Finger - Trace Books

Hi friends! Today I'm co-hosting the Freebielicious Summer Book Study with my great friends Marsha from "A Differentiated Kindergarten" and Mandy from "A Special Kind of Class". Chapter 3 is JAM-PACKED full of useful beginning of the year reading tips so I decided to focus on an easy, yet highly effective tool for your kinders - "finger-trace ABC books".

I'm constantly asked by parents and other teachers, "What is your best advice for teaching letters?"

My answer is always the same. After I mention the various ways that I use, I always always come back to what Jan Richardson emphasized in this book: trace alphabet books EVERY DAY. That's it - that's the secret!

The thing about teaching something like letters of the alphabet is it requires repetition - repetition -repetition. There's no light and shiny things here - the fact is young children learn by repetition. To go any farther in teaching reading, children must know the majority of letters. So, each and every day in my classroom, children read and "finger-trace" a paper ABC book until they've learn all letters. Sometimes I read it with them before school starts, sometimes I have an aide or title teacher to stop by and do it. But each child does it every day until they have learned every letter of the alphabet - upper and lower case.

The "finger-trace" books are great for several reasons: 

1. All little kids love the ABC's so it's on their level....even with the lowest kiddos.....They are also great books to read independently from early in the year.
2. I only use picture cues that are familiar to the kids (using narwhal for the letter "N" is not helpful). They depend on those picture cues so much in the beginning. Remember, scaffold!
3. It provides the children with a sense of success early on (because you are only going to uncover letters they know. If a child only knows the letter "O" then that's all he/she sees. Each time he/she reads the letter "O" correctly.

Here is an ABC paper book I made for you:

Jan Richardson also strongly suggested (as I do) that the pictures in your ABC book match the pictures from your word wall to allow students to make those important connections between the two. (btw - the paper ABC book FREEBIE contains 2 sheets of W and X- choose the page for you. I teach X as an ending sound so I use the page with a fox, not the xray. I provided both for convenience).

This FREEBIE ABC book contains the same picture as my word wall sets:

How To Use a "Finger-Trace" ABC book:

As teachers we know we can't simply toss the ABC book to a child and magically they will learn the letters, correct formation, connecting words with beginning sounds, etc. It doesn't happen that way! I sure wished it did!

To use an ABC book, you should sit beside the child (not across from the child).

Have the child first read the picture and then the letters (yes both) it sounds like this, "apple, A, a". Then he/she uses the pad of their pointer finger to trace the upper and then lower case letters. I don't let kids use their finger nails or pencils because using the pads of their fingers is actually more tactile, providing for better muscle memory. We always start at the top of the letter and move down. 

If a child does not know the letter, tell him/her the letter and have the child repeat it. If a child does not know how to form a letter, lightly take their finger and make the movements with his/her finger.

If a child absolutely does not know a letter or letters and it seems like they are "drowning in a sea of letters", I cover some with post-it notes. We still read the picture, but move on to the next page. This allows children to learn letters in smaller groups and not become so overwhelmed by all the letters he/she doesn't know. 

So, now it's your turn! Do you use "finger-trace" ABC books in your classroom? Any advice you could offer. Remember there are lots of new teachers out that could use your input too!!


  1. Hi, I love this finger trace book but I was wondering if you had the pictures as an alphabet anchor chart as well or if it is just the word wall pictures?

  2. Thank you for sharing your tracing book.

  3. This is perfect for my four year daycare preschooler. Thank you so much!

  4. Thank you so much for this book!! I am a reading interventionist with Kindergarten kiddos who do not know any letters yet. This was exactly what I was looking for and you saved me so much time that I was able to use it with the kids today! I am hoping this will excite them about learning their letters and sounds.

  5. I really appreciate the rationale for finger tracing! It was one of those things I "knew" worked, but needed more information to emphasize the importance of it. I love JR's book! Thank you :) Jen