If you know how to teach the Spanish alphabet the right way, your students will remember the whole darn thing 30 years from now.
The alphabet is one of the fundamental building blocks of any language, and teaching it to your students can be a blast!
It’s often their first taste of their new language, so it’s important to keep them interested instead of intimidated.
Try our method for teaching the Spanish alphabet to move beyond basic memorization and head right into some alphabet fun!
The Importance of Teaching the Alphabet
The English alphabet often has little to do with the phonetic rules of the language. The Spanish alphabet makes much more sense.
Unlike English, which merrily incorporated French, Latin and northern European influences with abandon as control of the British Isles changed hands over the centuries, the Real Academia Española has been overseeing the Spanish language and creating its official rules since 1713. That’s one of the reasons why the Spanish alphabet is so logical and consistent to this day. In most cases, each letter has just one sound attached to it.
Go ahead and share that tidbit with your students right away—anyone who has struggled with arbitrary English spelling rules will love to learn to spell in a language that makes so much sense! Learning the alphabet will also help your students learn to pronounce Spanish correctly.
Once they know what sounds each letter makes, they can almost instantly sound out new words correctly. This is a huge confidence boost, so it makes sense to teach the alphabet as early as you can!
How to Teach the Spanish Alphabet of Today
Today’s Spanish alphabet probably isn’t the same one you learned in school.
In 2010, the Royal Academy made changes to the official Spanish alphabet to reduce the use of accent marks and eliminate ch and ll, leaving the Spanish alphabet with just 27 letters (all English letters plus ñ). This means that dictionaries and alphabetizing systems are different now, even though pronunciation and spelling remain the same.
You’ll have to decide for yourself how to approach the change in your classroom. Because your ultimate goal is to help your students read and speak Spanish fluently, it makes sense to keep on teaching ch, ll, ñ and rr as part of a 30-letter Spanish alphabet to focus more squarely on the phonics.
You can always share the story of the uproar the change caused, particularly with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s refusal to accept the Royal Academy’s mandate.
How to Teach the Spanish Alphabet as Easy as A, B, C, Ch!
Lesson A: Getting Started
Your first task? Introduce the alphabet.
Have your students write and pronounce the alphabet, letter by letter. Once you introduce all the letters, do a few pronunciation drills to have them repeat after you as you work your way through the ABCs in Spanish.
After naming all the letters, work your way through the alphabet again, this time naming each letter and then making its sound immediately afterward. This oral drill is worth repeating a few times as well. To break up the drills, spend some time asking students to compare and contrast the English and Spanish alphabet.
Another drill worth repeating? Focus on the Spanish vowels, a, e, i, o, u. The one letter, one sound connection in Spanish is ultimately easier, but learning to associate a different vowel sound with each letter is challenging at first. The faster your students memorize the sounds in order with an oral a, e, i, o, u drill, the better they’ll be at using the Spanish vowels without English interference.
Lesson B: Moving Along
After reviewing the alphabet letters and sounds (in Spanish, or course!), it’s time to start putting them to use.
Start by writing a few familiar words on the board (hola and adiós, anyone?) and having students spell them out loud, naming the letters as you point to them. Once they’re warmed up, have pairs do a quick “turn and talk” to spell their own names aloud for their partners.
Next, it’s time for some mystery dictation. All your students need is paper and pencil to write down the letters of a mystery word that you spell out. Start slow! It will take them several seconds per letter to figure out what to write. Encourage them to draw a blank line (like so, “____”) in spots where they aren’t sure so they can go back to it later—you’ll be repeating each word several times!
Pro Tip: I like to spell out five words in a theme (seasons, animals, weather) to keep things fun. Just be sure that students keep the words a secret as they figure them out! Once you’re finished, check the work aloud.
Dictation also works well when you move on to words they haven’t learned yet. To check their work, have students sound out the words using Spanish phonics with a partner, then “translate” for them by showing a photo of each word. This is also great when done with a theme in mind—especially one you won’t get to in Spanish I, like outer space or ice cream flavors.
Lesson C: Spelling Success
After all your basic drills and receptive language dictation activities, it’s time to get your students speaking and spelling!
This is a great time to revisit some pair work first to build confidence by spelling their own first and last names for a partner. From there, you can level up to basic vocabulary words they already know. Try calling them out to the whole class and having members of each pair take turns spelling one aloud to a partner—writing them down first is okay, too!
With some low-stakes oral spelling out of the way, it’s time to switch up the dictation exercise by having students spell out unfamiliar Spanish words. This is like an old-fashioned spelling quiz in which the teacher calls out word and students write them down. After each group of five words, have student volunteers spell the words aloud as you write down exactly what they say on the board. If needed, have volunteers make corrections as you reiterate the words very slowly—especially for vowels and diphthongs!
Getting to X, Y, Z: Alphabet Fun and Games to Use All Year Long
Once kids start to internalize the alphabet after the first three lessons, they should be officially off and running.
To keep their skills sharp, try incorporating some fun alphabet games in your lessons throughout the school year to reinforce concepts and review other materials.
Continuing to practice dictation regularly will keep your students’ spelling skills sharp. Try it as a warm-up activity in heavy rotation, but be sure to switch up whether you’re spelling a word or asking students to spell out a new word.
Dictation can be a fun way to sneak in some holiday vocabulary that’s not officially part of your curriculum, or you can use it to introduce new vocabulary words—it inspires way more active learning than just handing out a list of words to study!
There’s nothing quite like a good, old-fashioned spelling bee to review vocabulary and the alphabet before a unit test or midterm exam! A spelling bee can also make a good introductory lesson for a creative writing unit in the target language, because it signals that you’re here to make writing fun.
You can run your spelling bee in the classic style, having students line up and compete individually for the top spot. You can also consider making it a team effort to take some of the pressure off. To do this, divide the class in half and have them stand in two lines. A representative from the front of each line faces off, “Family Feud” style, by buzzing in to spell the given word. The winner earns a point for their team and can stay up to face another player while the other student goes to the back of the line.
Once your students have gotten the hang of the alphabet, playing hangman in Spanish really raises their level of critical thinking and gives them an authentic reason to use their letters.
Divide the class into two or three teams, allowing each team a turn to guess a letter in the puzzle you write on the board—it works best when you write a whole phrase or sentence in Spanish, with one blank for each letter required. Each team gets their own gallows; add a head, body, etc. for each incorrect letter. After guessing a letter, the team can either solve the puzzle (in Spanish!) or pass. Play continues until teams run out of body parts for their hangman or solve the puzzle.
This game is especially fun if you make the puzzle a question and award a bonus point to the team that can correctly answer the question in Spanish after they figure out what the question is by solving the puzzle!
Once you’ve taught your students the Spanish alphabet and have practiced with these fun games, don’t forget to revisit the topic throughout the year!
Language learners need lots of repetition to achieve fluency, but review doesn’t have to be boring. Keep your students on their toes with these engaging activities to make the alphabet an enjoyable part of their language acquisition.
Elizabeth Trach taught Spanish for eight years in a public elementary school in Brookline, Massachusetts, where she co-authored the district’s original K-5 Spanish curriculum. She’s also a professional writer and editor. Find out more about her work and get in touch at The Blogwright.
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you already love the idea of teaching with bite-sized snippets of authentic Spanish content, another option is to use FluentU. We feature tons of clips—the modern, audio-visual equivalent of short stories, if you will.
How can video clips aid Spanish teachers in class? FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students.
We’ve got a tremendous collection of authentic Spanish videos that people in the Spanish-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices here when you’re looking for material for in-class activities or homework. Plus, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students.
Each video has interactive subtitles. If a student comes across a word they’re unfamiliar with, they can hover their cursor over the subtitled word. That word’s definition, pronunciation and in-context usage examples will all pop up on-screen instantly. This is what your students will get after they click “watch” on a video. Clicking “learn” opens up a whole new learning experience for them.
In learn mode, all the vocabulary and grammar from the video is taught and reinforced through varied repetition (practicing the same concepts in different forms and contexts). They’ll play with flashcards, games, word matches and exercises like “fill in the blank.”
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that they’re learning, and it recommends examples and videos based on what they’ve already learned. Every student has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach Spanish with real-world videos.