowledge and improve memorization. The rap version will be perceived as less juvenile and will meet with less resistance from these learners. Always point to the lower-case alphabetic letters as you lead the singing or rapping. An overhead transparency of the lower case alphabet game cards or the sound-spelling cards, arranged alphabetically, will work nicely.
One fault of the traditional “Alphabet Song” has been the common practice of slurring together the letter sounds in legato style. Because mastery of distinct letter names and letter sequence are the instructional goals, make sure to enunciate each letter and provide space between each letter as you lead the singing or rapping. Additionally, reading specialists recommend avoiding the “l-m-n-o-p” slurring syndrome by reassigning some of the letters to different parts of the melody. To demonstrate, the “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star” song, which uses the same Mozart melody, has also been revised alongside the “New Alphabet Song.”
“Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star” / “New Alphabet Song”
Twinkle twinkle, little star,
a b c d e f g
How I wonder what you are.
h i j k l m n
o p q
Earth so high,
r s t
u v w
in the sky.
x y z
Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.
Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.
Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.