Teaching Alphabetical Order

Shelley Frost
boy learning alphabetical order

Teaching alphabetical order gives kids a practical skill that applies in many areas of life. Understanding alphabetical order simplifies many research situations such as finding a particular topic in a book through the index or finding the phone number of a business.

Beginning Activities for Teaching Alphabetical Order

For younger kids, the main goal is to teach them that the alphabet always remains in the same order. Most kids are exposed to the alphabet song long before they can even identify the individual letters or letter sounds. These activities move beyond the memorization of the song for a deeper understanding of letter order.

Letter Tiles

A set of letter tiles, either purchased or homemade, offers a hands-on way to introduce alphabetizing. You can purchase a set of small plastic tiles at teacher supply stores. Another option is to use index cards to make your own letter tiles. These tiles work for a variety of alphabetizing activities.

  • Provide the letter tiles to assemble the full alphabet. Mix up the order of the tiles, asking the kids to place them in the correct order. If they have difficulty with the task, help them sing the alphabet song as they work.
  • Pull out five or six consecutive letters. Have the kids put them in order. This is more challenging because they can't rely on the beginning of the alphabet.
  • Choose two random letter tiles. Ask the child to determine which letter comes first in the alphabet.
  • Add more letters to the pile, with at least five or six non-consecutive letters. Have the child arrange the letters in alphabetical order.
  • Choose a letter from around the middle of the alphabet. Place that letter tile in the middle of the work space. Hand the child 10 to 15 other letter tiles. Have him place the tiles on either side of the middle letter based on whether it comes before or after the middle letter in the alphabet.

Word Wall

A word wall is a great way to practice sight words and alphabetical order. You'll need a section of wall to devote to the activity. Make a column for each letter of the alphabet, with a label for the letter at the top. Index cards are used to make word cards. Each word card is placed under its corresponding letter. The students get to see the alphabet in order and practice putting words with the correct letter. Continue adding words to the word wall throughout the year.

Advanced Activities for ABC Order

Once the kids have a solid understanding of the letter order in the alphabet, you can move on to more difficult alphabetizing activities.

Phone Book

The arrangement of the phone book makes it a natural teaching tool that also gives the kids real world skills. Call out business names and have the kids find the phone numbers. You can also have them focus on the yellow pages by giving them category names and asking them to list the first business in the category. Make up your own phone book alphabetizing games for extended practice.

Word Cards

You can easily make your own word cards with index cards. This allows you to customize the words used to reflect other lessons you're studying. Commercial flashcards with sight words are another option. Provide the kids with a stack of word cards to alphabetize. In the beginning, give the kids words that each start with a different letter. When they are competent with this skill, give them groups of words that all begin with the same letter so they have to look at the second or third letter in the word.

More Practice

If the students need more practice with alphabetical order, try these ideas.

  • Place books on the bookshelf in alphabetical order. For younger kids, give them only a few books to alphabetize. Older kids can handle more. This also works for movies or CDs.
  • Scramble a set of alphabet cards. Have the kids arrange them in order as fast as possible. If you have enough kids, divide them into two teams. Give each team its own set of letters so they can race.
  • Make alphabetical paper chains. Write five to ten words on separate strips of paper. The students must put the strips of paper in alphabetical order and create a paper chain with them.
  • Have the kids alphabetize their spelling lists, word banks, the grocery list, their chore chart and any other list of items they encounter.
  • Let the kids brainstorm a list of items that fall under a certain category. For example, they might list animals, types of food or toys. After the list is created, rearrange the items in alphabetical order.

Easy as ABC

Through repeated practice, the kids will pick up the concept of alphabetizing. Teaching alphabetical order through a variety of activities gives the kids regular exposure to ensure they understand and review the skill.

Teaching Alphabetical Order