As an expert reader, you’re brain rips words apart into smaller components so quickly, you’ve ceased to recognize phonics rules. You can’t recall what they are. Or how you learned them in the first place. You’ve become like an expert cellist who can no longer teach notes incrementally. How am I supposed to teach my struggling readers, you wonder.
In this post, I outline the following phonics rules:
- short vowels
- consonant digraphs
- consonant blends
- long vowel digraphs
- other vowel digraphs
- inflectional endings
- polysyllabic words
Short vowels are:
a_ as in apple (ex. mat, sat, fan, ham, cap)
e_ as in elephant (ex. met, set, fell, pen, let)
i_ as in igloo (ex. lit, sit, fin, him, kit)
o_ as in octopus (ex. got, hot, Ron, hop, cop)
u_ as in up (ex. cup, hut, fun, hum, tub)
Reading Elephant offers systematic short vowel books.
Consonant digraphs are:
sh as in wish, dish, ship, shell…etc.
th as in bath, math, moth, path…etc.
th as in then, this, that…etc.
ch as in chop, chill, chip, Chad…etc.
_tch as in batch, witch, match, patch…etc.
_ck as in deck, kick, Rick, chick…etc.
_ing as in king, ring, sing, wing…etc.
_ng as in long, song, wrong, strong…etc.
_ang as in sang, rang, pang, bang…etc.
wh_ as in when, whale, wheel, whim…etc.
Reading Elephant offers systematic consonant digraph books.
Consonant blends are two or more letter sounds in a row as in words like sand, spot, blast, free, thrill, swell…etc. Reading Elephant does not advocate teaching kids to memorize blends. Struggling readers need the most efficient method. Instead of teaching bl, sp, nd, fr, gr, st…etc. as units, teach kids phonemic awareness skills. With phonemic awareness activities, kids can blend two or more letter sounds in a row.
There are many consonant blends. If you teach kids to memorize them, you’ve essentially almost doubled the amount of units they need to memorize. For struggling readers, this can have a detrimental impact, putting a child even further behind than she already is.
Thus, teach kids to decode sound-by-sound. For example, “ffff-r-oooo-g. Frog!”
Reading Elephant offers consonant blends books.
Long vowel digraphs
Long vowel digraphs are:
a_ e as in lake, bake, lane, make, mane…etc.
e_e as in Pete (This pattern is mainly in longer words, but teach it early).
i_e as in hive, bike, dive, tile, mile, mine…etc.
o_e as in hope, cope, hole, rope, rose…etc.
u_e as in duke, use (This one has two sounds, including the “oo” sound as in “duke” and the long u sound as in “use.” Teach both.)
ai as in sail, mail, tail…etc.
_ay as in bay, day, say…etc.
ee as in peek, seek, seem…etc.
ea as in leave, real, seal…etc.
igh as in sigh, light, might…etc.
oa as in boat, soap, boast…etc.
ow as in glow, slow, row…etc.
_y as in my, cry, fly…etc.
____y as in funny, bunny, granny…etc.
Reading Elephant will offer systematic long vowel books in September 2018.
Other vowel digraphs
Other vowel digraphs are:
oo as in moon, soon, bloom…etc.
oo as in book, hood, cook…etc.
ew as in blew, chew, new…etc.
ou in grouchy, pouch, loud…etc.
ow as in town, gown, vow…etc. (Recall from above: ow also makes the long o sound as in glow).
oi as in coin, voice, choice…etc.
_oy as in toy, joy, annoy…etc.
al(l) as in ball, hall, fall…etc.
au as in launch, paunch, sauce…etc.
aw as in paw, claw, saw…etc.
Inflectional Endings allow us to use different tenses, superlatives, and plural words. These endings include ing, ed, est, es, s and er. Mastering inflectional endings takes quite a while. Usually, struggling readers land on this particular concept the longest. There are a few reasons for this.
First, inflectional endings require a methodical approach. You can’t just throw all the above word types at your struggling readers, attach inflectional endings and expect them to get it. You have to peel back on instruction a bit. For example, explain why the o has a different sound in hopping versus hoping.
In addition, explain that some inflectional endings have multiple sounds. For example, ed says:
ed as in missed (This makes the t sound.)
ed as in rested (This makes the id sound.)
ed as in changed (This makes the d sound.)
Also, es has two sounds:
es as in catches (This makes the is sound.)
es as in saves (This makes the s sound.)
Right when you think you’re student is done learning phonics you realize there are still many more phonics rules. English has lots of phonics rules. Once you get into polysyllabic words, the rules begin to change. Some of the above rules still apply. However, vowels tend to function differently in polysyllabic words. Vowels tend to have two categories: open and closed.
Open syllables are syllables wherein the vowel is at the end. Consider “va-ca-tion.” Both va and ca are open syllables—the vowel is at the end of the syllable. Thus, the vowel is long. The vowel says its name: ay. Here are some other words with open syllables:
Closed Syllables are syllables wherein the vowel is at the end. Consider “hiccup.” Both hic and cup are closed syllables. The vowels are not at the end. Therefore, they’re short. The vowels say i_ as in igloo and u_ as in up. Here are some more words that contain closed syllables:
Sight syllables are chunks of letters that must be memorized. They are found in polysyllabic words. You may have noticed some sight syllables above. For example, “motion” has the sight syllable tion. These units consistently say the same thing. This is why they are an important aspect of teaching phonics rules. Here are the top ten sight syllables I recommend teaching:
tion as in motion
sion as in mission
able as in probable
tive as in festive
sive as in massive
ble as in bubble
dle as in puddle
ple as in purple
gle as in giggle
con as in connect
There are lots of sight syllables. Without them, struggling readers will struggle with many polysyllabic words.
Phonics rules require extensive practice
If all the above content seems easy to you, don’t be deceived. It is not. You already know this stuff. You’ve long forgotten how you even came to read. To help you build compassion and patience for your struggling readers, imagine that all the above units are notes on an instrument you can’t play, like the harp. Now imagine that everyone around you expects you to just “get” the harp.
Simply exposing struggling readers to the units will not sufficiently teach them. To really learn all phonics rules, kids need extensive practice. Struggling readers need to learn the units one at a time. Then, they need to build fluency and accuracy with each new sound.
Thus, struggling readers need to practice using systematic phonics-based books. Reading Elephant offers systematic phonics books for short vowel sounds, consonant digraph sounds, consonant blends and silent e. Very soon, we’ll release our long vowel series.
Phonics rules become automatic
Many adults erroneously think they process words as a whole. How can we blame them? (I once thought this too!)
Our miraculous brains are so good at filling in blind spots, we fail to see that there’s actually a gaping hole in our field of vision. With reading, we process words so rapidly, we fail to see that our brain rips apart words into smaller units and strings them back together.
Attach any one of us to an MRI, and we’ll see that all readers, and yes that includes us experts, process words in what neuroscientist Dehaene dubs the “letterbox area.” Our brains recognize phonics rules automatically and rapidly. Us experts fail to notice phonics rules at all. We deny that we’re even applying them.
Phonics rules help us decode nearly any word, including palatine and transubstantiation. Experts can read words so quickly. When you work with a beginner, they are unaware of phonics rules. At first, they must learn them. Then, they read very, very slowly.
Struggling readers in particular need a step-by-step methodical approach. This means, many beginning readers need to learn phonics rules explicitly and incrementally. This is why Reading Elephant offers a phonics book series that introduces one phonics rule at a time.