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Help Your Students Master ABC Order - Tips from a Special Educator

Updated: Dec 14, 2018

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Do your students struggle with ABC order (arranging words in alphabetical order)? It may seem like a straightforward concept but it can actually be quite challenging for some students. Here are a few simple tips to help students master ABC order. These may seem pretty obvious if you just skim them but I challenge you read them carefully and you may just learn something new! 

1. Start small - to introduce the concept start small with only two words that start with different letters (i.e. like, said). Once students understand the basic concept you can move on to three and four words to order. Make sure all your words start with different letters (i.e. like, said, ball, down) until students master the concept. Then the next step would be to compare two words that start with the same letter (i.e. like, look) where you teach students to look at the next letter in the word to determine which one comes first. Continue by adding three or four words, some that start with the same letter and some that do not (i.e. like, look, down, said). Once students begin to grasp the concept, you can move on to comparing more words.

2. Include a LOWERCASE alphabet for students to reference while they work - it is really important for your visual learners to have an alphabet in front of them to look at while they work. When I first started teaching my own children how to do ABC order I gave them an uppercase alphabet to reference. My daughter would always write her words with all capital letters and I kept getting after her to use lowercase since you're not supposed to capitalize every letter of a word. Then I realized I was giving her an uppercase alphabet to reference so why would I expect her to use lowercase letters? So, I suggest using a lowercase alphabet if you want your students to write their words using lowercase letters. It is also important to match the alphabet case to that of the written words. It also makes sense to use a lowercase alphabet if the words students are arranging are written in lowercase letters (which I assume most are) as to not cause any confusion.

3. Teach them how to use the alphabet while they work - for students who really struggle with ABC order, have them go through each letter of the alphabet crossing out letters as they go. So for example, they start with the letter A and ask, "Do any of my words start with the letter A?" If the answer is no they cross out the letter A and move on to the letter B. If the answer is yes, they write that word down (assuming no other words start with A) and cross out the A and move on to B. Continue going through the entire alphabet until all words have been put in the correct order. Now where this gets a little tricky is with words that  start with the same letter and you have to move on to the second letter in each word and start over with the alphabet. In this case I would have students use two different colored pencils to cross out the letters. Tell them to lightly cross out the letters so that if they have to go back through the alphabet a second time they can still read the alphabet. Then they can use a different color to cross letters out the second time through. Each time they have to go back through the alphabet have them use a different color or if that is too confusing just give them a new copy of the alphabet to use each time.

Let's try it! In the example below, we begin by crossing out letters using a red colored pencil until we get to the words "like" and "let". Since both words start with the letter "L" we have to look at the next letter in each word (I suggest circling these letters to help students remember which letters they're comparing). Since we have to start at the beginning of the alphabet again to determine which word comes first (like or let), we will use a different color (blue) and cross out letters until we get to the letter "E" in the word "let". Once we figure out that "let" comes next in our ABC order we can also conclude that "like" follows "let". If we had more than one word left to order, we would continue on using our red colored pencil once again to cross off letters beginning at "L" and continue working through our list.

4. Write the words on cards (or popsicle sticks) so students can physically arrange them - being able to physically rearrange words into alphabetical order is extremely important for several reasons. First, it makes the activity hands-on which is great for kinesthetic learners. Second, it cuts down on the frustration of having to erase and rewrite words if a student missed a letter along the way causing all their words to be out of order! I suggest having your student write out the words you want them to order (such as a few of their spelling words) on small cards, pieces of paper or popsicle sticks. Then have them arrange the words in ABC order. Once they have the correct order they can glue the words in place or rewrite them for additional spelling practice.

5. Make it fun - ABC order does not have to be a daunting task! Simply supplying the right tools (i.e. an alphabet, words on cards, etc.) can greatly increase the enjoyment of it. However, you don't have to stop there! Use engaging worksheets like these adorable and wacky animals for an added element of fun. Bonus! These are completely editable so you can use them with any word list! 

Even though these tips may seem pretty simple, I hope you were able to glean some new ideas to implement with your students. Let me know in the comments below which one(s) you plan to try or if there are other strategies you have found success with in your classroom. Thanks for stopping by and don't forget to enter the January giveaway if you haven't already!

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