ESL Activity of the month: A,B,C spelling for young learners

If you can’t spell in English, then you is a dimwit. Don’t worry, that’s not what I tell my students, although sometimes I’m tempted to, especially when they’ve been at our academy as long as I have, over 10 years, and still can’t spell ‘disappear’.

I have this great system / routine / activity for teaching and testing young learners on how to spell properly, or at least have a bash at it.


Ouch…that is mean spelling… Photo by elfsternberg

What do you need to do?

I’m all for non-prep activities, but this one needs a little thinking ahead, unless you just download my ebeam alphabet activity here.

Teaching the alphabet

Here’s my step-by-step plan on how to teach the alphabet.

  • Tell your class you are going to open their minds.
  • Watch them look blankly at you, after all, they should be between 6 and 9 and not actually understand you yet.
  • Elicit what the alphabet is, and maybe do a funny voiced version of a,b,c. Little kids love funny voices, even more than teachers love Fridays.
  • Get students to write ‘alphabet’ on the last page of their notebooks. I would demonstrate this with at least two students in the class, or everyone will write at the front.
  • Show the first slide of e-beam and get students to repeat the first four letters (a to d in case you’d forgotten).
  • I do this fast, slow, backwards, and generally mess about it with it for a while until they give me funny looks.
  • Then I say ‘A is for…?’ and try to elicit words beginning with ‘A.’ If no one guesses Apple after about 5 minutes then start to reveal the photo behind the coloured square.
  • Repeat this for b,c, and d.
  • Then write up the words and get them to copy in their notebooks.
  • I have a rule that students must write the phrase before they do the drawing, otherwise they spend ten minutes drawing an apple.
  • Check they have written it correctly in their books and move on to your lesson.
  • Repeat each class, four letters at a time, until they know the alphabet and have recorded it all in their notebooks. The activity should gradually get quicker, about 5 minutes.

Teaching Spelling

Now you have to test whether they have been paying attention, or just spending ten minutes drawing random fruit and animals in their books. Here’s the step-by-step plan on how to get them to actually learn the alphabet.

  • Go through the alphabet (funny voice is optional at this point).
  • Say you are going to spell 3 words.
  • You can either spell 3 they know from the course, ones they’ve recently done, or just random easy ones they should know. I’d stick with ones they know for the first day.
  • You then do an example on the board. For example, spell out cat, and write it on the board.
  • Spell out the 3 words you’ve chosen, checking they are more or less on track each time.
  • Do the feedback by asking ‘How do you spell ____’ and picking a student to spell it out to you while you write it, or getting them to come out and write it.
  • Get them to spell the three words to each other while you correct their work, dishing out those smiley faces. I normally give 3 on the first day, but then become stricter.
  • Repeat again next class

Extra ideas

  • Once they are comfortable with the alphabet, choose a student each class to prepare 3 words to spell to the rest.
  • Gradually build up until they get onto more complex words.
  • Have spelling tests, where you only say the word and they write it, as opposed to actually spelling it out.

I’ve done this for a few years now and a class will pick up the alphabet pretty well after a couple of months. There will be one or two who don’t though, so just pay attention to the weaker ones and give them some help, or pair them up with a stronger student.

Have you got any other ideas for spelling? Do you know how to spell cat?

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