I wanted to share with you today some favorite and fun ideas for teaching the letters of the alphabet and handwriting.
Over the years teaching the alphabet has changed quite a lot due to the increase in standards. However, the fact that young children can get overwhelmed with learning both the uppercase and lowercase version of each letter of the alphabet, their sounds, and how to write them has not changed.
Varying your letter practice can increase student motivation and decrease boredom. I have also found that varying letter practice based on letter difficulty and reviewing frequently are very effective in helping students retain letter knowledge.
Young children need manipulatives in addition to practice pages when learning the alphabet because manipulatives not only hold their attention better but they activate the pathways in the brain better than using only a letter page.
Here are some of my favorite manipulatives to use for teaching the alphabet. They are relatively easy and inexpensive to set up and use.
I use differentiated letter cards with my students along with the manipulative activities as aides for showing students how to properly form the alphabet letters.
Fun Ideas for Teaching the Alphabet and Handwriting
Practice Letters Using Salt and/or Sand Trays
Students love to practice writing letters in salt or sand! You can create a simple salt or sand tray by pouring some salt or sand on a cookie sheet, on a plate, or in a pencil box.
Have students write the letter in the salt or sand with their finger, a Q-Tip, or a pointer.
Optional: If you would like colored sand or salt for your tray, mix a teaspoon of powder tempera paint per cup of sand or salt. Mix the powder paint and salt or sand thoroughly. You may add more powder tempera paint if desired until you get the color you want.
Practice Letters Using Dry Erase Markers with Dry Erase Boards or Write Directly on the Desk or Table
Allowing students to use washable dry erase markers instead of a pencil can be a real motivator, especially if they get to write directly on their desks or the tables! They think that is really cool! (the marker wipes off with a damp sponge or baby wipe). They can also practice on dry erase boards.
Practice Alphabet Letters with Sidewalk Chalk
Go outside and let students write alphabet letters with sidewalk chalk. Afterwards, give them squirt bottles, name a letter, and have students squirt the letter with the water.
Write Letters Outside with Paintbrushes and Water
Give students paintbrushes or sponge brushes and allow them to paint letters with water.
An added activity to do is to have students guess how long they think their letters will last in the sun.
My students love using gel bags! We not only use them to practice letters but numbers and shapes as well.
Create gel bags by buying cheap hair gel from the Dollar Store and filling a Ziploc bag. Add a few drops of food coloring if desired or you can also add glitter for some sparkle. Double bag and/or tape the top of the bag to avoid leaks.
Have students either look at a letter card and write it on the gel bag with their finger or a Q-Tip or place the letter card under the gel bag and have them trace the letter with their finger or a Q-Tip.
Practice Letters with Salt Puffy Paint
Salt puffy paint dries with a 3D look and texture that students love!
Make a batch of salt puffy paint by mixing equal parts of flour, salt, and water. Add a few drops of food coloring and mix. Place in squeeze condiment bottles. Our local BBQ was nice enough to donate bottles, you can also find them on Amazon here (affiliate link). You can also try using pastry bags or cutting the corner off a Ziploc bag, however these don’t seem to work as well as the bottles.
Have students write letters with the salt puffy paint or do a letter hunt and have students mark the correct letters with the salt puffy paint.
Shape Letters Using Play Dough
Have students form letters on play dough mats or have them look at a letter and form it with the play dough on their own. Teach them how to roll the play dough in their hands to form a “snake” and them form it into the letter.
Play Dough Letter Mazes
Another option is to make play dough letter mazes. Flatten play dough on a tray or in a pencil box and press a letter with your thumb in the play dough. Make sure the maze is wide enough to fit a marble.
Have students push the marble through the letter maze with their finger. See how quickly students can do it without letting the marble leave the letter maze.
Spark interest by allowing students to paint the letters. They can use their finger with finger paint or a brush.
If you have an easel available, placing paper on the easel and having students write/paint on the easel promotes shoulder stability which is critical in fine motor development and also helps to promote hand grasp which is important for writing.
Another option is to use pom-pom painters using clothespins and cotton balls. Have students grab a cotton ball with a clothespin, dip it in paint, and paint their letters. Squeezing the clothespins helps develop the appropriate muscle groups needed for successful handwriting.
Build Letters with Blocks
Have students build the letters with Legos, blocks, or Snap Cubes.
Make a Connection to Reading by Finding Letters in Books
Help students understand the connection between letters and words and reading by having Letter Hunts in books and/or around the room.
Explain that letters put together make words that we read. Allow students to find either the featured letter you are working on or a letter that you name in their favorite books or around the classroom in posters, charts, bulletin boards, etc.
When students trace textured letters with their fingers it helps them feel the difference of the letters.
Two ideas for making textured letters are to cut letters from sandpaper using stencils or to put a thick layer of glue over letter cards. You can also purchase a tactile letter kit from Amazon.
Have students write the letter in the air with their fingers or special pointers. Visualizing the letter in the air promotes visual memory and large arm movements.
Form Letters with Dot Painters
Students love using Dot Painters so have them form / write alphabet letters with them.
Use Visual Cues & Reminders
Remembering 52 letters (uppercase and lowercase) is challenging for young students, so it is important to review frequently and to have visual reminders for students to reference.
These can include alphabet displays, nameplates on their desks that have the alphabet letters on them, alphabet charts, etc.
I give students a mini alphabet handwriting chart that has all the letters with the directional arrow font that shows how to form each letter to keep in their writing folders. I also place one at our writing center.
I also provide students with QR code cards that link to videos that demonstrate how to write the letters. These really help my visual learners that need to see the letters being formed and also alleviates the need for me to keep showing or demonstrating how to write the letters. My students also LOVE QR codes so they really like using them!
Vary Letter Page Practice
Use a variety of letter practice pages to avoid boredom and increase student motivation. You can vary them according to students’ motor skill ability levels or according to the letter difficulty. Use different pages when introducing, practicing, and reviewing letters.
Another option is to have a variety available and let students choose which one they prefer – giving students choice is a great motivator! You can also provide a number of different pages in your writing center for practice.
Place Pages Under Desks, On the Wall, or on the Easel
Another way to alleviate boredom and spark interest is to allow students to write on the pages upside down (tape them under the table or desk), hang them on the wall or your painting easel.
This promotes shoulder stability which allows for control of the arm, hand, and fingers and helps with hand grasp for writing. In order to develop shoulder stability, paper needs to be vertical.
Place Pages in Page Protectors and Use Dry Erase Markers
Another way to change things up and motivate students is to allow them to complete the pages using dry erase markers. As I stated above, young students love writing with markers!
Save paper by placing your letter pages in page protectors. Place some pages in a binder along with dry erase markers and make-up rounds to use as erasers in your writing center or in your small groups. If you need a record of students’ writing, snap a picture.
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If you would like to use the differentiated cards and letter pages shown in this post with your students they are available here.
Here are a few comments from other teachers who have used these alphabet pages and cards in their classrooms:
“So great for the variety of skill levels in my room.” – Megan S.
“Excellent package for working with the alphabet. Love the ideas that went with the worksheets. Thanks.” – Beth S.
“This item is PERFECT for my primary autism class. Most are learning the alphabet and this is great to use along with hands on activities.” – Sharon B.
“Thanks a bunch!!Now I don’t have to search for letter of the week activities for the whole week!!!” – Cassie B.
“My favorite thing about this is how it will address all my learners. Thank you!!” – Nanette F.
“Great for differentiation for some of my firsties still working on letters!” – Amy D.
“I use this daily for letter of day activities!” – Kayla R.
“Love the differentiation!” – Kristin W.
“These are great!! Love the variation and that they can be used with all skill levels!”