Magnetic Letters – Sorting as a Way to Teach the Alphabet

Sorting magnetic letters might seem like just a math activity, but it’s also a great way to engage kids in learning about letters!  Sorting magnetic letters is very much a hands-on way to teach children about letters.

magnetic letters with kids

Sorting magnetic letters might seem like just a math activity, but it is so much more than that!  Today, I would like to focus on how sorting them helps teach children about letters.

To begin with, just the act of playing with and holding the magnetic letters helps teach the child.  The letters will look different, whether by size, shape, color, etc.  On top of that, the letters will feel different in her hands.  The letter ‘x’ isn’t going to feel exactly the same as the letter ‘a’.  While she may not start out knowing what the letters are, her senses will be cataloging what she sees and feels.

magnetic letters for kids

Plus, the child’s innate sense of curiosity will eventually come into play.  He’ll want to know what these things are that he’s playing with, so he’ll ask questions.  He will make connections, sometimes with parent/teacher help of course.  For example, he might point out that one of the magnetic  letters looks like a letter he’s seen in his name.  He might notice that one of the letters is on the stop sign he sees in his neighborhood every day.

magnetic letters for kids, teaching children the alphabet

When a child is asked to sort magnetic letters, it forces her to attend to the similarities and differences within the letters.  This will make her take note that the letters are not all the same.  Even if she’s just focusing on the color of the letter, she will quickly learn that there are certain differences to be found.  When looking at letters she’s grouped together in the same category, the child is likely to notice how the letters are the same color but different shapes.  Her mind becomes used to assessing and comparing what the magnetic letters look like.  This is a precursor for learning the individual letters and their distinct characteristics.

magnetic letters for kids, teaching children the alphabet

When a child sorts magnetic letters, his descriptive language improves.  His teacher (or parent) is giving him the language with which to describe letters.  Having the language to express the ways the letters are similar brings a new perspective to the process.  It allows him a way to verbalize the observations he’s making while sorting.

magnetic letters for kids, teaching children about letters

Keep in mind that sorting the letters can be done individually, in small groups, and as an entire class.  Children can sort on their own or with an adult there to help.  Asking questions and making comments as the children complete this task helps provide them with language.  It also helps draw their attention to the individual letters.  For example, you might make simple comments like, “I notice that the uppercase ‘E’ doesn’t have any holes, but the lowercase ‘e’ does.”

magnetic letters with kids

Below is a list of some ideas regarding how children can sort magnetic letters.  Please keep in mind that there are different levels of skill involved in the letter sorts.  Choose ways of sorting that best meet the needs of the children you are working with.

  • Color
  • Letter
  • Uppercase versus lowercase
  • In my name
  • In my friend’s name
  • Have holes
  • Have curves
  • Straight lines
  • Vertical lines
  • Tails
  • Tall versus short
  • Sounds

Those are just some ways you can sort magnetic letters.  What are some other ways you sort them with your children?  I’d love to hear some new ideas!


I’ve been asked many times which magnetic letters I use and how do I store them.  There are so many choices out there, so go with what works best for you!  :)  If you’re interested, here’s what I’m currently using (I’m including Amazon affiliate links for your convenience) — Lowercase Magnetic Letters, Uppercase Magnetic Letters, and 24-Drawer Hardware and Craft Cabinet.

Shared at Tuesday Tots, Mom’s Library, It’s Playtime, What I Learned Wednesday, The Kids Co-Op, We Made That Wednesday, The Sunday Showcase, Toddler & Preschool Linkup, Playdough to Plato’s Alphabet Roundup, Discover and Explore


  1. says

    Hello! What a great post, excellent to teach preschoolers new things in a fun way – I see this whole blog as being very useful!

    I hopped over here from Linkin’ With My Ladies and now have you followed via Bloglovin’, I can’t wait to get more wonderful ideas from you! :-)

    Melanie recently posted…Throwback ThursdayMy Profile

  2. says

    Thank you for this post. It would never have occured to me to do something as simple as get my son to sort the letters by colour. But you are so right that just holding the letters will help him get used to them. I’m going to try this.
    The Monko recently posted…Kids Coop – Volcano UnitMy Profile

    • says

      Thanks so much for visiting!! :) I love how simple ideas can help children learn. Over the course of my teaching years, I have seen magnetic letter activities allow kiddos to explore so many important concepts.

  3. says

    Hey there! This is a fabulous idea for kiddos to learn so many important skills! I shared this on GooglePlus, Twitter and pinned it for my own future reference one day!

    Thanks for sharing your page with me on Facebook – glad I stopped by!
    Danielle @
    Danielle recently posted…FREE Blogger EventMy Profile

    • says

      Angela, thanks so much for stopping by with the kind words. :) Let me know how it goes with your boys. I’d love to stop by your link up party, thanks for the invite.

      • Angie says

        I teach 20 4PK kids. How many letter sets would you purchase, or is there a place I can buy bulk letter/numbers to use for small groups as well as name kits.

        • says

          Hi Angie! Thanks for stopping by. I was just looking up to see if there are any good places to buy the letters in bulk. They’re sold in larger amounts on Amazon and the like, but the price is more or the quality is poor. {Anyone else reading this — have you happened upon a good resource for bulk letters?} The letters I always come back to are those from Lakeshore. They come in uppercase, lowercase, and they also have jumbo versions (which are great for sorting and for using on the teacher magnetic white board). I’ve had many of my letters for over 10 years, and they’re still going strong!

          In terms of how many — that’ll vary depending on the names in your class, of course. I’d start with 2 uppercase and 2 lowercase sets to begin with. If you have more in the budget, though, aim for more. There are always so many things to do with magnetic letters! The bin of letter tiles are also great (but they’re all one shape – square – and they’re not magnetic).

          Let me know how it goes, Angie! :)

    • says

      Oh, I’m so glad, Chelsey! It’s always so interesting to me how “little things” (like sorting) can engage children’s minds in such big ways!! Let me know how it goes with your little gal!


  1. […] SORT MAGNETIC LETTERS with the children.  It sounds so very simple, but it really helps kids to focus on how letters are alike, how they’re different, and what shapes they are comprised of.  Ideas on how to sort the letters — by color, uppercase versus lowercase, letters with holes versus letters without holes, letters with straight lines versus letters without straight lines, etc.  Click here for more detailed information about sorting magnetic letters. […]

  2. […] LETTER SORTS — Make a simple chart entitled “Letters in My Name”, with a “yes” column and a “no” column.  The students sort through magnetic letters, determining which belong in their names and which don’t.  Be sure to include name cards for those children who need them as a reference.  Click here to read more about sorting magnetic letters. […]

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