How We Teach Alphabetizing
“Why do I have to learn alphabetizing? I’ll never use it!”
Kids don’t always understand why they have to learn the skills we teach them, and alphabetizing might seem like one of those skills to them.
Why Teach Alphabetizing?
Contrary to what your child may think, alphabetizing is an essential skill that will help students in many day-to-day tasks both at home and at school.
Think of the part alphabetized lists play in your daily life, from phone books, directories, and recipe books to files in a filing cabinet and music playlists arranged by the artist’s last name. Knowing how to alphabetize will make it easier for children to locate and use commonly sought information.
The skill is also important when it comes to schoolwork, as children must be able to alphabetize in order to do their research effectively. Library skills are crucial to any child, and knowing how to find books listed by the authors’ last names or to look up entries in a textbook glossary or book index will make a child’s job that much easier.
Four Basic Stages of Alphabetizing
There are generally four stages that students go through when learning to alphabetize. Here are the stages, along with tips for each stage.
Stage 1: Begin with the alphabet
Letter tiles make it easy to learn how to alphabetize to the first letter. (If you don’t have letter tiles, you can use Scrabble tiles or squares of paper instead.) Lay out tiles A to Z in random order. One by one, show your child how to place them in alphabetical order, being sure to say the name of each letter out loud as you move it into place. Then have your child repeat each letter name.
The following tips can help reinforce Stage 1 alphabetizing skills.
- Work with your child to put the letter tiles in order at the beginning of each spelling or reading lesson.
- Sing the alphabet song together.
- Model for your child how to start from different points in the alphabet. For example, lay out the tiles through the letter M, then have him start the alphabet song from L and finish alphabetizing the tiles.
- Hand your child the letter tiles in random order. Teach him that M and N are in the middle of the alphabet, so that when he gets those tiles he knows he should set them in the middle. As you give the child each tile, he should decide if it is in the first half or the second half of the alphabet.
- Ask questions such as “What letter comes after __?” and “Is H in the first half of the alphabet or the last half of the alphabet?”
Stage 2: Teach How to Alphabetize Words
Once a child has mastered putting the letters in alphabetical order, teach him that words can be alphabetized, too.
- Explain that we look at the first letter of a word to alphabetize it.
- Write several words on index cards, each word beginning with a different letter.
- Have your child line up the cards in alphabetical order.
- Use the following words: block, cash, doll, fox, glad, kit, melt, pup, rest, sand, trunk, wish.
Stage 3: Teach How to Alphabetize to the Second and Third Letters
In real-world applications, your student will come across multiple items that start with the same letter (as in children’s authors Sendak, Seuss, and Silverstein). So the next stage is to look to the second or third letter to alphabetize them correctly.
- Write the following words on index cards: bear, bus, bike, band.
- Show your child that all the words start with B, so you must alphabetize by the second letter. Have her identify the second letter and alphabetize the words: band, bear, bike, bus.
- Now add two more index cards with the following words: block, black.
- Show your child that all six words begin with B, but in addition we now have two words with the same second letter. Explain that in this case, we must look to the second and third letter to alphabetize those words.
- Have your child identify the second and third letters and alphabetize all six words: band, bear, bike, black, block, bus.
Stage 3 is a great time to show your child how useful these new alphabetizing skills are! Try implementing a few of these practical applications:
- Take your child to the library to find his favorite books.
- Look up your neighbor’s name in the phone book.
- Dictate several categories for your child to look up in the Yellow Pages: plumbers, restaurants, electricians, veterinarians.
- Find a book with a glossary or index at the end. Call out several words for your child to locate.
- If you have more than one child—or even a group of your child’s friends—have them line up in alphabetical order according to their first or last names.
Stage 4: Teach Common Rules for Advanced Alphabetizing
This stage is for more advanced students who are consistently able to alphabetize words to the second and third letter. Your child will learn what to do with last names such as McAfee, Macauley, and O’Kearney; book titles that start with The; and numbers.
Here are Common Rules for Advanced Alphabetizing that you can download and print.
Remember, alphabetizing is an important skill, but it doesn’t have to be a boring one. With these tips, your child will be alphabetizing like a pro in no time!
Have you discovered a fun way to practice the different stages of alphabetizing? Share in the comments below and I’ll add it to our readers’ tips box!
Readers’ Tips for Teaching Alphabetizing
- Pay them to alphabetize something, like DVDs or books. And be sure to have them follow all the rules that are appropriate for the alphabetizing stage they’re at. (suggested by Robin W. via Facebook)
- Use large ABC cards. Lay them out across the floor. Have your child walk along and say the letters. After awhile, have your child hide while you remove one or more cards. Have the child put the letters where they belong. Mix all the cards up and have him put them all in ABC order. Let him look at an alphabet strip if needed. (suggested by Nancy B. via Facebook)
- Use a children’s dictionary that has the alphabet down the side of every page that kids can refer to it as they are looking up a word. (suggested by Jenny H., AALP staff)
- Find a printable file folder game like this one. (suggested by Tanisha, via Facebook)
- Say a letter and have your child select the letter that comes before and/or after it. Limit the number of letters that you practice i each session to reduce frustration and make the game more fun! (suggested by J. via blog comment)
- Have your kids look up new words in the dictionary to practice their alphabetizing skills. (suggested by Jessica B. via blog comment)
- On note cards write the alphabet in groups of three letters (except the M and N). The cards should look like this: ABC DEF GHI JKL MN OPQ RST UVW XYZ. Place the MN card on the table. Then have your kids place the other cards either before or after the middle letters. Timing the students makes a game of learning the order of the letters. With practice children get it done in less than a minute. Be sure to shuffle the cards. (suggested by Sharon H. via blog comment)
- Use a children’s dictionary. When your child asks what something means, get out the dictionary. Talk through how you know where to find what you’re looking for. (Suggested by Kelly via blog comment)