As you may have guessed, I am not fond of using flash cards in preschool, but I do think preschoolers are ready and capable of mastering letter recognition. The key for us as preschool teachers is to use playful, engaging activities that preschoolers want to participate in and, in the process, get exposed and engaged in learning their letters. The best to answer the question “How to teach letter recognition to preschoolers?” is to look at who you are teaching and match that child or that group’s needs best you can. That is why I approach teaching preschool with a toolbox mentality and want to offer you as many teaching tools and strategies as possible. When we have a wide range of teaching tools, we can better meet the specific needs of our students instead of trying to force our preschoolers into one rigid approach. Let’s fill up our toolbox today with how to teach letter recognition strategies! If you want even more check out my book, Everyday Preschool!
What’s The Best Way To Teach Letter Recognition To Preschoolers?
Below you will find general tips and activity ideas for how to teach letter recognition to preschoolers. You will notice immediately that most of these activities are free choice, small group, and other independent activities. This is not a mistake. Most of the learning in your classroom and mine should be done in this way. Whole group time is not the hallmark of instruction in preschool, which is why we must engage with our students as they play and learn during free choice, aka center time. This is also when I invite one or two students to engage with me for some targeted learning for small group time. I will use this time to differentiate materials to target specific learning goals, depending on the student.
Focus on Meaningful Letters First
It’s no surprise that the first letters most preschoolers learn are letters in their first names. It’s not just because they see it so often; it’s because it’s meaningful. What word is more meaningful than your name? None. That is why when we are working on letter recognition, we need to focus on the letters in our students’ names. Here are some great letter recognition activities that use names.
Super Simple Name Puzzles
Name Letter Hunt – printable preschool activity.
Magnetic Name Puzzles
Space Name Activity
Build Your Name
Roll & Spell Your Name Game
Use Letters As Manipulatives
Before children show real interest in learning the names of letters, include them in play and other everyday preschool activities. Soon your students will engage more purposefully with the letters when they are ready.
Letter Sticker Walls
Color Sort with Letters
Color Matching with Letters
Explore Letters on your lightable.
Painting with Letter Cookie Cutters
Stamping with letter stamps
Use letter cookie cutters with playdough
Use letters in pretend play too!
Letter Bakery Playdough Play
How to Teach Letter Recognition – Make it A Game for Free Choice or Small Group
I use games constantly for small group time. This is one of the most important parts of how to teach letter recognition because this is when you can focus on your specific student’s letter recognition abilities and build their skills.
Letter Fishing Game – trust me, this game is sturdy, I made it almost 15 years ago, and I used it yesterday in my class.
Letter Discovery Bottle – what I love about this activity is I can differentiate it on the fly. I can ask a child to look for their first initial all the way up to asking a child to find the letter that makes the first sound in “ball.”
Feed The Koala Letter Recognition Game – this is a free printable game that you MUST download. It was one of the best games I used in PreK all last year!
Alphabet Soup – When I taught 3-year-olds, this was the favorite. My older students like it too but not nearly as much as the 2-3-year-olds!
Letter Hunts – who doesn’t love a good scavenger hunt? Preschoolers love these letter-recognition games.
This smaller scale letter hunt is great for a small group.
Move and Groove Alphabet Game – in a classroom, I use laminated letter cards instead of making the letters with tape but the game and the fun the children have is the same!
Letter Bingo – I made this for virtual school but use it for small group now.
Letter Pop – do I even have to tell you how much kids love popping bubble wrap? So you know this is always fun!
Make It Creative When You Teach Letter Recognition
Letter recognition goes hands-on! Look at her joy. For some of your students, nothing beats creating something for them to take home. We all have those kiddos who are always creating something; these simple ideas are for them! They will love making letters with craft supplies. Use letters for creative activities too. I use most of these crafts and art activities during free choice, but you can also use them for group craft time if you have one in your classroom.
Make ( a little) Time for Explicit Group Instruction To Teach The Alphabet
Is it all free play? No, children need both absolute free play, playful, independent activities ( like most on this list), and some adult-directed instruction. In my class, we do introduce a new letter sound every week while also doing ample playful whole alphabet letter recognition activities and targeted ones ( like name-focused ones). In addition to that, I used the following activities to introduce letter formation and review letter sounds which also helps practice letter recognition.
Letter Race– I use this with upper and lowercase letters or just with multiple letters. The children love seeing which letter will win and don’t even know they are learning as we play!
Roll & Write – this has been an incredibly successful activity for my students love the years, and they have all been capable of participating without frustration. I use it once per week.
One Little Letter Went Out To Play – Sometimes I use random letters, but often I use letters we have already introduced with our letter sounds activities and or roll & write, so I am building on my student’s prior knowledge.
Missing Letter – Like One Little Letter Went Out To Play, sometimes I use this letter recognition game with random letters, but more often, I use it for review. Choosing 3-4 letters, we have already introduced explicitly with our weekly activities and 2-3 that we haven’t.
Printable Tools for Teaching Letter Recognition to Preschoolers
The bulk of learning at preschool should be child lead, using as emergent a curriculum as possible. That doesn’t mean you can ever use tools like clip cards or printable games. I use them in my Prek class all the time; the trick is knowing how to use printable materials effectively. The ideal place is with you as a small group activity, and then when children know how to use them, they can be put at your literacy center during free choice. This lets you assess if the materials are a good fit for your students and allows you to model how to use them before expecting your students to engage with them independently. Check out this bundle and more preschool printables here.