Teaching the Alphabet to Young ESL Learners

Teaching the alphabet to your kids can be as easy as uh…A…B…C!

The first place that you want to start, especially if your kids are new to English, is with the ABC song. Sing it as often as possible. Use it in part 3 of the daily lesson plan. Sing it whenever you have a free moment–when waiting for lunch, or the toilet, or other students to finish washing their hands–anytime! This is one of the easiest songs for kids to learn and it will soon become one of their favorites. They are very proud when they can sing this song and they will start to ask to be able to sing it.

(Note: The ABC song that I grew up with has LMNOP going very fast and sort of slurring together. This confuses children as they don’t understand that those are separate letters. There are different versions of the ABC song where these letters are more clearly pronounced. Make sure that you are using one of these versions, especially when teaching the alphabet to ESL learners.)

Now, you’ve got the alphabet posted somewhere in your classroom right? This is a must-have when teaching ABCs. Now that the kids know the ABC song, start pointing to each letter when you sing the song. They’ll start to figure out that each letter name has a visual letter that goes along with it.

Once your kids know the song, and have understood the concept that there is a visual representation that goes along with the name, you can move on to more advanced work. This is the letter learning process that I have gone through with my kids when teaching the alphabet.

Another teacher friend of mine mentioned that it’s a good idea to teach the alphabet out of alphabetical order. She had a book about this that had the letters out of order and had a picture of something like “Mice Merrily Munching Mangoes” to go along with the letter M, and so on. I liked the idea. It reminded me a lot of Sesame Street and how every day, the show would be sponsored by a different letter. So I decided to do a different letter each day.

Her copy of this book wasn’t very pretty looking, so I made my own cards. Each card had the letter of the alphabet along with pictures of different things that started with that letter. Every day I would bring out one card, and sing this song:

(to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell”)
The S says “ssss”.
The S says “ssss”.
Every letter makes a sound.
The S says “ssss”.

Then I would review the different things that started with that letter and hang the card up in a special part of the room. Throughout the day, the kids were able to go over and look at the letter and say the different words that go with that letter.

As the kids got better at this, I decided to move on to the next stage of teaching the alphabet. I thought that they could handle working with a few different letters in one day, so I made smaller letters and started to sing this song:

(to the tune of “5 Little Ducks”)
5 little letters went out to play
under the bridge and far away.
Shannon said “ssss ssss ssss ssss”
and letter S came running back.

When showing the different letters I would also make a point of which letters started their name. For example, “Maya is M.” or “Gou is G.”. The kids were really interested in learning the letters for their own names and for the names of the other kids.

This process so far has done wonders in increasing my kids’ understanding of the alphabet.

With slightly older kids, I might go through all of the letters of the alphabet in one 10-15 minute sitting. To keep their interest, I try using funny voices throughout the alphabet–one letter is high-pitched, the next one low-pitched, loud, quiet. You get the idea.

I hope that these ideas help get you started on the right track for teaching the alphabet to your kids. As always, what works for my class may not work for your class, so always make any adjustments that you need to keep your kids interested.

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