These fun alphabet activities for kindergarten will help your students learn letter names and sounds in no time!
We’ve all seen it before… the children who enter kindergarten without knowing letter names are the children who struggle with reading in first and second grade. It is a predictable trend that has been dubbed “The Matthew Effect” by Keith Stanovich (1986). As in, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
As a K-1 reading interventionist, my mission is to interrupt this predictable trend. Every year I am tasked with helping kids learn letter names and sounds in an efficient and engaging manner. So, what are some fun alphabet activities for kindergarten?
Through my experiences, it is helpful to make reading activities for kindergarten hands-on (multi-sensory), to personalize the learning to match your students, and to make learning fun with games. When kids are engaged in the learning they learn the letters (and sounds) quickly and automatically.
Make it Hands-On
Children learn by moving, doing and touching. When we make letter learning multi-sensory and hands-on, it helps children remember the information better. But we, as teachers, need to be cautious. Sometimes our desire to make things multi-sensory creates inefficient learning activities (or inefficient uses of teacher prep time.) There is no need to constantly prepare letter crafts or themed snacks to help children learn letters. Instead, find simple, tactile ways to practice letters. A few of my favorites include:
As you teach a new letter, have children trace it. They can trace it in the air (using large muscle movements.) It’s also fun to trace it with 1-2 fingertips on a surface that has a texture, such as:
- the table
- a piece of sandpaper
- the carpet
- a piece of mesh plastic canvas
As students trace the letter on this surface, have the say the letter name (and possibly letter sound) as they “write.” This provides input from another sense (hearing) and helps them associate the form they are making with the letter name.
Letter Magnet Sort:
Sorting letter magnets encourages students to focus on the ways certain letters differ from one another (and how they are the same). These fine details helps us distinguish one letter from another.
There are many ways students can sort letters. First, you can have students find letters that have something in common:
- tall vs. short letters
- letters with a circle
- straight lines in letters
- slanted lines in letters
- letters with a hump/hill
For another kind of sort, you can give students a handful of letter magnets that include many of the same letters (ex: t, m ,s). Then students quickly sort the letters into like piles.
When you begin having students sort specific letters, start with letters that are visually very different (such as t and s.) Wait to pair visually similar letters (such as b and d) until students know at least one of these letters very well. The goal is to help students build on what they already know and to help students sort (and recognize) letters quickly and efficiently. There is no benefit in trying to “trick” kids – and this can actually create deeper confusions for children.
Just like with tracing letters, be sure to have the children use the letter name several times as they sort. Before they begin, they can name the letters they see. They can name them once or twice as they sort. Then they can name the letters in each “pile” once they finish.
My students think a letter hunt is one of the most fun alphabet activities for kindergarten. To do a letter hunt, I give each child a letter magnet. Typically they all get the same letter (one that we recently learned), but sometimes (as a review) I pass out a different letter to each child. Have the children trace the magnet and name the letter once you give it to them.
For the actual letter hunt, the children look around and find that letter as often as they can in the classroom or hallway. (I teach K-1 reading intervention, so we hunt up and down the hall. Posters and locker tags are great places to find letters!) When they find the letter, remind them what letter it is (“You found a T!”) or ask them what letter they found. You want them to say the letter name as often as they can, helping them link this “form” with its official letter name.
Depending on how much time you have, students can hunt for one target letter, or can change letters after a few minutes.
Connect Letters to Important Words
Kids are focused on themselves by nature of their age. You may as well take advantage of that when you plan fun alphabet activities for kindergarten (or preschool) students. If you can connect a letter to something important to the child, that makes the letter easier to learn.
Focus on their names:
If you’ve taught little ones before, you’ve probably noticed that they learn the letters in their own name pretty quickly. This is the word they write most often, helping them recognize what those letters look like. They know something about these letters, so they are great ones to start with.
When working with a small group on letter names, you might identify letters that all (or most) of them have in their names. Introduce and practice these letters first. For instance, in a recent group I worked with, every child had S and A, and most kids had N. Those were the first letters I taught them – using all the letter name activities in this blog.
One fun way to practice letters with their names is with name puzzles. Use a sentence strip to create a name puzzle, or assemble letter magnets to make the child’s name. Store these items in an envelope labeled with the child’s name. The child can refer to this envelope as needed to assemble the name.
Question of the Day with Letters
You may already use a question of the day routine with your students. Use this daily routine to help student practice letter recognition by adding questions about letter names. For instance, you could ask: “Do you have a letter Ss in your name?” Students think about (or look at) their names and select the correct response. (Learn more about using the Question of the Day routine in this blog post.)
Just like the other routines, encourage students to name the letter from the daily question – and name it again as they point to it in their own name. For students who are just learning the letter, you can have them trace the letter on their name card as they say it (pulling in that multi-sensory activity again.)
Use Their Classmates’ Names:
Sort Names: Create name cards for every child in the group (or class.) Students can help you sort the names, based on whether or not that names includes a target letter that you are teaching.
Refer to Classmates’ Names: When students are trying to recall how to form a particular letter, referring to a classmate’s name might help. For instance, if a child is confused about how to make the letter N, you might say “N for Nicholas” as a verbal prompt. For further support, you could help them find Nicholas’ name in the classroom. Of course, this is not the most efficient way to recall letters, but sometimes students need a”crutch” to lean on in the process of learning.
This blog post offers other suggestions about using children’s names to help them learn about letters.
Link to Important Items:
Some kids are very attached to particular toys, pets or TV shows. You can use these interests to build on their letter knowledge, as well. A child who loves super heroes might learn the letter S because it’s on Superman’s cape. A Pete the Cat fan might remember that Pete starts with P. Or a cat-lover will quickly connect the letter C with a cat.
Make it Personal
You might be noticing a theme in these suggestions: creating fun alphabet activities for kindergarten or preschool involves individualizing the work to the child. Beyond using names, there are several other ways to personalize letter learning.
Individualized Alphabet Book:
Staple 13 piece of paper together and write one letter of the alphabet on each page. (Add a construction paper or card stock cover for durability.) As you teach each letter, have the child think of an item that starts with that sound. Add that item to their alphabet book. When doing this with a very small group (or individual), I use a mix of stickers and my quick artwork. If you do this with several students at a time, you might let them draw their own illustration for each letter (but label it in tiny print so you remember what they drew.)
Children can read this book to practice letter names, stating the letter name, sound and their item (ex: A – /a/ – apple). You can also use this as a prompt for writing (“Pizza starts like Pete the Cat.”)
Sometimes these personal letter links are more powerful for a child than a pre-made alphabet chart. For some children this is because of their level of engagement in creating the book. For other children, it’s simply because you used items that are important and meaningful in their world.
Class Alphabet Book:
Similar to the individualized alphabet book, you can make an alphabet big book with your students. You might use a large sheet of construction paper for each letter. You can create the book one letter at a time, and let multiple children contribute an item for each letter. For instance, when you work on the letter Mm, your students might draw a mouse, a moon, mom, milk, etc.
Alternately, after you have introduced most letters, you could assign each child one letter to illustrate. Children will enjoy reading this book chorally as a shared reading activity, or reading independently at other times during the day.
Games make learning much more fun! And when kids are having fun, their brains are more receptive to learning. I’m a bit particular about the games I use to practice letter names. First, I don’t want to spend a lot of time prepping the games – I have too many other things to do in life! Second, I want to make sure the games are an efficient use of learning time – some games are fun, but with a few games, it’s easy to lose the focus on learning. Here are a few that strike the perfect balance between fun and educational:
Grab some index cards and write letters on the – two cards for each letter. You can choose to make both letters capital, both lowercase, or one of each, depending on what your students are ready for. Try about 6 pairs of cards (12 total) to start with. Arrange them upside down, and let kids take turns flipping over two cards to find matches. Remember to have them say the name of each letter as they turn them over.
Create a 3X3 or 4X4 grid using a table on a word processing app (or Google Doc.) Then, you can either write the letters on the boards yourself, or let your students do it. If you want students to write the letters, first have them point to the box where they will make the letter. Then model the letter formation on the index card you will use as the caller, and have them write the letter in the selected box. Be sure students choose random spots on the board, to keep the Lotto boards unique.
Pass out some kind of math counter for board markers and call out a letter from one of the index cards you made. Students cover the space with that letter, trying to complete a row of 3 (or 4) to win.
I Have… Who Has…?
This is a fun little game for a group (or the whole class.) It can be played in just a few minutes as part of a morning meeting or as a time filler during the day.
When considering commercial I Have… Who Has…? game versions that include the entire alphabet, such as the one below, you will want to wait until many kids know a lot of letter names. It might also be helpful to strategically hand certain children a card with a letter they have been practicing, in order to help them be successful in the game.
You can also use index cards to make your own version for a small group. Just write a letter on the bottom half of an index card, then the same letter on the top half of the next index card. Add a new letter to the bottom of that card and the top of the next card. Continue until you have used all the letters your group has been practicing.
Tic Tac Toe:
It’s really easy to turn a tic tac toe game into a letter practice game. This is a game for two players – it can be teacher vs. student or two students playing together.
First, play the normal version, to make sure students understand how to play. (And it’s great practice with the letters X and O.) Once students understand the game (and have learned X and O), mix up the letters they use. So you might be L and the student might be C. Continue the regular game as normal. Be sure to have the child name their letter every time they write it (and name your letter from time to time, as well!)
You can further adapt the game using numbers or sight words. Kids LOVE this game – and it only takes a minute to play. So it’s a fun way to practice many related skills at once.
Choose a few of these fun alphabet activities for kindergarten and try them with your little friends who don’t know many letter names. Regardless of which activities you choose, remember to have the students look at and say the letter names frequently, helping to commit them to long-term memory. With intentional and engaging instruction, your students will soon be on their way to literacy success!
Stanovich, Keith E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 22, 360-407.