Teaching the Alphabet

I have been asked several times how I teach the alphabet. I have an alphabet activities page, but haven’t actually outlined how I go about teaching it. The way I teach it is actually nothing new, but I will tell you what I do, along with a little history on how I came to this method.

Teaching the Alphabet

Allow me to go back in time for just a minute. Before I was a teacher, I worked in Kindergarten as an assistant for one year, and this Kinder class used a curriculum called Dekodiphukan (decode if you can), which was written by the same author who created Math Their Way. Before children were ever taught a single letter, they were taught sounds and blending. It was done through pictures instead of letters, and each picture had an action to go with it. The only one I can remember is the sound /ks/ represented by a picture of a boy breaking a stick. The only problem I could see with this program was that the children spent a large portion of the Kindergarten year learning to read pictographs instead of words. However, they did learn to blend sounds.

A few years after that, when I was teaching Pre-K, the school used Open Court Phonics. We did not have a commercially-bought curriculum in Pre-K (happily!), but we did have a set of the Open Court letter cards. The cards had the letters with a picture and little rhyme about each picture. There was also an action for each letter sound. I thought, this is perfect! This combines the idea from Dekodiphukan of teaching letter sounds with actions, but with the actual letter, not just a pictograph. A combination of letter-sound-picture-action to learn the alphabet. I have since seen several programs and alphabet card sets that teach this way. The beauty of this method is that you combine visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning by using an alphabet with pictures and actions.

I ended up making my own set of cards with pictures and actions, because the Open Court cards were confusing to the kids (at least in this area of the U. S.) The kids couldn’t understand why pig represented letter Ii, or why lamb represented Aa. They didn’t understand why a [hound] dog represented letter Hh instead of Dd.  When they looked at that card, they saw a dog and dog says /d/, not /h/. Then there was the card for /th/ with a picture of a “thong” which I hid in the closet to save ourselves from that conversation. Where I live a flip flop is a flip flop, and a thong is underwear with strings.

So, anyway, I ended up making my own set of letter-sound-picture-action cards, and I made the decision to use real photographs rather than cartoonish pictures. You can download my homemade set below.

When I introduce these letter cards, I start out with the first letters of the kids’ names. If I have kids named David, Peyton, Katie, and Zoe, then we start with letters Dd, Pp, Kk, and Zz. I have no particular order that I go in. There’s no letter of the week. I show them the card with the letter and picture, and I tell them the sound and show them the action all at once. I’ve heard of teachers teaching the letters first and then the sounds, but I don’t quite see the point in that. We learn it all at once: letter, picture, sound, and action. We also learn both uppercase and lowercase letters at the same time. Each day, we practice a few letters. I show a card, and we do the action while saying the sound, e.g. we jump for the letter Jj. I want to make it clear, children are never required to learn all of the letters, are never under any pressure, this is all about exposure. It’s all done in a playful way, and this activity of doing actions with letter sounds is no different from any other movement activity.

With the alphabet cards I made, I tried to use pictures that make sense for the sounds, as much as possible, but I’m sure there are some flaws. I have a dog picture for letter Dd, an alligator for Aa. For Cc, I used a cat, and for Kk, I used a kitten. The actions for both of those letter sounds are the same because the sounds are the same. That was to show children that those two letters (C and K) can make the same sound. The letters are the same, yet different while the pictures are the same, yet different. I chose a picture of an ax for letter Xx because the letter X with the /ks/ sound is most often at the end of a word. If you use a xylophone picture, that’s a Zz sound, and if you use an X-ray, you’re only saying the letter, not the sound. You could argue that I’m confusing the kids because ax begins with the /a/ sound, but no alphabet could be perfect when it comes to the letter Xx.

This is how I teach the alphabet through actions connected to letters, sounds, and pictures.

Download the Photo Alphabet Cards

Printable Alphabet Photo Cards

Download: Alphabet Cards Printable

These are the printable actions to go with the cards. You can print these in PDF or DOC (the DOC version can be printed on Avery 8163 labels). Stick these on the back of each alphabet card.

Download: Alphabet Actions

alphabet actions


  1. Andrea says

    This is awesome – thank you! I like giving my students actions or word associations to go along with our letter sounds – like P sounds like popcorn popping, so we bounce when we say “puh”, or rubbing our tummies with our hand in a circlular motion when we say “mmm” for “M”. It always amazes me how quickly just a simple action reinforces the concept – of course, now all my students will be rubbing their tummies and bouncing like popcorn kernals in Kindergarten when they review their letters “, but whatever! 😀

    • says

      Thank you, Andrea! I’m sure my kids will be doing the same in Kindergarten, LOL, but that’s okay! As long as they have fun and learn while play.

  2. says

    for sharing your cards! The first year that I taught Pre-K I would sing Dr. Jean’s Alphardy song with the kids turning a page from her free printable page with each letter. Most of the words are actions, and the kids and I were soon acting out each letter and sound (b for bounce – we bounce an imaginary ball, c for cut we use our fingers to “cut,” d for dig we pretend to dig). I find the kids learn letters and sounds very quickly this way.

    • says

      Thanks for commenting, Eilis! That is so true – they do learn letters and sounds quickly this way! I haven’t ever come across the printables from Dr. Jean’s site, but I’ll be sure to take a look.

  3. Jade McArthur says

    Thanks for sharing your cards, they are super! At my school we use the Jolly Phonics program. Same concept : cards with pictures, actions and sounds to make. Thought I would pass it along for you to look into in case you have not heard of it before. Material can be found on the web when you do a google search.

  4. Melissa says

    I love this! Do you have a ONE page- ABC Linking chart with these pictures? I would LOVE to have all these images on one page in addition to the flashcards! Could you share?

    • Mandy says

      I actually had the same exact question. If you get around to creating one, I would love a copy! Thanks for all of your hard work!

  5. kathy says

    Thanks for sharing your cards. Your site is such a great source! I’ve been using something called “Animal Alphabet” which uses a song, letter cards, and movements but I’m ready to try something new :)

  6. janet says

    These are wonderful, I cannot wait to use these this fall, or should I say August 10. Thanks for all you do:)

  7. says

    These are really great. I teach ESL and I’m always looking for ways to teach the alphabet. Our current crop of kindergarteners are just starting short vowels, so I’ll keep this in my tool box for next year.

    I’ve gotten many good ideas for your blog. Thanks for sharing. :)

  8. Becky says

    Thank you so much for sharing all your cute ideas. I find that children learn the letters much faster when you have a little song to go along with it. I love to hear them while they are playing singing the songs with their friends. I am now going to put an action with it and watch! It’s a great idea to use all modes of teaching….We just dont know what will catch their eye! Love IT! I am excited to try it..Becky

  9. Kim Brause says

    Love it! I’m of the same mindset and use a similar procedure (although I’ve continued to use the Open Court cards & my kids have encountered the same issues with regard to sound-picture issues). Next year, I’ll definitely use your cards instead! One more thing I do…
    To the TUNE only of the ABC song, I point to each alphabet card.
    First, I point to the pic of the Lamb, as I sing its name, then to capital and lower case letter separately as I make the letter SOUND, then sweep under both letters as a say letter name. It works perfectly with the alphabet TUNE. Ex: “Lamb, lamb, /a/ /a/, A…Basketball, basketball, /b/ /b/, B,” and so on until I reach Z, all to that background tune of the ABC song.

  10. LaQuetha says

    Thanks so much for sharing. As I plan for my 2 year of teaching it is great to learn from other teachers who have been teaching a lot longer than me. I can’t wait to use the cards.

  11. Kate Traub says

    Thanks for the new picture/ABC cards. I’m going to use them with the actions. I don’t always have access to a colored printer, though. Any time you can give the option of a B&W sketch to accompany the photos, I’d definitely take advantage of it. I know you already offer that option on several of the drawings. In my dream teaching world, a choice of drawing versus photo would be great!
    So appreciate all of the effort you put into helping us teach our kids.

    • says

      Thank you, Kate! I will certainly consider that for the alphabet cards, but making the printables is so time consuming that I can’t imagine having to make both color and black & white versions of everything. Colored ink is one of those things I tend to spend my own money on. Of course, I know that might not be possible for everyone, but I think the majority of teachers would prefer materials in color. Anyway, I always appreciate receiving feedback!

  12. Karin says

    Dear Karen,

    Your ideas are always so wonderful! I’m so glad to come across this article– I’ve been working with letters in context (example, we discovered D this week because it became December) and I feel that they’re learning quickly, but I’m having difficulty figuring out how to integrate those weird letters that we don’t use so much (X and Z don’t make too many appearances…). You mentioned a Part 2 in the making– have you posted that yet?


  13. Suzie says

    Thanks so much for sharing these cards. I’ve been hunting for something to use to help my friend’s daughter. She just turned 4 and unfortunately free pre-school is not available on our island. I used to live on the mainland and teach Sunday school. I offered to help my friend’s daughter before I thought it out much. I’ll be looking to your site a lot for help in the upcoming months.

  14. Andrea says

    Thanks for sharing this! I am trying to build up a stash of materials and this helps so much! I got here because I was looking for the Open Court cards and after reading your post I wanted to offer some input about them. The first time I saw the OC cards I was a bit confused, too (I didn’t even know about thongs and the blends cards!) but I now understand that you don’t want to teach the kids these sounds as beginning sounds because, in their learning, that will get tricky and there will be all sorts of exceptions. But the OC way is just teaching them proper pronunciation of the sounds by using words that actually have the right sounds. So, while “pig” isn’t used for “p”, it REALLY helps the kids identify and correctly say the short “i” sound rather than having them trying to imitate the variations in the beginning sounds that they hear in every day words.
    Thanks again for sharing these. Your hard work is SOOOO appreciated!

  15. says

    thanks so much for this! I’m a young ESL teacher with little experience in teaching kids from come complete scratch. This has been HUGELY helpful!

  16. Karen says

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge, talents, and work. I appreciate it more than you know. I am desperately trying to teach my child his abc’s and sounds before kindergarten and this, I’m sure will help immensely. Thanks again.

  17. Kimberly says


    I’ve been looking for ways to help two of my student learn to recognize their letters. I came upon your ideas for movements for each letter. I would love to try it, but I can’t get the document to pull up. Is there a way I can still get access to your idea? Please let me know how I can get it. I think it would benefit my children. Thank you

  18. terri says

    this is great! I’ve been searching and searching for something that combines letter sounds with pictures and actions. these will be great in my Montessori preschool! Thank you for all your hard work.

  19. Sekhar says

    I was wondering about the free alphabet games and searched different websites, but I found this as awsome, my daughter love it, enjoy it, every day when she open. I would like to say innumerable thank for setting this open program to all.

  20. Mamm-o says

    I had to think about it for a minute, but in Monteal, Canada in the 60s we called flip flops “thongs” Thought I’d put your mind at ease…those crazy Canadian,s eh?

  21. Moundteacher says

    I was thinking about thongs and I remember when I was young we called our flip-flops things. I grew up in western Pa. and later moved to Ohio when I was 8 years old. So it’s not just the Canadians! I also wanted to say this is the first site I have seen that mentions Open Court Wall cards and pairing letters, sounds, and motions like that program used to do. What I wouldn’t give for a set of those wall cards!

  22. Julie says

    Thanks so much for explaining your method and sharing the cards with us! I cracked up at the “thong” part – I agree with you! Where on earth…. :)

  23. Jennifer says

    My daughter is in prek. There are only 13 kids in her class. They split them into two groups when it comes to learning, which is great. I have for two years before she started school started introducing her to flash cards. She was not getting it. When she started school she only knew two letters of the alphabet. She just had her second assessment and knows only 5 upper case letters. So I’m going to attempt to try your way hoping she starts retaining them.Thanks for your help.

    • says

      I would say throw away the flash cards, but you could probably repurpose them into a game. Perhaps a bingo style game, or use them to match magnetic letters to the cards. However, old fashioned “flash” card learning doesn’t work. Teach her the letters in her name first. Say them as you write them, point them out on a sign or cereal box: “Hey, there’s a letter E like you have in your name.” Make a game of it: “Wow, this box has a letter that’s in your name. Do you see it?” Stick with meaningful, fun activities. Not flash cards or worksheets.

  24. Susan Rubin says

    Thank you for the alphabet cards. They work well with my non English speakers and limited English speakers. Have you considered making a letter chart with the pictures?

  25. Pam Hainswoth says

    Thanks so much, Karen. I used to teach ESL, but am now trying to help my grandson learn his letters. I appreciate your picture cards and especially the action cards to go with them! Pam – Australia

  26. Deborah Williams says

    Thanks so much. I read the article about not teaching letter of the week and I found it very interesting. I wanted some ideas on what to use for teaching the letters/sounds in context. Your cards, etc. are great!!! Thanks again, Deborah

  27. hajera says

    Hi, Karen,
    Your idea on teaching alphabet is really wonderful and smart! I hope these amazing cards will help me a lot.
    Thank you a lot for sharing your beautiful ideas with us.
    Looking forward to your great post.

  28. Darlene says

    Thank you so much for these cards. I especially love the movements associated with the letters. I also think it’s great that you show upper and lower case at the same time. After all, children encounter both every day!

    I really appreciate how you make these available for download immediately.

  29. Munkhchimeg Purevsuren says

    I really enjoy your website. thank you for sharing your wonderful ideas. I am working with disability children in Mongolia. thank you very much

  30. Susan Romasco says

    Thanks for the easy to use ideas and free print worksheets. Especially the black line only. Budgets are tight for colored ink use! By the way. Thongs are flip flops in New England!

  31. Line says

    Great Karen! Thank you for maintaining this site so full of great ideas!
    Yes, movements helps learning.
    There is a great CD I bought that goes through the letters and the sounds associated with movements. It is from Heidi, from Heidi’s Songs. I went to one of here workshop and she is terrific, very good material.

  32. Amy says

    This set is awesome!!! I love the real pictures and actions for all students but especially kids whose first language is not English. Every time I browse your website I find more fabulous, FREE resources! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

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