Alphabet Intervention

Intervention. We all use this word and hear it on a daily basis. As teachers, when we hear "intervention resources" our ears perk up a little. That's because we all stay up at night thinking about those students who struggle to master certain concepts or skills. I'm obviously a believer in intervention. I've seen what can happen when a student receives good intervention that works. It's amazing to watch a child reach their goals and make real progress. 

I used to think learning the alphabet was simple and basic. How hard could it be to learn the letters, right? WRONG! Many children pick it up so naturally. They are exposed to letters and literature, told what the symbol represents, and they remember it. Still, there are many that need explicit, systematic instruction and significantly more repetition to learn these letters and sounds. I've broken down the process of learning the alphabet, as I have seen it over the past 15 years and also based on research of based practices. I have watched my students and my own kids go through these steps at different rates. That's the important thing to note here. Every child goes through these steps, but some get through quickly while others struggle through slowly.  

The Process for Mastering Letters and Sounds

Step 1: Introduce the letter.

When teaching the alphabet, we want to think about how to help our students really learn these letters and sounds. We don't just want them to know how to sing the alphabet song.  First, we introduce the letter. We show them the grapheme (visual representation) and tell them the name and sound associated. 

There is debate about the order of when to introduce each letter as well as upper case or letter case first, and sound or name first. I have actually read that if you are going to choose between teaching upper and lower case, you should choose lower case first because lower case letters appear more in texts and our own writing.  I actually teach upper and lower case together. I don't believe there is a sequence that necessarily works better than another, BUT I do believe there are a few guidelines that are essential to think about when choosing your sequence AND it is SO important that we DO have a sequence, planned out ahead of time. 

Some basic tips for introducing letters:
  • Do not introduce visually or auditory similar letters together.  (b and d, m and n, p and b, h and r, n and r are visually similar and d/t, f/v/ b/d/p, k/g, m/n are auditory similar.) Make sure there are a few letters in between the similar ones, especially b and d.  
  • Introduce more useful letters first. These are the letters that you use more in words. 
  • Introduce one sound at a time for each letter. This may also be controversial, but I feel like our struggling readers already have a hard time remembering one sound per letter, so adding multiple sounds gives them additional confusion. 
  • Be systematic and explicit about how and when I teach them. Get a sequence that works for you and stick with it. It's always good to have them learn the letters in their name first, but in a small group, I use a pre-deterined sequence. 
  • Rate: Your rate will depend on your students. I have worked with kids who can keep a consistent pace of introducing a few new letters every couple weeks. I've also had groups where it took much longer. The key is not to add too many new letters until they have mastered the ones you have already introduced. I introduce the letters in tiny groups, not necessarily one at a time. I introduce 3-4 at a time, upper and lower case. (But in the very beginning with my most intensive intervention groups, I may pull back and just start with 2.) We do several activities with these letters, then I introduce another set. 
  • Always review the previously learned letters. Every. single. day. Once I start a new set of letters, I begin the day reviewing the previously learned letters. I mix them into activities as well. There are two reasons for this: (1) It gives them confidence to see those letters they know. (2) Your intensive intervention groups are likely to forget things they've learned recently. (3) We want them to increase automaticity with their letter identification. 
When I introduce a letter...

  • I show a visual of the letter and tell students the sound it makes. I like to have a physical movement that goes with it. For example, with T, they tap their pointer finger onto their palm and say /t/. For B, we do a little baseball bunt (small movement) while we say /b/. 
  • I also talk about what my mouth, tongue and lips do when I make the sound. 
  • We determine if it is a stopping sound or a stretching sound (T is a stopping sound while A is a stretching sound.)
  • I talk about what the letter looks like and use pieces to build it. (I have magnetic alphabet pieces  like the ones you can get here but you could use pipe cleaners or wikki sticks too.) For example, I point out that a T has a tall straight line and a smaller horizontal straight line. 

When I first introduce a letter, I give students time to see it, trace, and build it using sand trays, play dough, wikki stix, or Play foam.


Step 2: Recognition of the letter
Once kids are introduced to a letter and have practiced a bit, they begin to recognize letters when mixed with other letters. They may or may not remember the name and sound yet, but they can point it out as one they know. After that, they may be able to point to the correct letter when the teacher asks them to find an A (when mixed with other letters.) 

Recognize a letter among other letters takes both memory and visual discriminationVisual discrimination is the ability to identify differences in any visual image. In this case, we need students to see the differences between each letter. Many of these differences are so minor. At first, the letters of the alphabet look like random squiggles, curves, and lines. Kids must first identify the random shapes that make up a letter and the placement of these lines and curves (p, b, and d all have the same shapes but in different places.) Then they have to remember this imprint in their minds AND remember the name and sound that matches that imprint. When students struggle to recognize letters, we need to determine if it is a memory issue (in my experience this is most common) or a visual discrimination issue. 

This can be as basic as laying out 6 letters and having your students find the target letter. You lay out the letter tiles (can just be letters written on note cards) and say, "Which is the A?" Students will point to the A. 

I also like to put a bunch of letters in a pocket chart and have my student find the target letter. 

Sorting letters is also a good way to practice visual discrimination. 

This is an activity I like to do daily. Each student gets a magnetic board with letter magnets (some letters we know and some that are new.) I call out a letter name or sound. They find it, trace it, then write it on their boards. 

Step 3: Retrieval of the letter and sound. 

After kids can recognize the letter, we want them to retrieve it from their memory. This is slightly harder because they have make their own visual picture of the letter shape in their minds and remember the letter sound and name. 

Being able to point to A when the teacher says A is one thing (still difficult for many.) But have you ever had a student say, "Hey, we've learned that letter!"or  "That is Valerie's letter." Often they may recognize it but not remember the name or sound. 

Being able to recognize AND retrieve letters and sounds takes time. Your intervention students need a lot of opportunities to see, hear, feel, match, and sort these letters. It will take patience on your part because you may feel like you have provided plenty. Remember, we want to make a permanent imprint in their brains of that letter so repetition and multi-sensory instruction is key!

Again, this could be as simple as laying out letter cards and having your student point to the letter and say the name and sound. I recommend doing this daily with the letters your student already knows, along with the new letters that he/she is working on. 

I like to play a game called Shake, Spill, and Read. I write letters on these counters (some they know and some new). They shake them in their hands and then "spill" them. Next they put them in a line like the picture shows and reads the letters (sounds or names). I like to give them little finger puppets just to add a little more fun. ;) 

Here is a fun game that my students love. I put letters we are working on (some review and some new) on a sentence strip (or use notecards like in the 2nd picture) then I write numbers 1-6 on the side. Students roll a number cube, then "read" the letters on that corresponding line. Using star pointers are always a hit, too. 


Playing Memory is always a great way to practice retrieving letter names as well. When they flip over a letter, they say the name and sound, then try to find its match.

Step 4: Fluently write the letters

Finally, we want our students to be able to write the letters, forming the shapes correctly. This can also be broken down into two levels:
  • Students can look at a letter and form it correctly. This requires fine motor skills as well as a knowledge of how to form the letters correctly. Keep in mind that many kids will develop their own way of making letters so they may have bad habits to break. 
  • Students can write the letter from memory. This takes retrieval as well as fine motor skills. They have to remember what that letter looks like, think about how to form it correctly, and have the fine motor skills to follow through. 

I use these texture boards for students to trace the letter on. I found them on Amazon. 
Here is a video using these in action:

If this video doesn't load, you can also click HERE to watch it on YouTube.

Whole Class Instruction
When I introduce a letter to the whole class, this is how my lessons are split up:

  • Lesson 1: 
    • Introduce with visual. 
    • Teach physical movement, what your mouth, tongue, and lips do, and if it is stretch or stop.
    • Show pictures of things that start with letter and make up sentences to write on sentence strips.
    • Recognize: Call on students to point out the target letter in your sentences. 
    • Sound-Symbol: Sort picture cards  (For every card that makes the target sound, have the whole class make the sound while they do the physical movement. For example, when the picture card started with T, the class said /t/ while tapping their finger on their palm- instead of saying yes or no.)

  • Lesson 2: Forming the letter
    • Show students how to form the letter. Point out the features of the letter (straight lines vs. curves, circles, etc.) 
    • If possible, build the letter using pieces. (Here is a resource for that)
    • Listen to a song that shows how to write it (so many on youtube!) and get them moving
    • Model how to write it and have students draw it in the air with you. Talk as you write it ("Start up top. Pull down. Lift up and cross the top.")
    • Give your students practice writing independently. 

Here is a tip for b/d confusion:
I tell my students that the letter b starts with a "back" and we say, "back, belly, b" as we write the letter. We always write left to right so the belly goes toward the next letter. If we always start with a back then a belly going forward, we will never write it backward. For a d, I tell my students we start with a c. Write your c first then make it into a d. We sing, "a, b, C, d" as we write the d. Click on the videos below to see. 

The goal is for students to recognize, name, and write the letters and identify the corresponding sound with automaticity. That word, automaticity, is the key! If they are slow to retrieve the sound associated with the grapheme, they will have a harder time blending sounds together to read a word. I actually work on sound more than letter name because that's what they use when reading. 


Over the years, I've slowly added to my alphabet "toolbox." I put together some resources that I use with my students. This is the first set of activities that I will be posting on TPT. The next set will be printable activities and games. These are mainly visual aides. 

The following activities can be used with any student learning their alphabet, but they are designed for your students who are struggling to master these letters and their corresponding sounds.  

Having a visual picture to go along with graphemes really helps your students remember them! All of the visuals are the same throughout this pack.  This helps with retrieval and recognition.  I use these even when we are starting to sound out words because that visual key word helps them if they are having trouble remembering a sound.

These are resources for your students to use when they haven't quite reached the retrieval phase yet.

I use these picture cards to help students master the sound/symbol correspondence. With these and the grapheme (letter) cards, you could do sorting activities and play Memory. More ideas of how to use these are included. Here are a few ideas below:

This is perhaps the most important, although seemingly basic. A scope and sequence. You may already be bound to a scope and sequence at your school. If you do already have a sequence you have to follow, I encourage you to create a program similar to this to keep you on track with your RTI. The following steps will help you make your alphabet instruction more systematic with a clear sequence to follow.
  • I divided the alphabet into 6 groups. 
  • I gave each group a color
  • I introduce group one first, using all the resources I've mentioned. 
    • I hit it hard with this one group! I communicate with parents that these are the letters I want them to practice at home. 
    • We do several activities with these letters, giving them opportunities to feel, see, write, match, and sort. 
    • I keep track of their progress (which letters they are remembering and which they still need practice with). 
    • They need to retrieve each letter (upper and lowercase) three times before moving on to set 2. They color a crayon in their crayon box (pictured above) to show they have mastered these letters. 
  • Then I introduce set 2 and send home set 2 to practice. 
  • I review set 1 at the beginning of every group to make sure it sticks. 
  • I work with ONLY the letters in set 1 and 2 when planning activities. 
  • LOTS of repetition. 
  • Once they master set 2, they move on set 3 and so on. 
    • This doesn't mean that they won't be exposed to the other letters. They will be exposed in their regular ed classroom plenty! They will be exposed when writing. They will be exposed through learning each other names. They will be still learn other letters that you have not focused on yet. 
The goal here is set up a sequential, systematic, and explicit program during your small group intervention time to assure that they get plenty of practice and opportunities to master every letter.

Use these teaching posters to go with any program. Place them in a binder. Use them for direct instruction when you introduce and review your letters. Detailed teacher directions are included. 

These automaticity sheets do align to the sequence above. There is one for each letter and an additional one for the end of each set of letters. The one pictured here is for the letter C. It has the letter c several times and the past 5 letters that have been taught. This way, students are continually reviewing the letters they've learned and don't run into letters they haven't learned. That way, they have a higher success rate (less frustration and confusion) and they are more likely to master these letters! You could put this in your same binder as the teaching posters and do it together as a small group and/or you could make copies and have each student do it independently in a whisper voice. 

I love using these cards when I introduce a letter. I slowly add the letters to the ring. Each student has their own ring. These have tiny letters, showing them where to start tracing. I keep these out when we are doing our handwriting too. I have them trace the letter card before writing, which reminds them how to form them correctly. These help with correct letter formation. Also, it provides that multi-sensory practice of tracing the letters. 

These will help with writing, specifically forming the letter correctly and improving fine motor skills. Before they are able to do it on their own, they may need a lot of practice tracing. 

One of my favorite resources. I use this daily with students. We use it to learn how to write new letters as well as review other letters. I'll introduce a letter as a groundhog letter that goes underground, a shorter letter that is the same size as squirrel, and a tall letter like a deer. This visual has really helped my students with letter formation using lines. 

You can download this handwriting mat for FREE here. 

I also use this activity daily. I use the letters that I've introduced so far. I call out a name or sound. My students pull down the grapheme that represents that sound. This is good for practicing letter recognition. Students also like to take turns calling out the letter names and sounds for their classmates to find. That way, they are practicing retrieval. At the end, each student points to the letters and says their sounds. Once I am confident that the group has mastered a certain letter, I "retire" that letter and put in a new one. (I never retire vowels though.) When I start this activity, I just start with four letters. In the picture above, students had been working on b, s, m, t and a for a while. Then I introduced p, r, f, and c. After that, I introduced h and n. In order to add in another letter, I need to retire some letters. My students are now all solid with s, b, and m, so I will probably put those aside and add in one new one at a time. 

I also practice blending sounds with this. In the picture above, the students have learned only the letters shown. That is plenty of letters to make words with though! I start with two-phoneme words or word parts. I explain that "ap" is a part of a word like cap, map, and tap. We practice sounding out these words and word parts (blending sounds) and we practice building the words and word parts (segmenting. ) For example, I'll say "Pull down the letters that make ap." We'll stretch that word part with our invisible slinkies, then finger spell the word. Finally, they grab the letters that make those sounds. 

A side note about phonemic awareness: When I'm introducing each set, I'm also working hard on phonemic awareness. You can read more about that HERE and HERE. Once they have good phonemic awareness skills, I will integrate sounding out words with the letters we've learned so far. For example, if they know t, s, m, a, p, and b, they can practice reading and spelling tap, pat, sat, sap, pam, map, mat, bat, tab, bam. I begin with sounding out word parts though: at, am, ap, and ab first though. Make sure you do not try "sounding out words" until you have worked on developing their phonemic awareness skills. 

If you are lucky enough to have parent involvement, that can make a big difference. This is packed with ideas for parents.  You could put it all together for a little take-home kit!

You can get all of these activities HERE.

More Alphabet Instructional Resources
The following resources are also in my store if you are looking for more Alphabet RTI resources. 

 Click HERE to read more about this resource.

Click HERE to read about this resource.

For a FREE alphabet assessment to determine which students need intervention, click HERE.



  1. I love the resources you make available on your site. However, I am never able to download anything when it tells me that I can get activities HERE. When I click on this, I get a blank page. This happens for all resources. Can you tell me how I can get the activities you post? Thanks!

    1. How strange! I'm not sure why the link isn't working. Here is the link:

      Try to copy and paste this one. I hope it works! Thanks you so much for your comment and for visiting my blog!