Phonics Part 3: Vowels and Consonants

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

The 5 vowels make up just 19% of the letters of the alphabet, but have 38 different spellings (for the short and long sounds).  The vowels are much like the “glue” that hold words together. The 21 consonants, on the other hand, make up 81% of the letters of the alphabet, and have 54 different spellings (not including the digraphs). Here again is a 44 Phoneme chart 44Phonemes to illustrate this (from Orchestrating Success in Reading by Dawn Reithaug, 2002.)  Stay tuned for other resources and FREEBIES.

Some other interesting vowel and consonant trivia:

  •  “A vowel is a sound that is produced with no obstructions. The air simply floats through your mouth and has very little interaction with your teeth, your lips, or other structures. On the other hand, a consonant has some degree of air obstruction.” (Dr. Molly Ness, Linuistic expert). So now is everyone trying that out like I did? It’s true!  Producing vowel sounds require little or no lip / tongue movement. Whereas most consonants require specific lip and tongue placement.
  • Each syllable is made up of one vowel sound. This is how we count and divide multi-syllabic words (one vowel sound per syllable).
  • While most single consonants only make one sound, there are a few exceptions such as:  c = /s/ or /k/; g = /g/ or /j/; y = /y/ or /long e/ or /long i/; s = /s/ or /z/; x = /ks/ or /z/ . This reveals the letters c and x don’t have their own unique sound.

Then there is this interesting information about how we say the consonant letter names vs. the sound the letter makes — no wonder kids get confused! Here’s a previous blog post going into more detail on this fantastic research. I think it’s a must read for all elementary teachers: Alphabet Letter and Sounds Research (Cindy’s Blog)

Letter names starting with short vowel sound when pronounced:

  • f = /ef/
  • l = /el/
  • m = /em/
  • n = /en/
  • s = /es/
  • x = /eks/
  • r = /ar/ — not exactly a short vowel sound, but close

Letter names with long a sound when pronounced:

  • j = /jay/
  • k = /kay/

Letter names with long e sound when pronounced:

  • b = /bee/
  • c = /see/
  • d = /dee/
  • g = /jee/
  • p = /pee/
  • t = /tee/
  • v = /vee/
  • z = /zee/

Letter names with pronunciatons not using their letter sound:

  • h = /aych/ —  the letter sound is pronounced /h-h-h/
  • q = /kue/ — the letter sound is /kwuh/
  • w = /double u/ — the letter sound is pronounced /wuh/
  • y = /why/ — the letter sound is pronounced /yuh/

The article on Alphabet Research I referenced above has some excellent instructional guidelines for introducing and teaching the letter sounds. If you are a “letter of the week” teacher, this may shed some light on what newer research has revealed.

Here are some good strategies for vowel and consonant instruction in the classroom. Please share some of yours that aren’t on my list!!

  • Check out Kate Garner’s “Secret Stories.”  https://www.katiegarner.com/ She has a fantastic approach to help students notice what their mouth is doing when saying a sound and links it to fun phrases and actions.
  • POST an alphabet chart in the classroom which includes pictures, big enough to be seen across the room.  A good thing to look for is one that has 2 pictures for the vowels, or has the vowels in a different color. To me, this is a MUST in pre-K, KG and first grade classrooms. A poster close to your group teaching station is also highly recommended for easy, quick reference.
  • Here’s a desk alphabet chart that is handy for use at your small group station. FREE alphabet chart from TPT (Mrs. Ricca’s Kindergarten)
  • Learn letter formation steps that can be repeated. Here’s an idea from Pinterest: Lower case letter formation rhymes and Uppercase rhymes for letter formation
  • Provide lots of alphabet books in the reading center for individual reading time.
  • Learn the sign language finger spelling for letters of the alphabet. Here’s a link: ASL Finger Spelling Charts
  • Match upper and lower case letters.
  • Match pictures (beginning sounds) with letters.
  • Do picture sorts with 2-3 letters/sounds at a time.
  • Use object sorting tubs.
  • If working on 2 sounds at a time, give children those 2 letters on cards or with letter tiles. Teacher says the word or shows a picture and the students must descriminate between the two to hold up (all students engaged).
  • In shared or guided writing, have children supply the beginning consonant or vowel sound instead of the teacher writing. Example:  If writing the sentence We will go to the library today, the teacher could get students to help with spelling parts of the words (the w, l, t and perhaps the e, i, o  in we, will, and go).
  • Look for particular vowels and consonants in short poems (see Phonics Part 1 for resources).
  • Make alphabet books.  These could be individual or a class big book which can be viewed over and over again during center time.
  • Refer to one of my favorite bloggers / TPT authors for young children (This Reading Mama): https://thisreadingmama.com/teaching-letter-sounds/
  • Making letters with play-dough or in an art related activity should always be connected with pictures and sound practice so students can connect the sound to the letter.

Finally, using knowledge of beginning letters along with picture cues can help a child read easy texts and verify the correct word was used. Here are two examples:

  1. Look at the ______.  If a child only looks at the picture, it might be read as “Look at the rabbit.” But asking the child to confirm by looking at the first letter should reveal the word can not be rabbit because the word shown begins with the letter b.
  2. I can see my _______. If a child only looks at the picture, it might be read as “I can see my coat.” But asking the child to confirm by looking at the first letter, and prompting the child like this:  “What else could that word be that begins with the /j/ sound?” If the child does read the word jacket correctly, the teacher could ask the child, “How did you know that word wasn’t coat?” This would enable to you to determine if the child was using first letter clues, or just guessing.

Blog update for lawtonps.org users:  I did determine that lawtonps.org subscribers did receive two of my December blogs (the last one being Dec. 18) but both times you were immediately unsubscribed right after receiving the blog.  Therefore, you did NOT receive the blog I posted on Dec. 22 (Phonics Part 2).  Neither the blog hoster or LPS have been able to resolve this.  So as an incentive for my Lawton Public School friends, if you subscribe with your home email address (gmail, hotmail, yahoo, etc.), I will put your name in a drawing for a free $25 gift card to a place of your choice (TPT, Amazon, Target, Wal-Mart, Staples, etc.). That drawing will take place at the end of January or beg. of February. Thanks for your understanding and patience!!!!

 

Reading Routines Part 5: Phonics

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Research supports the fact that explicit systematic phonics instruction is highly beneficial to students. In other words, phonics instruction should make up part of the daily reading routine . . . especially in primary classrooms. Here is Reading Rockets take on the Alphabetic Principle: “Alphabetic principle is the idea that letters and letter patterns represent the sounds of spoken language. It differs from oral language and phonemic awareness because it is introducing students to letters and incorporating what they have already learned (sounds). It is showing them that the sounds they have learned have letters and can all be put together.” Here’s some more info from RRockets on this subject: Alphabetic Principle

Phonics instruction starts with matching letters with sounds as well as naming the letter. Here is a summary I wrote regarding some  fantastic research on alphabet learning (to change from the former letter-of-the-week method): Alphabet Letter / Sounds Research

  • Some of the most significant parts of the research for me was the realization that saying the letter name results in a variety of added vowel sounds such as short e sounds /em/ = m; /ef/ = f; or sometimes a long a /kay/ = k; /jay/ = j; or sometimes long e /dee/ = d; /tee/ = t; or something all together different such as /aich/ = h; /double u/ = w.
  • Sometimes the letter name is close to the sound assigned to it, and sometimes it’s not.
  • The research provides some evidence that letter of the day instruction with 5 to 6 cycles of instruction was very beneficial. Each cycle had a different focus such as letters common in the students’ names, most frequently used letters, by the ways letters are formed, etc.

In my last post on phonemic awareness (see Reading Routines Part 4), I shared the progession from sound boxes to letter boxes and included a couple of good videos. These are very helpful with cvc words and other one syllable words. The goal in all of this is to move from letter-by-letter sounding out to continuous blending and chunking.

So what do explicit phonics instructional programs look like? Although not set in stone, there is usually a progression of skills that look similar to this:

  • Letter and sound matching
  • CVC with short vowel practice
  • CVCe with long vowel practice
  • Beginning consonant blends
  • Beginning consonant digraphs
  • Vowel pairs
  • R controlled vowels
  • Vowel diphthongs
  • Multi-syllablic words

Starting in 2nd grade, the emphasis is more on the vowel patterns (such as different ways to spell the long a sound) as well as consonant combinations, both beginning and ending (such as ck, ng, str). Grades 3 and above focus on these as well, but improve and apply to multi-syllablic words. Most textbooks have a daily phonics lessons to help you keep your instructional explicit and systematic.

These are at the core of all phonics instructional programs:

  • Connecting phonics instruction to weekly spelling patterns and learning centers helps students practice a specific set of words and apply the skill to other similar words.
  • Moving away from sounding out words letter-by-letter to try continuous blending and chunking (by looking for common parts or patterns)
  • Using knowledge of one syllable words to apply to multi-syllablic words
  • Relating known words to new words (often called an Analogy Strategy). Here is an example I used with a 5th grader recently who was trying to read the word “wren” in a portion of text. Obviously this bird species is not well known, and the context didn’t help her with the pronunciation.  I just simply wrote the word “write” on my little white board because I was positive she knew it – and she recognized it immediately. Then I said, “Use what you know about this word (write) to help with the word in your text.” She was able to make the analogy quickly! I didn’t have to go into a phonics lesson on how to pronounce words with wr, etc.

Your phonics instruction is strengthened via fix-it strategies which are embedded in your day-to-day teaching situations (guided reading, etc.). Here is a link to my fix-it-strategies post: Decoding fix-it-strategies Continue reading

Alphabet Letter and Sounds Research

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

I was browsing through some research on reading and came across this article about instructional practices concerning alphabet letters and sounds. Click here for a pdf of this article: Enhancing alphabet knowledge instruction: Research implications and practical strategies for early childhood educators.

This article discusses the concept of letter-0f-the-week instruction vs. another researched method. I know many KG teachers who implement the letter-of-the-week method with great success. During most of my teaching career, I know this was a pretty common method – even my own children learned this way. However, as research became more prevalent and relied upon to make instructional decisions, this method of teaching one letter a week came under fire. I kept hearing this, but never read any research which supported it, refuted it (or advised what to do instead) until seeing this article. So please have an open mind KG and 1st grade teachers. I like this quote by Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Here is a summary of the article:

  1. The letter-of-the week method is largely based on tradition rather than research.
  2. With a letter per week, it takes 26 weeks of school (often until March) to complete the cycle, which disadvantages at-risk students.
  3. Many students don’t need a whole week to learn a letter.
  4. With 26 weeks for one complete instructional cycle of the alphabet, this only leaves 10 weeks to review the letters, sounds, and symbols.

The research suggested the following 6 cycles of alphabet learning (meaning each cycle is completed in 26-30 days) and repeated with a different focus for up to 5 more times throughout the year. With each cycle,  the order and reason in which letters are presented is varied. So students experience 6 different opportunities (instead of one) to focus on unique features of the letters to learn the letter name, sound, how to write it, and locate it in text.

1st 26 days: By frequency of initial letters in students’ names. Determine the letters used most often in your students’ names and start with those first. Example:  You have several students whose name begins with M, L, and K. So begin with those letters with your daily instruction. This is very motivating for students and helps with name recognition. Continue reading