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How to Teach Alphabetizing

Welcome to our mini teaching guide on alphabetizing!

Alphabetizing is an essential literacy skill, and the resources in this post will make it easy for you to teach it. Let’s dig in!

Why Teach Alphabetizing?

recipe box with alphabetical dividers

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.

Here are some other common uses of alphabetized lists:

  • Finding a song on your music 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

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

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.

ABC Caterpillar Download

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

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

Sort the Seeds

Play “Sort the Seeds”

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

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.

Who's Coming to My Party?

Play “Who’s Coming to My Party?”

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

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.

Common Rules for Advanced Alphabetizing

Download the Common Rules for Advanced Alphabetizing

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!

how to teach alphabetizing pinterest graphic
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Leave a Comment

joanna

says:

Great information. Thanks!

Laura

says:

I appreciate this blog, it’s like having an extra free resource.

Shannon

says:

I will be starting to teach spelling this coming year. Very helpful.

Stacie

says:

So excited for this

Amanda B

says:

Great info! Can’t wait to implement it into our lessons!! Thanks! :)

Kim R

says:

Thanks for all your wonderful resources and continuing education for parents and teachers. Your ideas and advice have changed how I teach.

Kayla

says:

One question: When is a good time (age or grade) to start teaching this?

This has so many good ideas. Thank you for the downloadable rules too. I didn’t know some of those and it is great to have resources.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Kayla,
Stage 1 fits in well with beginning spelling instruction, as in All About Spelling 1. Since we recommend beginning spelling after the student has completed All About Reading 1, or the equivalent reading level, that would mean starting alphabetizing would start around 6 to 7 years old for many kids. However, a student that starts reading later would start alphabetizing later.

I know this isn’t a straight answer, but I hope it helps.

Anjali

says:

Thank you for all the wonderful resources made available to the parents. It helps to enrich and teach kids in much more engaging and simpler way. Ian definitely going to try this one.

Karen

says:

I like to incorporate alphabetizing naturally by having my child look up a few of his spelling or vocabulary words in a children’s dictionary each week. It doesn’t take a lot of time and is not overwhelming, but is just enough to make him think about the concepts.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Karen,
Great idea for a natural approach. Thanks for the idea.

Amanda

says:

Thank you for this!! It’s so helpful to have these ideas and instructions!

Kathleen

says:

Thanks for this post!

Ida

says:

Such a great idea! I love the AAS manipulatives and I wish that I had known about this program before my children learned alphabetization. Even at middle school age, we find the program very helpful!

Byers mom

says:

Thanks for the article- super helpful for teaching my kids!

Virginia

says:

Thanks for the wonderful tip!

Alysia Boland

says:

This is a great post! So helpful!

Wanda

says:

Very Interesting. I will definitely be trying this.

Samantha H

says:

Everything is better when I take time to make it fun!! Thanks for the suggestions!

Tina

says:

Thanks for the great post. I didn’t realize how important alphabetizing was until I asked my 8 year old to look something up in the glossary…she couldn’t do it! Now I have some tricks to help teach her to do it.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Tina,
Yes, things like glossaries, indexes, and dictionaries assume the user knows all the advanced alphabetizing rules.

Ashley

says:

Very helpful! Thanks for this post.

Jennifer

says:

Thank you for your wonderful, fun ideas.

Ginette

says:

Thanks-I never thought of Stage 4 alphebetizing. I’ll be using your suggestions!

Victoria

says:

Just added my 5/6 child to our homeschooling day…it was our first day using AAR and when her Dad got home she told him she “was reading!!!” ;) Grateful for an easy to use program with tons of creative ideas!
Thank you for doing the extra work for me!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Victoria,
How exciting! Have lots of fun with your new reader! :D

Judy

says:

Thank you, this is very helpful!

JOY

says:

Is alphabetizing included in any of the AAR or AAS levels/lessons? Or are you writing that this needs to be worked on when it can be fit in? Is there a certain age you would say the different stages of alphabetizing should be mastered? Thanks in advance for the answers! Love AAR!!!!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Joy,
All About Spelling covers alphabetizing here and there throughout the levels, although it doesn’t get into the advanced rules of alphabetizing. This blog post simply gives ideas on how to teach it if you aren’t using AAS, and ideas on how to expand upon what AAS teaches.

I estimate that most children would be ready to learn the advanced alphabetizing rules by AAS 5, or even earlier.

Kimberly

says:

I am so thrilled that I finally found this program. Both of my children will benefit it huge ways from it. I’m excited to start using it.

Mary Taylor

says:

We have been struggling here lately with alphabetizing so this comes at just the perfect time for me!!

Lydia

says:

Thanks for this post…

Becki

says:

Perfect timing, we were just getting to tackle alphabetizing!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

I love when our blog posts are timely for someone! Have fun alphabetizing, Becki!

emily

says:

I never really thought about the importance of alphabetizing, thanks for this.

Lindsay S

says:

I have thought about having my oldest (5.5) alphabetize our collections of books. She lives to organize. The thing is, she’d have to do it daily, as our third (2) likes to pull multiple books off the shelf and leave them all over the house.
I am thankful our kids love books though.

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