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Category Archives: digraphs
You can teach your child to read. Start with a phonics assessment.
Are you are planning to teach your child how to read this summer, either starting at the beginning or filling in the gaps? If so, where do you start? I suggest you give your child a pretest to see what reading skills your child has learned well, and what ones he has not yet grasped. The words on this pretest are more or less divided into four kinds of words in this order: 1. Short (closed) vowel, one-syllable words. These include one- and two-letter words, words beginning or ending with blends and digraphs (black, church) words which end in twin consonants (fell, jazz), words which end in “ck,” and words to which an “s” can be added to make plural words or certain verbs (maps, runs). 2. Long (open) vowel, one-syllable words. These include words ending with silent “e,” words with double vowels which have only one vowel pronounced (goes, pear), and certain letter combinations (ild, old). They also include words with “oi,” “oy,” “ow” and “ou” letters. 3. Two– and three-syllable words which follow the above rules (catnip, deplete) and two- and three-syllable words which don’t follow the above rules but which follow a pattern (light, yield). These words include words with certain suffixes (le, ies) and words with a single consonant between two vowels (robin, motel). 4. Exceptions. These include words with silent letters (gnaw, lamb), words from other languages (debris, cello), and words which fit no pattern (business). Ask your child to read the words in the pretest below. Each row across tests a particular phonics skill. If you child hesitates at all, that is the place to begin teaching him or her phonics. I will talk more about how to teach these four groups of phonics skills in my next blog. Phonics assessment bad, hem, fit, don, pug, am, if, lass, jazz lock, Mick, bills, cliffs, mitts, catnip, Batman grand, stent, frisk, stomp, stuck chuck, shun, them, branch, brush, tenth star, fern, birds, fork, purr, actor, doctor, victor muffin, kitten, collect, pepper, gallon complex, helmet, falcon, napkin, after tantrum, muskrat, constant, fulcrum, ostrich skate, bike, Jude, mole, dare, shore, tire, pure need, cheer, aim, hair, bay, pie, boat, oar, Joe, low, soul fruit, few, child, blind, fold, colt, roll, light, high earn, worm, rook, pool fault, claw, all, chalk, Walt boil, so, pound, down comet, dragon, liver, salad, denim total, ever, student, basic, demon, vital apron, elude, Ethan, Owen, ideal, usurp inside, nearly, absent, unicorn, degrade, tripod advance, offense, fence gripped, planned, melted, batted, handed sweeping, boiling, thinning, flopping, biking, dating rapper, saddest, finer, bluest, funnier, silliest easily, busily, massive, active, arrive, wives keys, monkeys, armies, carried action, section, musician, racial, crucial, nuptials brittle, pickle, carbon, dormer parcel, decent, gem, urge, badge lose, sugar, nature, sure graph, Phil, then, moth bomb, thumb, gnat, gnome, high, sign whip, whirl, echo, ghoul, knee, knob could, calf, folk, hustle, listen, wrist alone, bread, bear, chief, young, squaw, swan, waltz, word decision, exposure, gigantic, polarize, occupant, quarantine If you want to help your child learn to read, one of the best things you can do is not to let him guess. Most words can be deciphered if the student has a phonics background. Also, don’t let your child depend on pictures for meaning once the child starts to read. Most adult reading material is not accompanied by graphics. Students must learn to gain meaning from the text alone. If you have decided to help your child read this summer, good for you. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to help your child read better. Years of research show that the best way to teach reading is to start with letter sounds (phonemes) and then to combine those letter sounds into words (phonics). If you do this in a systematic way, such as following the four-part sequence I describe above, your child will learn to read.
Teach 16 consonant sound-letter associations first, not vowels
If you are teaching your child to read, and you wonder what letters to begin with, choose the 16 consonants that almost always make the same sound at the beginning of English words. Those letters are b, d, f, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, qu, r, t, v, x, and z.
Why these 16? These sound-letter pairings follow one-to-one logic. A d always sounds like a d when it begins a word. An r always sounds like an r when it begins a word. Later your child will learn that certain letters can represent more than one sound (all the vowels, for example) and that certain sounds can be represented by more than one letter (the z sound can be represented by z and s, for example). That can be confusing.
But for now, as your child learns to read, sticking to one-to-one relationships gives your child confidence. An m always sounds like an m. A k always sounds like a k.
Start with sounds that have meaning to children. If your child’s name is Marco, start by teaching the letter sound m, and tape Marco’s photo on an Mm card to hang on the refrigerator. If your dog’s name is Bandit, tape Bandit’s picture to a Bb card. However, don’t use pictures of words beginning with blended sounds (br as in Brian) or digraphs (sh as in Shelly).
Posted in consonants, digraphs, letter sounds, phonemes, reading readiness., vowels
Add “Alphablocks” to your strategies for teaching phonics
If your beginning reader is enamored with all things technology, let me highly recommend a colorful animated series which teaches basic phonics.
Alphablocks is a step-by-step reading program created by British literacy experts and award-winning web designers. The “stars” consist of 26 colorful letter blocks with distinctive faces who jump, twirl, sing, and dance to form words like “hen” and “tub.”
The series is divided into five levels. Level 1 teaches young viewers to recognize sounds associated with the most commonly used letters, creating short-vowel, one-syllable words. Level 2 introduces the rest of the alphabet. Level 3 teaches about “letter teams” or digraphs. Level 4 teaches blends. Level 5 introduces long vowels formed with “Magic E.”
Segments last about four or five minutes. The innocent letter blocks find themselves in silly situations as they hunt for other letter blocks to help them form words.
I watched with my five-year-old grandson who read aloud the words as they formed onscreen. Even his three-year-old brother was engaged. At one point I said, “Now I wonder what letter that is?” as a letter skipped across the TV screen. “L,” shouted the three-year-old. He was right.
We watched on Netflix, but Alphablocks is also available through YouTube, and apps can be downloaded free. A companion series on numbers is also available for preschoolers and primary grade students.
For more information, go to https://wwwlearningblocks.tv.
Hooked on Phonics
When you are teaching a child to read, it is important to use supplementary materials. One such reading instruction series is Hooked on Phonics.
Why I like and recommend Hooked on Phonics:
- Book 1 of Hooked on Phonics teaches VC and CVC words, introducing short a, i, o, u, and e in that order. Most phonics instruction begins this way.
- New words are introduced in rows of up to six words, often with fewer than ten new words per page. With lots of white space, the appearance of the pages is friendly.
- The large typeface looks like children’s printing with the a’s and g’s easy to read.
- Each new vowel sound is introduced with a vivid picture of a word which begins with that letter sound (although not many children today know what an ox is).
- Hooked on Phonics intersperses 17 one- or two-page illustrated stories, throughout Book 1. The attractive stories are well-illustrated with humorous black and white line drawings. The captions of the stories use mostly CVC words. The stories continue through all five of the instruction books.
- Newly introduced words are reviewed over and over.
- Book 2 continues with CVC words, teaching beginning word blends, which continue the one-letter-to-one-sound relationship established in Book 1. This kind of logic makes sense to children.
- Book 3 expands CVC words by introducing end-of-word blends; it also introduces a few suffixes like -ing and -ed, which create two-syllable words.
- Book 4 introduces long vowels (silent e and double vowels)in one-syllable words.
- Book 5 introduces two-letter vowel sounds (harder than Book 4 words), three-letter beginning blends (harder than book 2 blends), and soft c and g.
- Students don’t need to write anything to use this series, a plus for students who balk at writing.
What I don’t like about Hooked on Phonics:
- Book 1 introduces 44 sight words along with 168 VC and CVC words. In other words, about 20% of the words to be learned in book one are sight words, not phonics words. With so much memorizing to be done, children might think memorizing words is as important as sounding out words. This misunderstanding of how new words are decoded—memorized rather than sounded out—can inculcate bad reading behaviors in beginning readers.</li
- The first blends introduced to children (ch-, sh-, and th-) are not blends at all. They are digraphs, letter combinations whose original sounds are ignored and replaced with new sounds. This can confuse children who are learning that English is a logical sound system. Teaching digraphs at this point does not make sense.
- The reading books that accompany the series can be hard to read. One Level 2 book, for example, uses the words “detective,” “ghost,” “house,” “kitten” “thanks,” “meow,” “blanket” and “white,” words which are far beyond the reading ability of a child learning to form beginning blends in one-syllable, short-vowel words.
- Some easy phonics rules (adding an s to form plurals, pronouncing double consonants such as -ll at the end of words as a single sound, and pronouncing -ck at the end of words as a single sound) are not mentioned. Why not?
- Two- and three-syllable words are barely mentioned, and advanced phonics is not covered at all. In my teaching of reading, I meet children who learn phonics using one-syllable words only. Yet children need word attack skills for pronouncing long words, for recognizing roots, prefixes and suffixes, and for spelling certain kinds of words. Phonics for so many children stops before these skills are learned and guessing at words begins.
The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages of using Hooked on Phonics as a supplement to beginning reading instruction. With online access now available for phones, computers and tablets, kids who are attracted to technology have a reason to like the series as much as their parents and teachers.
Eight ways you can become a better reading teacher
Here are eight ways you can become a better reading teacher.
One. Evaluate four- and five-year-olds to see if they are ready to learn to read. If a student is not ready, delay.
Two. Teach your beginning readers to encode more and to decode less. Offer daily time to orally create words from sounds that the students already know. Show a picture of a pig. Ask students to sound out pig, not using letters, but using the sounds in the word.
Three. Start with words whose sounds have a one-to-one correspondence to consonant and short vowel letter sounds—no digraphs, no silent letters, no exceptions to the rules.
Four. Refer to letters by their sounds for beginning readers. Explain that letters are pictures of sounds, and that it is the sounds which are important for reading.
Five. Teach children to pay attention to their lips and mouths when they sound out words. Each time their mouth opens or closes, or their lips change shape, their mouth is saying a different sound. When we join together the sounds, we form words.When you introduce the ABC’s, start with a one-to-one correspondence between the sounds of English and a letter or letter pair. This is easy if a consonant makes only one sound, such as “b.” But when a sound can be represented multiple ways (for example, “oi” and “oy”) pick one “default” way for starts and stick to it. Avoid words which are not spelled with the default letters. You might teach boy, toy and coy, but for now avoid teaching boil, toil, and coil. On the other hand, if a child writes, “Mom spoyls me,” ignore the misspelling. But when children repeatedly write a word wrong (“wuz,” for example), tell them the correct spelling so the phonetic spelling does not become embedded in their brains.
Six. Don’t teach concepts such as digraphs, blends, and diphthongs to beginning readers. Teach sounds. If there are fancy academic words to call these sounds, don’t use them. You will only confuse beginning readers.
Seven. Don’t become a speller for your students. Once they are writing and using ABC’s, write difficult words on the board. Otherwise, tell students to sound words out. Also don’t mark misspelled words wrong.
Eight. When you introduce ABC’s, use typefaces which show the versions of letters which children will use when they handwrite. For example, use this type of “a” and “g.” Also, typefaces which slightly enlarge half-space letters like “a,” “c” and “e” are easier for kids to read. (The typeface you are reading is such a typeface.)
So you’ve decided to teach your four-year-old to read–part 2
Once you are sure your child can hear and say the sounds of the English language, the next step is to make your child understand that we use letters to represent those sounds.
One good way is to explain that people a long time ago figured out how to make pictures of sounds. Those pictures of sounds are called letters. In English those pictures are called ABC’s.
Say the child’s name. Emphasize the sound at the beginning of the name. Then show or draw the letter which the child’s name begins with. You don’t need to call the letter by its name yet; rather, call the letter by the sound it represents.
For example, if your child’s name is Teddy, say his name emphasizing the “t” sound at the beginning of the name. Show or draw the letter “t” but when you point to it, say the “t” sound. Collect or point out objects which begin with the same sound. Help the child to see that the “t” sound is in many words. Kids will hear the sound more readily at the beginnings of words.
Some kids catch on fast and you can add another letter sound almost immediately. For others you should focus on one sound at a time for several days. Start with names of family members. Focus on the first sound of the name, not middle sounds or ending sounds. Move on to objects the child sees or uses daily. Keep reviewing the letter sounds the child has already learned.
Stick to sounds which follow a one-to-one sound-to-letter correspondence. For now, avoid names like Yvonne or Celine in which the first sound of the name is not represented by the letter usually associated with that sound. Names which begin with digraphs like Shelly or Thad should also be avoided for now. Four-year-olds can understand one-to-one logic. Save words in which one sound is represented by two letters until later.
When two letters equal one sound: teaching digraphs
When children learn to read using a phonics method, they start by learning that each sound has a one-to-one relationship with a letter. This makes reading seem logical to little children. See a B and say “b.” As teachers we don’t muddy beginning readers’ thinking by telling new readers that some letters mean more than one sound or that some letters, when paired with other letters, make totally different sounds or that some sounds can be represented by multiple groupings of letters. We save that for later, after children have “mastered” the concept of CVC words and blends.
But eventually children learn that written English is not as logical as it seems at first. Most advanced phonics instruction begins by teaching children consonant digraphs, two letters which, when paired, represent a sound that neither of the individual letters represents. The pairs which are taught first usually include ck, qu, sh, ch, and th.
If you find that children balk at learning this part of the “code,” this is normal. A four- or five-year-old’s understanding of logic is not the same as an adult’s. One-to-one relationships between sounds and letters makes sense to little children, but one-to-two relationships do not.
I recommend you start with one digraph per lesson. Just like beginning-of-word blends are easier for children to learn than end-of-word blends, beginning-of-word digraphs are too. The exception is “-ck.” I teach that while I am teaching CVC words containing blends.
But for other digraphs, I usually start with “sh” because there are lots of “sh” one syllable, short-vowel words such as shag, shed, shin, shot, and shut. I try to make learning “sh” at the beginning of words a game, using letter tiles and BINGO cards with “sh” words.
After a student becomes comfortable pronouncing “sh” at the beginning of words, I move on to another beginning-of-word digraph. The order isn’t important, but it is important that you constantly review the previously learned digraphs as you move along. For children who find remembering difficult, it is especially important to advance slowly, spending a large part of each lesson reviewing.
When the student is reasonably secure with pronouncing these digraphs at the beginnings of words, I might tackle teaching how to pronounce digraphs at the ends of words, one at a time. Or I might delay this kind of instruction, depending on how difficult it was for the student to learn the beginning of word digraphs.