Does Your Alphabet Chart Need to Be Recalled?

This is a repost from June 30, 2010.

I’m issuing my  own product recall on alphabet charts, and yours might be included! 

This isn’t a safety issue, I can’t imagine an alphabet chart causing physical harm (though I suppose the occasional paper cut could be pretty traumatic) but the alphabet chart you’re using might not be teaching what it’s meant to teach.

Alphabet charts, those posters or room headers that show upper and lower case letters along with a picture, are meant to be a reference point for children.  They are meant to help a child associate the written letter with its accompanying sound.  So you have “Tt” next to a tiger, “Ff” next to a frog, and “Dd” next to a  dinosaur.  Easy enough, right?

X is for X-Con

The letter X is the biggest offender on these alphabet charts.  Most alphabet charts show “Xx” x-ray, or “Xx” xylophone.  These cues won’t help your children much, unless they’re trying to spell X-Men or xenophobia.  Now I’ll be the first to agree, that finding a familiar word that begins with x is not an easy task.  Just check out this list of words starting with x.  Not too child friendly.  The problem is, the purpose of an alphabet chart is not just to match letters to cute pictures with the same beginning letter, it is to offer visual cues to match with a useful sound. 

The most common sound for the letter X, particularly in the early stages of reading and writing is the “ks” sound.  That is the X sound children need to learn.  Now, I don’t think I can come up with a word starting with X and the “ks” sound, but I know a few common words that end with the X-“ks” sound.  Box and fox, for example.  The fact that the sound is at the end doesn’t make it less useful.  In fact, it’s more useful because it teaches the actual sound the child needs to learn.

Other Offenders

X is by far the worst offender, but you might want to take a look at the vowels on your chart too.  Vowels are the Jason Bourne of the English language.  Just when you think you know exactly what they’re about, they change on you.  While we teach long and short sounds, we all know there are about twenty subtly different sounds those five letters can produce-  think R controlled, schwa, diphthongs.  For the sake of basic concepts, an alphabet chart should ideally show a picture corresponding with the short sound for the vowels.  The long sounds are obvious – they state the letter’s name.  It’s the short sounds that children will need to be reminded of.  So instead of “Ii” ice cream, it would be better to find “Ii” insect, or iguana, or igloo.  Now, this may require some vocabulary training, but really, with any alphabet chart, you need to spend some time explaining what each picture represents.  Otherwise you have children reciting A for Crocodile or Q for Pretty Princess.

Quick Fix

The good news is, you don’t have to send your chart in to the factory to be retrofitted with a new part.  You can do that yourself.  Simply identify the offenders in your alphabet chart, choose words that more appropriately match the sound cues you are trying to teach, do a quick image search on the internet, print, paste over the offender, and you’re done!

Charts Vs Books

Now I don’t want you to suddenly rifle through all your alphabet storybooks and throw them out as well.  Alphabet books like Alphabet Under Construction by Denise Fleming, or Jerry Pallotta’s Icky Bug Alphabet Book shouldn’t be held to the same standard as the alphabet charts.  While charts are meant as a ready reference across situations, alphabet books are meant to show application of the alphabet within a theme or context.  They can show “airbrush” for A because tomorrow you’ll show them another book with “anaconda” for A.  Books can show variation, but your chart needs to show consistent basic concepts.

No one will come from the government to enforce this recall.  But if you have children trying to spell the word “zebra” with an X, you can’t say I didn’t warn you about your misleading “xylophone“.


You may also be interested in A Culture of Literacy: Teaching Preschooler’s the ABCs and More.

 Top photo by ctech.



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