Friday, 17 August 2012

Alphabet Cards - ESOL Diagnostic

Alphabet Cards

Over the last few years I have been developing this tool for informally testing students' knowledge of the English alphabet. It is also a good indicator of their visual literacy, memory skills and sequencing skills.

First share this PowerPoint with your class


I use this PowerPoint to introduce or consolidate the classes' knowledge of the alphabet. I use the pictures as prompts and then explore other words with similar sounds or spellings. The pictures were chosen to give an element of discussion around each image. For example the picture of eggs is often misinterpreted but I then ask who has eggs for breakfast, who likes eggs and also which came first, the chicken or the egg?

This PowerPoint can take over an hour if the class is engaged properly. It's worth refering back to the images as you work through as the students need to try and remember them when they take part in the assessment.

Making the Alphabet Cards

Depending on how much time you have you may want to get the students to make the cards. There are 2 things to keep in mind. The first is that you need to encourage students to check that the cards match up when they stick the 2 A4 pages back to back. This is essential if you want to avoid cutting some letters or pictures in half. The second thing to consider is lamination. I've found that students love laminating. Each card needs to be placed seperately into the laminating plastic so that they are individually sealed. The first time I made these I put the whole page in, laminated it and then cut up the cards. The plastic needed seloptaping as the cards fell apart.

The file is designed so that if you want to change an image it is really easy. You could also change the font if you wanted to.

How do you use these cards in the classroom?

There are a number of ways you can use the cards in the class room.

  1. Place the cards, with the letters facing upwards, on a flat surface (e.g. table or floor) and arrange them in alphabetical order. Rows of 5 or 6 cards work best.
  2. Pelmanism - with the cards still facing upwards, students take it in turns to predict the picture on the opposite side of the cards. If they are correct the score a point or take one of the cards. If they are incorrect they must leave it letter facing up and come back to it once they've tried all the other cards.
  3. The Pelmanism activity can be repeated a number of times.
  4. With the pictures facing up students mix the cards and then try to place them in alphabetical order. Some students find this very challenging while others can do it quite quickly. This will highlight to you which students have stong visual memory (some might talk about learning styles but I'm not really a fan...) or those who were paying attention during the PowerPoint.
  5. Finally with the pictures facing up the students can work backwards throught the cards, predicting the letter of the alphabet on the opposite side.
  6. You could work on phonetics as well as letter names but you may want to change some of the pictures in the cards file above.

Stop-motion video to demonstrate the cards and how they can be used

I've been a fan of stop-motion films for a while, so I decided to have a go at making one to show how these cards can be used. Any comments are most welcome.


It is very important for me that I pick up on errors that students make when doing the activities above. I observe learners and make notes on their sequencing skills, memory skills and "sticking points".

There are often similarities amongst nationality groups and it may be worth considering pairing students from the same nationalities so that you can work on particular letters.

Students really enjoy this session and often don't realise they are being assessed until you sit with them and give them some feedback.

I find transfering these skills to alphabetical order exercises can be very rewarding too. Often a student can't tell you what letter is next in a sequence but if you ask them what picture was after tiger they know it was umbrella!


If you can think of any other activities that you could do, using these cards, then why not leave a comment below. I like to do spelling tests, get students to write sentences including one or more of the words and I come back to the sequence of pictures throughout the first term to consolidate the learning that takes place.
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