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How to Teach Phonics

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Teaching phonics is an essential ingredient to effective reading instruction. Learning the phonetic code teaches the beginning or remedial reader to make efficient and automatic judgments about how words are constructed. Mastery of the basic sound-spelling correspondences will also pay significant dividends once the student begins reading multisyllabic expository text.

A prerequisite (some would argue a byproduct) of learning the phonetic code is phonemic awareness. Before beginning phonics instruction, it is necessary to diagnose students’ phonemic awareness. If the following six whole-class assessments indicate mastery of only one, two, or three components, it would be advisable to delay phonics instruction until at least three components have been mastered. A terrific batch of phonemic awareness activities is listed here. If four, five, or six of the components has been mastered, it would be advisable to begin phonics instruction and concurrently “backfill” any unmastered phonemic awareness.

Phonemic Awareness Assessments

Give the Phonemic Awareness Assessments and record these results on the progress-monitoring matrix. Teach the phonemic awareness activities concurrently with the following phonics instruction. Have your students practice along with the “New Alphabet Song” to solidify their mastery of the alphabet.

Phonics Cards Introduction and Practice

Introduce and practice the animal names on each Animal Sound-Spelling Cards by referencing each card on an LCD projector . If you are using an overhead projector, copy the cards onto transparencies, using a color copier. Practice the names until students can rapidly identify each animal on the cards. Unlike many phonics programs, the beginning sound of the animal name perfectly matches the sound listed on each card. For example, the bear card represents the /b/.

Once the animal card names have been mastered, introduce and practice the sounds represented by the cards. Point to each card and say, “Name? Sound?”

After the animal card names and sounds have been mastered, introduce and practice the spellings listed on the cards. Point to each card and say, “Name? Sound? Spellings?” Practice along with the catchy NSS (The Names, Sounds, and Spelling Rap) to develop automaticity.

Phonics Cards Games

Copy and cut the Animal Sound-Spelling and Consonant Blend Cards for each student. As the following sound-spellings are introduced, select the corresponding sets of cards to play these Phonics Games.

Sound-by-Sound Spelling Blending

Students can learn all of the common sound-spellings in just 15 weeks of instruction. Each day, blend 2 or 3 words from the previous day’s blending activity. Then, introduce the 3–6 new words listed in the Sound by Sound Spelling Blending Instructional Sequence. Although some students may already have mastered the sound-spellings, this reinforcement will transfer to unmastered sound-spellings and boost reader confidence. Using a dry-erase whiteboard or overhead projector, write consonant sounds in black marker and vowel sounds in red. Make sure to clip, and not elongate, the consonant sounds. For example, don’t say “bah” for /b/. Follow this script for effective whole-class sound-by-sound spelling blending:

Sound-by-Sound Spelling Blending Script

Teacher: Today, I want you to take out the following animal cards from your Animal Sound-Spelling Card decks [Say animal names–not letter names, sounds, or spellings]: “You say and blend the sounds I write to make words. First, I write the spelling; then you say the sound. For example, if I write m [Do so], I will ask, ‘Sound?’ and you will answer ‘/m/.’ Let’s add on to that sound. [Write a on the board after m.] ‘Sound?’” [If students say long a, ask “Short sound?”

Students: “/a/”

Teacher: [Make a left-to-right blending motion under the ma.] “Blend.”

Teacher and Students: /m/ /a/ [Blend the two sounds]

Teacher: [Write t on the blank.] “Sound?”

Students: /t/

Teacher: [Make a left-to-right blending motion under the mat.] “Blend.”

Teacher and Students: /m/ /a/ /t/ [Blend the three sounds]

Teacher: “Word?”

Students: “mat”

About the Sound-by-Sound Spelling Blending Instructional Sequence

This instructional sequence has been carefully designed to reflect years of reading research and teaching experience. This is the most effective sequence to introduce the phonics and spelling components. Here are some rather technical notes that make this instructional sequence superior to other instructional designs.

1. The most common sounds are introduced prior to the least common sounds.

  • Weeks 1-3: Short vowels and consonant sounds
  • Weeks 4-5: Ending consonant blends and “sh” and “th” voiced consonant digraphs
  • Weeks 6-7: Beginning consonant blends, “wh” and “tch” consonant digraphs, “sh” and “th” unvoiced consonant digraphs
  • Weeks 8-9: Long vowel sounds and silent final e
  • Weeks 10-11: Long vowel sounds and r-controlled vowels
  • Weeks 12-13: Diphthongs
  • Weeks 14-15: Vowel-influenced and irregular spellings

2. Order of instruction separates letters that are visually similar e.g., p and b, m and n, v and w, u and n.

3. Order of instruction separates sounds that are similar e.g., /k/ and /g/, /u/ and /o/, /t/ and /d/, /e/ and /i/.

4. The most commonly used letters are introduced prior to the least commonly used letters.

5. Short words with fewer phonemes are introduced prior to longer words with more phonemes.

6. Continuous sounds e.g., /a/, /m/, are introduced prior to stop sounds e.g., /t/ because the continuous sounds are easier to blend.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

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