How to Teach the Alphabet to Adults

Small bins with alphabet letters.
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Most people learn the alphabet as a child through singing the Alphabet Song or reading colorful books. Students who study English as a second language, however, did not receive such instruction as children, and these methods of teaching the alphabet might be viewed as juvenile and inappropriate. Many techniques that teach the alphabet are equally as engaging as children’s activities, but are more age appropriate.

  • Blackboard
  • Cutout letters
  • Alphabet flashcards
  • Alphabet card packs
  • Alphabet bingo cards
  • Alphabet rug or floor squares

1 Teaching the Alphabet

2 Teach only five letters only at a time

Teach only five letters at a time. The Commission on Adult Basic Education suggests taking your time teaching the alphabet by spreading out instruction over several class sessions. Start with only upper-case letters, and do not expect students to learn the entire alphabet at once.

3 Use repetition and simple sentences

Use repetition and simple sentences. Point to the letter A on a blackboard and say, “This is the letter A.” Draw the letter A and repeat, “This is the letter A.” Show students a cutout letter A and say again, “This is the letter A.” Hold up the cutout again and ask, “What letter is this?” and encourage students to say “A.” Repeat these steps with all the uppercase letters. Once students understand uppercase letters, repeat with lowercase letters.

4 Use flashcards

Use flashcards to test students’ knowledge. Hold up a card with a letter on it and ask which letter it is.

5 Teach the order of the alphabet

Teach the order of the alphabet. You can choose to use the alphabet song, or try group activities. Write the alphabet in order on the blackboard and recite each letter with your students. Erase one or two letters at a time and see if students can say the alphabet in order without the visual cue in front of them. Also try reciting the alphabet in order one letter at a time, and then, one by one, each student says the next letter. This game encourages listening, cooperation and thinking fast.

6 Give students their own alphabet packs

Give students their own alphabet packs, which are cards with one letter on each of them. Students can complete a few tasks with these packs. Take one or two letters out of the packs and encourage students to tell you which letters are missing. You can also put the letters out of order and instruct students to put the cards in alphabetical order.

7 Encourage students

Encourage students to draw the alphabet on paper. Also use tactile experiences such as drawing letters with your fingers in the air or on a plate of shaving cream or pudding.

8 Have students create their own alphabet books

Have students create their own alphabet books, in which they use personal pictures or pictures of objects they like. They should use one picture per page of the alphabet book, and each page should also include the letter associated with the picture.

9 Games

10 Show students pictures of an object

Show students pictures of an object, and name the object out loud. Discuss which letter the word begins with. Create boxes for each letter or for a series of letters, such as A-G, H-Q, and R-Z. Hold up a picture of an object and have students place the picture in the appropriate box.

11 Play bingo

Play bingo, but rather than numbers, each square will have an upper- or lowercase letter. Call out letters or words, and instruct students to find the letter you name or the beginning letter of the word you say.

12 Divide the class

Divide the class into teams and have a race to see which team can write the alphabet or put alphabet cards in order the fastest.

13 Play a variation of musical chairs

Play a variation of musical chairs. Set out letter cards on a table and play music. Students should walk around the table while the music plays. When you stop the music, say a word, and students should try to grab the appropriate letter that begins the word.

14 Play a variation

Play a variation of hopscotch by using an alphabet rug, or create your own set of alphabet floor squares. Students toss a bean bag or other small object onto a square, and they must name the letter and a word that begins with that letter. You can have students hop to the square before they give their answers.

Cara Batema is a musician, teacher and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science and health. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and creative writing.