Who Knew? ABCs and Numbers!

I never would have guessed this, but the same “Fast Flash” method that is so incredibly effective in teaching our kids with DS to read can also teach them the alphabet and numbers when nothing else works.

Fast Flash, Fast Blog, Too!

This will be a short blog, as I’m flying out tomorrow at the crack of dawn from L.A. to Missouri, to give a reading workshop. But I’m dedicated to my Friday Reading Blogs, so here it is–short and I hope useful!


I’ve been using and preaching Fast Flash for 23 years; I’ve seen it work wonders again and again. But I never thought to use it to teach the alphabet. Instead, I’ve been recommending apps like Starfall ABC, Love and Learning’s ABC Kit, etc.

But my 9-year-old reading student Bella stumped me. She’s extremely social, verbal, and…couldn’t remember the alphabet to save her neck (or earn time on her Leap Frog LeapPad). Naturally, since she’s my reading tutee, that was just a bit of a problem. We were both getting worn out.

Asking her to identify more than just a handful of familiar letters (like B for Bella, D for Daddy, M for Mommy) brought on a deer-in-the-headlights face and a hopeless “I don’t know.”

Desperation is the Mother of Invention

Bella had been exposed to the alphabet for years, whether in apps, songs, schools, and endless coaching by mom Yuri and dad Chris. No success. I turned to Fast Flash as a last resort, having no idea if it would actually work with letters. I asked Chris to hunt down alphabet flash cards with nothing on them except uppercase letters. No pictures, no distractions, just the letters. Chris did a Google search, and ‘way down on page 3 of the search, finally found The Prize.

With those cards, I taught Bella using the same method as I do with words: Fast Flashing in groups of just 5 cards at a time, in random order, changing the order frequently, but teaching her those 5 with lightning speed. Over and over. Then I tested her: could she select a requested letter from a field of 2? Yes. From a field of 3? Maybe. A field of 5? No way.

Fast forward just 3 weeks: Bella was easily selecting a requested letter from a field of 5. Then–unbelievably–I tapped a card: “What’s that?” “U,” she said casually, as if it were a no-brainer. I pretended not to be excited, so as not to derail her. “And what’s that one over there?” “K.” “Oh, thanks,” I said. And so on. I couldn’t believe it.

At the same session, she easily selected letters from a newly drilled group of “unknowns”, choosing from a field of 5. We were on a roll.

The Brain Doesn’t Care

The brain’s attitude is, You want me to remember that shape? Sure. I don’t care what the shape is; just show it to me fast and repeatedly, and I’ll retain it. It’s just a picture. I can remember that. 

So now we know. Fast flash works just as well for letters or numbers (even though both are abstract and largely meaningless to a beginner) as it does for words. We know that since the brain simply recognizes shapes in the beginning of the maturation process of the visual pathway, it can learn “locomotive” just as easily as “dog.” The length or complexity doesn’t matter; it’s just a shape, though if the shape has meaning, it’s much more easily remembered. But even the meaningless squiggle of a letter is remembered the same way.

You can do your own Google search if you want to try this, or you can go to a link I found today: Alphabet Cards with No Pictures. Start with uppercase or lowercase, your preference. But don’t mix them. Stick with one, and you will find that once learned, the second set is easily mastered. Bella is learning with uppercase because of its clarity; but 23 years ago, I taught my son Jonathan (28, DS) with lowercase. I then painstakingly prepared materials to teach him the uppercase alphabet but never had to use them; he had effortlessly made the transition simply in the process of reading. You can argue either way, upper or lower. Your choice!

A is for Adios

…and airplane, in my case. Good luck with your cards!

Taking off,




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Showing 2 comments
  • Nancy

    I just came across your blog when shown an article about modifying books for easier reading by kids with reading delays. Great post! So I started poking around on your blog and read about your “fast flash” technique. Is there another post on your blog that describes the method in more detail? Thank you!

    Nancy (parent of 6 year old daughter with Down syndrome)

    • Natalie Hale

      Hi, Nancy- Did you read the original Fast Flash blog,, where I describe the technique in detail? That’s probably what you’re looking for. The blog title is, “Teach Reading with the Fast Flash Method.” I’ve given that blog link so often in my reading blogs that I skipped it this time; looks like I’d better keep including it! Let me know if you need more information. And if you want to receive my weekly reading blogs, just “like” my FB page, Down Syndrome Reading with Natalie Hale, and you’ll get them. That’s where the “modifying books” article came from.