Reading Elephant is a very strong proponent of explicit, systematic phonics instruction. Young readers need teachers to clearly introduce new letter-sound correspondences, including th words phonics. In addition, students need to build phonics knowledge incrementally. For example, students learn th words phonics only after they’ve mastered short vowels and th sh digraph.
With explicit, systematic phonics instruction kids can build a very strong reading foundation, a foundation on which all future reading skills depend.
“Systematic phonics instruction is designed to increase accuracy in decoding and word recognition skills, which in turn facilitate comprehension.”
-Report of the National Reading Panel, 2000
Th voiced and voiceless sounds
Th has two sounds, a voiced and unvoiced sound. When you teach th to your student, introduce both the voiced and unvoiced version. The voiced sound is in words like, “then” and “this.” The unvoiced sound is in “bath” and “math.” Try saying both. Do you notice that the position in your mouth is the same? When saying both the voiced and unvoiced th your tongue is at the front of your upper teeth.
The only difference between voiced th and unvoiced th is the following: when saying voiced th, you use your voice. When saying unvoiced th you simply breathe out. Simple enough. Now you want to communicate this to your student.
How to introduce th words phonics
With systematic phonics lessons, a teacher might introduce th words phonics in the following way:
TEACHER WRITES: Beth had a bath. Then, Beth had a nap.
TEACHER SAYS: We are going to learn a new sound today. It’s in the sentence, “Bethth had a bathth.” [Teacher holds th sound]. The new sound is in Bethth and bathth. What do you think [teacher points to th] says?
STUDENT: thth (student says unvoiced th)
TEACHER: Yes. Where is th in your mouth? Where is your tongue positioned?
STUDENT: At the front of my upper teeth.
TEACHER: That’s right. Th also has a second sound. It’s in the sentence, “Ththen, Beth had a nap.” [Teacher holds th sound]. The second sound is in “ththen.” What else do you think th says?
STUDENT: thth (student says voiced th)
When to introduce th words phonics
Introduce th words phonics after you’ve taught the following sounds:
a_ as in apple
e_ as in elephant
i_ as in igloo
o_ as in octopus
u_ as in up
sh as in ship
In addition, kids need to know all of their letter sounds.
Sample voiced th words for kindergarten:
At this point, since students only know short vowels, focus on short vowel words. There are lots of th words! Avoid selecting words with phonics units the student may not know yet. For example, words like “theme,” “teeth,” “growth” or “method” can come later—these are not simple short vowel words. Here are some sample voiced th words for kindergarten:
this, that, them, then, thus,
Sample unvoiced th words for kindergarten:
Here are some sample voiced th words for kindergarten:
thud, math, bath, thin, thick, thrill, thrash, Beth, Seth, truth, tenth, sloth, cloth
How to practice th words phonics
After you introduce th words phonics, have student practice with a wordlist. Be sure to incorporate all the previous sounds the student knows. This way, the student can review. In addition, don’t use all th words—the student will simply begin guessing! If you pick some th words and some words with th, your student will really have to analyze the words sound-by-sound.
Here’s a sample wordlist:
Use sound cards
If you want to learn about the importance of sound cards, I did another post about them. Sound cards allow your student to quickly review all the sound units he knows. Essentially, they are flashcards.
Sound cards provide a 2-3 minute highly effective activity. Right now, as your student learns th words phonics, his sound cards should be: [any letter sounds he’s weak in], a_, e_, i_, o_, u_, sh, th.
Mix up the order every session!
Lastly, practice with phonics books
Phonics books allow kids to practice the phonics sounds they know. The language in phonics books is limited and sentences can sound awkward. However, phonics books teach decoding skills, an essential skill in reading. They also allow beginning readers to read successfully since they’re designed for sound-by-sound reading strategies. In addition, phonics books build strong reading habits, as they teach kids to analyze words phonetically.
Practice th words phonics with the “Math in the Bath” and “The Moth” available in the Reading Elephant phonics books shop.