Phonics Part 1: Getting Started

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

The National Reading Panel has named five essential components of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. To be a reader, a student must learn how to decode words and also comprehend them. As I encounter students in my consulting practice, many are at a loss regarding ways to decode words and thus fall further and further behind. According to numerous educational articles about the science of teaching reading, teachers are also often feeling they didn’t have the proper background information from their university experiences about how to teach children to read. Plus, many of my subscribers are alternatively or emergency certified and have not had this information presented to them either. Check out this article. Notice how explicit phonics instruction is a central focus: https://www.nctq.org/blog/The-Science-of-Teaching-Reading

Most reading classrooms utilize a balanced literacy model, trying to devote an equal amount of time to the above 4-5 components. Often times due to time constraints, phonics is “covered” through the spelling lessons or through individualized computer programs. This is not enough. Many commercial reading series provide some phonics instruction, but the lessons are often not to-the-point, rely too much on worksheets, and have too much teacher talk (in my opinion). Many teachers with whom I work have expressed they don’t feel adquate in their attempts to help students beyond saying, “sound it out.”

So let’s see if we can tackle this beast for the next few posts.  Here’s what I plan to focus on:

  • What are the sound / letter combinations students should know?
  • Why are letter sounds and spelling them often difficult?
  • Do students know the difference between vowels and consonants?
  • What is the benefit of helping students know what their lips and tongue are doing as they make various letter sounds?
  • What are some of the best rules of phonics?
  • How many of the “rules” actually work?
  • There are many different ways a student can “sound out” a word. What are they?
  • What to do if a student’s only method is to sound out each letter one at a time?
  • What role do the 3 cueing systems play in reading instruction. How is phonics involved?
  • What are some helpful resources for the teacher as well as the students?
  • How often and what should be included in an explicit phonics lesson?
  • How can the teacher monitor a student’s progress with regard to phonics knowledge?
  • How can the teacher assist the parents so everyone is on the same page regarding helpful strategies?

Here are three wonderful easy to use systematic resources that will help us get started:

Free phonics lessons:Lots of words (and sentences) to practice each phonics skill. The phonics skill is also explained.

Free video phonics reading lessons:Watch the blending procedure and practice in short video clips.

Explicit Phonics Lessons (from W. Virginia):These lessons focus on how to physically articulate the sound (where is the tongue, what are the lips doing?) as well as an I do, we do, you do approach. An easy to implement routine.

Reading Routines Part 5: Phonics (OK Math and Reading Lady)This is a previous post of mine. We will revisit some of the comments made there throughout this series.

What phonics instruction concerns and questions do you have? Please feel free to comment (click on speech bubble at the top of this post). 

Reading Fix-it Strategies: Part 4 (Decoding)

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Here are 12 decoding strategies you might like. These show various ways to help students break apart, analyze, and relate to known words. I only recommend sounding out words letter-by-letter in a few limited situations. Beginning readers do this to apply newly learned letter-sound knowledge. It is a successful method for cvc words and other small words which follow the phonics rules. However, if this is the child’s main method of reading, it begins to become unproductive and impede fluency. In addition to prompting students for meaning or use of structure (see Fix-it Strategies parts 1 and 2), try some of these strategies to help children decode words.

  1. Help the child think of a word that makes sense which also begins with that letter(s).alligator
  2. Use the picture and the first letter to help predict the word. Example: The alligator is green. I know it’s not crocodile because the word begins with the letter a.
  3. On a word which can be predicted using the meaning and structure of the story, show a student how to cover up the end of the word (with their finger) to “force” the student to focus on the beginning letter or blend. Or use a post-it note over everything except the first letter or blend. The cloze procedure works well here. For example: “The first time I got on an airplane I was feeling sc_____.” A student probably doesn’t need to even see the rest of the word to predict it says “scared.”
  4. Limit “sounding out” to highly predictable words. Use Elkonin sound boxes for students to “push” sounds of words and then blend them together. Click on this link to see a video of this process: Elkonin Sound Boxes When ready, replace chips with letter tiles.
  5. Use “continuous blending.”  The reader slowly blends the sounds together instead of segmenting one at a time.  Example with cat:  Instead of /k/ + /a/ + /t/ it might sound like /kaaat/.
  6. Show the student how to cover up parts of words to isolate known syllables, base words, or word parts.
    • Candy: look for known word part –and (or can)
    • Jumping: look for base word jump
    • Herself: look for compound words
  7. Help student relate the tricky word to another that is similar (word analogy). If a child is struggling with a word, it is often helpful to write a simple known word (on a handy small whiteboard) to see if they can relate the known to the new.
    • For week: You know we so this word is . . .
    • For star: You know are so this word is . . .
    • For chat: You know cat so this word is . . .
    • For dress: You know yes so this word is . . .
    • For perfect: You know her so this word is . . .
    • For wreck: You know write so this word is . . .
  8. Sometimes a student gets a word on one page and not another. Help them notice when this happens. “You read this word correctly on page 2. What did it say on page 2? Try it here on page 5.”
  9. Teach children to look for chunks and break the word apart. Example: For standing break into /st/ + /and/ + /ing/. Children will learn more of these “chunks” through spelling instruction. Or, make new words using word families so they can see similar chunks, such as: -ame, -ell, – ick, -oat, -ug
  10. Tell the child to “flip the vowel.” This means if they try one sound and it doesn’t make sense, to try the other sound the vowel makes. This is a quick prompt without the teacher going into a mini-lesson on vowel rules. As a visual reminder, I flip the palm of my hand from one side to the other.
  11. For single or multi-syllabic words, practice these generalizations:
    • Closed syllable:  If a single vowel is “closed in” with consonants on each side, the vowel sound is usually short (tub, flat, bas-ket, lim-it, in-spect). This generalization often applies to vc syllables in which the consonant ends the syllable.
    • Open syllable: If a vowel ends the word or syllable, it is considered “open.” In this case, the vowel usually makes the long sound (be, go, be-gin, o-pen, ta-ble, cho-sen)
    • Two vowels in a syllable? Most often the vowel will produce the long sound (this includes vowel digraphs and the vce pattern such as coat, cone, treat-ing).
  12. Practice word sorting, so children can visually discriminate between words /patterns.

For those of you who use Journeys (Houghton Mifflin), you can access word study/spelling cards for sorting only through Think Central. Go to teacher resources, then choose the “Literacy and Language Guide.” Click on the word study link to find them.

As I mentioned in other posts, when the child is reading text let them complete the sentence before prompting for uncorrected errors. This is because the child’s use of the meaning and structural systems are huge. The visual aspect of a word is meant to help them confirm – not drive their system of reading. See previous posts (Fix-it Strategies parts 1-3 and freebies) for more information.

Have a great week!  Cindy

Reading Fix-it Strategies: Part 1 “Does it make sense?”

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

What strategies do your students use to fix their reading? As teachers, we want our students to recognize when something doesn’t look right, sound right, or make sense — and FIX IT! But, do they use the same strategy over and over again — or worse — not even try to fix a mistake? This post will begin a series about good fix-it strategies (for any age reader) and prompts teachers can use to encourage students to use them. Keep reading for a FREE prompting guide, poster, and bookmark to use in your classroom.

The fix-it strategies I will share are based on the three cueing systems in reading: Meaning, Structure, and Visual. When students make errors in their reading, the errors fall into one of these 3 categories. 

In this post, I will focus on the MEANING system, which in my opinion is the most important one. After all, the ultimate goal in reading is to comprehend or make meaning. When a reader comes to a hard word, is he/she only trying to sound it out? Or are they thinking about what makes sense and sounds right? Hopefully, a little of each. A good reader looks at the letters, combined with the structure and meaning of the story to decide what that tricky word could be.

I’m sure you are familiar with this scenario.  A child sees this text:  She went to the store to get some milk. But, the child reads it as:  She went to the story to get some milk. And the child keeps on reading, oblivious to their mistake. After all, the word does look like story.

Which one of these prompts do you think will help the child fix their reading most efficiently? Continue reading