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How to Teach Alphabetizing

Welcome to our mini teaching guide on alphabetizing!

Why Teach Alphabetizing?

Even with modern technology, alphabetizing is used in many areas of our lives. In fact, you’ve probably used your alphabetizing skills this past week without even realizing it. Maybe you looked up a friend’s phone number in your contact list, or maybe you’ve looked something up in a book index.

recipe box with alphabetical dividers

Here are some other common uses of alphabetized lists:

  • Finding a song on a playlist arranged by artist’s last name
  • Locating a recipe in a recipe box
  • Filing a document in a cabinet
  • Using a map for public transportation
  • Locating a store by using the mall directory
  • Looking up information in a textbook glossary
  • Finding a book on a library shelf
  • And MANY more!

As you can see, alphabetizing is an essential literacy skill, and the resources in this post will make it easy for you to help your child master this important skill.

Let’s dig in!

Four Stages of Alphabetizing

Children go through four stages when learning to alphabetize.

the 4 stages of alphabetizing chart

Here are hands-on activities and tips for each stage.

Stage 1: Put Letters in Order

3-page spread of ABC Caterpillar activity download

At this beginning stage, kids learn to arrange letters in A to Z order. You can use letter tiles, Scrabble tiles, or squares of paper, or you can download our free ABC Caterpillar activity.

Play with Our Colorful Caterpillar

This adorable hands-on activity promotes letter recognition and builds pre-reading skills. And as an added bonus, you can use the letter cutouts from this activity for some of the additional activities described in the tips below!

Follow these tips to 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.
  • Demonstrate how to start from different points in the alphabet. For example, lay out letter tiles A through M, and then have your child start the alphabet song from L and finish alphabetizing tiles N through Z.
  • 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 hand your 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 P?” and “Is H in the first half of the alphabet or the second half of the alphabet?”

Stage 2: Alphabetize to the First Letter

3-page spread of Sort the Seeds activity download

Play “Sort the Seeds”

Once a child has mastered putting the letters in alphabetical order, teach him that words can be alphabetized, too.

Sorting the seed packets in this hands-on activity from All About Reading Level 3 is a fun (and colorful!) way to practice alphabetizing words according to the first letter.

Stage 3: Alphabetize to the Second and Third Letters

3-page spread of Who's Coming to My Party activity download

Play “Who’s Coming to My Party?”

In real-world applications, your child will come across multiple items that start with the same letter (for example, the names of children’s authors Sendak, Seuss, and Silverstein). The next step is to look at the second or third letter to alphabetize them correctly.

Alphabetizing to the second and third letters can be tricky—but not when you can play “Who’s Coming to My Party?” from AAR Level 4. This engaging activity will make learning this skill seem more like a party than a lesson!

Stage 4: Teach Common Rules for Advanced Alphabetizing

2-page spread of Common Rules for Alphabetizing Quick Guide

Download the Common Rules for Advanced Alphabetizing

When your child is more advanced and is consistently able to alphabetize words to the second and third letter, you’ve reached the fourth stage of alphabetizing. Now 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.

Although alphabetizing is more difficult at this level, this handy quick guide takes all the guesswork out of applying more advanced alphabetizing skills.

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!

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Sherry Rossiter

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Hi, I just discovered your blog via yahoo. Your post is truly pertinent to my life right now, and I’m really delighted I found your website.

Robin

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I’m glad you found our website too, Sherry!

Jade

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Thank you for sharing so many great resources.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Jade!

Kristal

says:

These are such wonderful resources. My kids are really enjoying the process of learning to read and spell. Thank you All About Learning Press!

Thalia H

says:

This is a fabulous way of being able to apply those skills in recognizing letters and also being able to sequence them. Such a good way to work on processing and working memory skills! Thanks for the amazing blog and resources! You’re amazing in what you do.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Thalia!

Liz

says:

Love all the ideas. I have not focused on alphabetizing and these ideas will help.

Shelby

says:

Oh, thank you! This is one thing I want to practice this summer with the kids! They are great at alphabetizing letters, but moving that to real life has proved challenging.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this will help you this summer, Shelby!

Kelsey Huber

says:

This is fantastic! Thank you for the resources. We just moved and alphabetizing came up when we were unpacking books. My oldest will have fun organizing her shelves after learning this!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Kelsey.

Kelly Levesque

says:

Thank you for the tips! My 11 year old struggles when the words are longer ones.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Kelly! I hope these help, but if you need additional ideas, let us know.

Stephanie

says:

I love this! Thank you. I’m definitely going to do this with my 2 girls this summer.

Robin E.

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You’re welcome, Stephanie!

Sarah Shelbourn

says:

Love this!

Jenn Santa

says:

What a great idea to use a recipe box to start teaching this! Learning to alphabetize is one of our summer goals.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

What a great summer goal, Jenn! I hope you find lots of fun ways to work on this.

Sheila

says:

This sounds like fun and something we can work on together this summer! Thanks for the tips!

Heather

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Wow, I had no idea you had all these extra resources and a blog. We’ve been using All about spelling level 1 this year and I’m loving it. So thorough! I’m thinking of adding the All About Reading Curriculum next year for my second child.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Oh, yes! We have lots and lots of resources on the blog, Heather.

I’m pleased to hear that All About Spelling is working out so well for you this year. Let me know if you have questions about placement or anything else for All About Reading.

Frosta karnes

says:

I absolutely love this idea and can’t wait to work on it with my kids.

Elizabeth H.

says:

Great printables for this. I even learned something with the advanced rules #6

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was able to teach you something new, Elizabeth!

Natalia

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This is great. I’m going to use this during the summer when my 7 year old nephew is with me during the days.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful, Natalia! I hope this provides a fun summer activity for you and your nephew!

Beth

says:

These are great tips! Everything I have seen from All About Learning makes skill building so fun for my child!

Charity

says:

I will be using these. I did not know your website had these. Thanks for these

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Charity. Just so you know, our website has lots and lots of fun, downloadable, learning activities and games.

Meredith

says:

Thank you for these tips! Such a useful skill.

Zorah F

says:

I have been teaching my kids how to alphabetize words but there is nothing like having them apply this skill in actual practical settings. I might have them alphabetize their well-loved picture books. Might be a fun activity to do together as we go through them and arranging them in shelves.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sounds like a great activity, Zorah!

Stacey Mitchell

says:

This is such a useful skill to learn!

Sarah Aldrich

says:

I love alphabetizing! I can’t wait to teach my kids how to do it!

Anne H.

says:

This is such an important skill. My 10 year old still has trouble with this. Looking forward to utilizing the stage 3 and 4 games.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I hope you find these activities helpful as you work on this skill with your child, Anne. If you have questions or find you need additional help, just let us know.

Sarah VonFange

says:

I love all the extra tips that are given on this site.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Sarah. Glad they are helpful to you.

JoAnna

says:

I love the tips and trick offered here to further add to what I already do with my son with alphabetizing

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad you like the tips here, JoAnna, and hope they will be helpful for your son.

Katelyn

says:

I am in love with alphabetizing and can hardly wait until my kids are old enough to learn this skill. Then I can finally restore and KEEP order in my movies and books!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

This made me laugh, Katelyn! I completely understand! I was so excited when my first child was old enough to be able to take over keeping things alphabetized and have enjoyed teaching and passing on the chore to each child as they get old enough.

Alicia

says:

This post is really helpful, breaking things down into practical steps. Thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this is helpful, Alicia! Thank you.

Lauren Lambert

says:

I love alphabetizing! I love these ideas for teaching this skill in steps! It most definitely is a needed skill even though paper/book dictionaries are not as common with searching on computers. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Lauren,
I’m glad these tips will be helpful for you in teaching alphabetizing! And it is still a needful skill in the modern age.

Megan

says:

I love this! I’ve been working on basic alphabetizing with my class this year and this will really help!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this will be helpful for your class, Megan!

Bobbie-Jo S.

says:

Thank you for this information! I am new to homeschooling this year and I find these notes of information so valuable and helpful. We have started working on alphabetizing but this will certainly help. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Bobbie-Jo! I’m glad this will be helpful for your as you start working on alphabetizing.

Lauren Norris

says:

Thank you for sharing the most helpful resources! We are in the early stages of homeschooling and your resources have been so vital to our growth!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful to hear, Lauren. It’s great that the resources here can be helpful for you!