US Postal Codes

Postal codes, or postal abbreviations, are short hand ways to write the names of states when addressing letters.  But they are also used in advertising, legal information, on news weather reports and many other places.  Typically in the upper elementary years of school, 4th or 5th grade American kids are expected to memorize the postal codes of the United States.

The US post office has decided on standard two letter abbreviations for each state so that when a letter is addressed the sender, the receiver, and the postal workers can all see at a glance where the letter is headed or where it came from.

For example Maine is abbreviated ME.  The postal codes are always exactly two letters, always capitalized, and never with periods.  Most states are pretty easy to guess from their postal codes, but some might be confusing.  Is AK Alaska or Arkansas?  It is Alaska.  Arkansas is abbreviated AR.  It is very useful to have these codes stored away in your memory. They come up more often than you might think.

We made this printable set of Postal Codes Cards to match with the state shapes.

US Postal Codes Cards

Use the cards to play a matching game or to just sort and name the states.  If you have a large wall map the two letter codes can be tacked up with masking tape or sticky tack directly to the map.  (Don’t leave it on too long though or it will not come off the paper without tearing.)

Not only can this help kids memorize the postal codes, but they also will become familiar with the outlines of each state.

Additional Layers

  • What we call postal codes in the United States are state abbreviations.  In other countries postal codes or post codes are a series of digits to direct the mail, the same as US ZIP codes.
  • Normally in writing postal codes are not used.  For example if I were to tell you that Sally came from Cusick, I would probably need to tell you which state that little town is in.  I could write “Cusick, WA” or “Cusick, Wash.” or “Cusick, Washington.”  The first one is rarely used because it is a bit obscure and very informal.  The second is correct and in newspaper accounts or non-fiction writing I would probably go with that.  The third is what I would choose if I were writing fiction, or if I weren’t sure my readers would know what the abbreviation meant–maybe they are children or foreigners.
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