Magnetic letter sorting is an easy, hands-on way to teach the alphabet in preschool and kindergarten. Use the free printable letter mats for this early literacy activity (grab your copy at the end of this post).
One of my go-to early literacy supplies is a good set of magnetic letters.
Full disclosure – it’s actually multiple sets of magnetic letters.
There’s a never-ending list of magnetic letter activities to teach the alphabet, words, names, and so forth.
Today I want to talk about just one simple method – sorting magnetic letters.
Related: How to Teach the Alphabet
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What’s So Great About Magnetic Letters?
Even before the children start letter sorting, magnetic letters are teaching.
Kids Use their Senses
To begin with, just the act of playing with and holding the magnetic letters helps teach a child. The letters will look different, whether by size, shape, color, or another defining characteristic.
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.
A Child’s Natural Curiosity
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 an adult’s 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.
How Magnetic Letter Sorting Helps Teach the Alphabet
Sorting magnetic letters might seem like just a math activity, but it’s so much more than that!
In actuality, it’s an amazing, hands-on way to teach children about letters.
Children Compare and Contrast Letters
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.
Related: Word-Making Earth Day Sensory Bin
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.
New Language is Learned During Letter Sorting
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.
Keep in mind that letter sorting 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.”
Letter Sorting Possibilities
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.
Related: ABC Learning with Icy Fizzy Letters
Choose ways of sorting that best meet the needs of the children you are working with.
- Uppercase versus lowercase
- In my name
- In my friend’s name
- Have holes
- Have curves
- Straight lines
- Vertical lines
- Tall versus short
Those are just some ways of sorting magnetic letters. What are some other ways you sort them with your children?
Letter Sorting Doesn’t Need to Be Complicated
As you can see from some of my older photos, you don’t need anything special to sort the letters.
I’ve often used construction paper that I’ve handwritten graphs on, and the children seriously don’t mind. Sometimes it was a quick graph I made on the whiteboard easel before circle time or center time.
I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.
Of course, having a set of already-made magnetic letter sorting mats is just handy. It means they’re ready to be pulled out as needed, or you can store them in the literacy center so the kids can use them during independent time. For these, you can just laminate hand-drawn sorting mats or you can use printable sorting mats.
I’ve put together 5 free printable sorting mats you can grab at the end of this post. Print the sorting mats, laminate them, and use them with the kids tomorrow.
Be sure to check out the giant pack of sorting mats I share at the bottom of the post.
How to Store Magnetic Letters
I’ve been asked many times which magnetic letters I use and how I store them. There are so many choices out there, so go with what works best for you!
Over the years, I’ve kept a few sets of Lakeshore’s uppercase and lowercase magnetic letters in my stash. Learning Resource’s magnetic letters are also great if you’re leading a whole group lesson on a teacher easel.
In terms of storing the letters, I love using a 24-drawer hardware storage bin. It’s been with me through multiple moves (one of which was cross-country) and many students.
I also have something like using a hardware organizer “briefcase” for when I’m traveling from room to room with the letters. This is also handy to keep things organized in a mobile literacy center.
Huge Magnetic Letter Sorting Pack
We now have a HUGE (seriously, it’s over 300 pages) pack devoted to magnetic letter sorting. There are a variety of prompts in the form of full-page and half-page sorting mats, as well as printable prompts you can attach to your magnetic teacher easel during whole group learning.
See the letter sorting mats in action here:
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Even More Ideas for Learning with Magnetic Letters
Magnetic Letter Name Sensory Bin from Powerful Mothering
Elkonin Sound Boxes from Playdough to Plato
Self-correcting Magnetic Word Work from Differentiated Kindergarten
Alphabet Magnet Beginning Sounds Center from The Kindergarten Connection
Pull and Trace Alphabet Magnets from The Kindergarten Connection
Magnetic Letters Sequencing Cards from Sara J Creations
Secret Code Seasonal Words from Fun Learning for Kids
Editable Sight Word Mats from Mrs. Jones’ Creation Station
Letter Identification Alphabet Train from Stay at Home Educator
Beginning Sounds with Magnetic Letters from Pages of Grace
Number Word Mats from Fairy Poppins
Magnetic Letter Sorting from Fun-A-Day
From Beginning Sounds to CVC Words from Liz’s Early Learning Spot
Magnetic Letters Nouns Game from Teach Me Mommy
CVC Word Spinners from Sweet Sounds of Kindergarten
Magnetic Letters Center for All Year from The Simplified Classroom
(Not Shown) Seek and Find Magnetic Letter Matching Game from STEAMsational
Get Your Free Printable
The free printable sorting mats are available to members of Fun-A-Day’s free email community. If you’re already a member, enter your information in the form below to get the printable sent to your email inbox.
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This post was originally published April 4, 2013. It’s been updated with a few new photos, more information, and printable sorting mats (as requested by some awesome readers).