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Phonics

Phonics is a way of teaching children how to read and write. It helps children hear, identify and use different sounds that distinguish one word from another in the English language.
Phonics is a way of teaching children how to read and write. It helps children hear, identify and use different sounds that distinguish one word from another in the English language.
Written language can be compared to a code, so knowing the sounds of individual letters and how those letters sound when they’re combined will help children decode words as they read.
Understanding phonics will also help children know which letters to use when they are writing words.
Phonics involves matching the sounds of spoken English with individual letters or groups of letters. 
To read English successfully, children must learn to turn the words they see in a text into sounds and make sense of these sounds. It is important for children to learn letter-sound relationships because English uses letters in the alphabet to represent sounds.
Phonics teaches this information to help children learn how to read. Children learn the sounds that each letter makes, and how a change in the order of letters changes a word’s meaning

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How to Teach Phonics to Beginning Readers

Phonics is the best, most efficient way to teach children how to read. Yes, plenty of words break the “rules” and don’t sound exactly the way they look, but phonics is still the strongest way to give children a strong foundational understanding of how to translate the lines and squiggles on the page into the sounds that make up language. And as a teacher, you can make your students’ experiences as beginning readers fun and exciting.

Learning phonics is the big first step toward the joys of reading. So how can you teach phonics in a way that’s just as interesting as the books your students will eventually enjoy?

We have a few ideas. But let’s step back for a moment and make sure we’re on the same page about phonics itself.

What Phonics Is and How It Works

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, phonics is “a method of teaching people to read by correlating sounds with letters or groups of letters in an alphabetic writing system.” 

In other words, when students learn phonics, they learn the sounds associated with lines and squiggles we call letters — and they learn how those letters work together to create even more sounds, all of which together shape the words we use to communicate.

Phonics is a straightforward, methodical way of teaching decoding, the first skill that, with comprehension, goes into effective reading. Without solid decoding skills, students can’t make good progress on reading comprehension because they haven’t accurately read the words on the page. Unlike other methods of teaching reading, like the outdated “whole language” approach, phonics doesn’t rely on context clues (which assume possession of a level of decoding and comprehension skills). Rather, phonics treats letters as an actual code for the sounds we often speak.

Due to the English language’s many influences, there are many words that don’t exactly follow the phonics rules. Good phonics lessons, then, will also cover a handful of sight words (like the), along with common exceptions to various rules and the variations in sounds that letter combinations like /ea/ can make (bread/meat/pearl).

Before students can start matching sounds to letters, however, they must be aware of the sounds themselves.

Start with Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is the ability to recognize distinct sounds in spoken language. This comes with good listening skills and translates into reading by helping students match sounds to letters and combinations of sounds to words.

While phonemic awareness begins at home (parents play a crucial role in developing this skill), educators can help strengthen students’ phonemic awareness through lessons and activities that emphasize sounds. Reading books that rhyme at storytime, practicing animal sounds, or playing games with more advanced students that task them with rhyming or recalling words with similar sounds. 

What word rhymes with dress?

What animals start with a /p/ sound?

Integrating questions and activities like this throughout the school day can help students naturally pick up and distinguish more sounds. Once students have started learning their letters, you can take these activities a step further: 

If mess and dress rhyme, what letters might they both have? What about puppy and polar bear and penguin?

How to Teach Phonics

The best way to teach phonics is in a systematic way that starts simple and adds complexity over time, as students pick up skills. Don’t dwell too long on any one step — mastering one level of phonics should immediately lead to the next level so students can progress in their reading ability before getting bored.

1. Start with simple hard consonants and short vowel sounds.

You’ll gradually work through the whole alphabet, but start with a group of letters (often, S, A, T, P, I, N) that can be combined to make a variety of words. This way, as students learn the individual letters and sounds, they can see how those letters work together to create words.

2. Introduce blending with simple 3-letter words.

Nap, sit, pat. Once your students have learned a few letters, have them practice “sounding out” simple 3-letter words. These should be words that use the simple hard consonant and short vowel sounds that your students already know.

3. Introduce more complex consonant combinations and bump up to 4-letter words.

Your phonics curriculum will outline exactly which combinations to start with, but once your students have mastered most of the letters’ sounds, you’ll need to introduce them to letter combinations that change the shape of the sound. For example: st, gr, lm, ng, sh. Some of these are more straightforward than others, so start with what can more easily be sounded out — and be sure to show these combinations in real words your students can read!

4. Teach vowel combinations — ea, oo, ai — and put them into action.

Vowel combinations can be more complicated and irregular than consonant combinations, so seeing them in real words is even more important. Exercises that have students identify words with similar vowel sounds can be helpful for ingraining this knowledge (ex: bear, hair, learn, pear).

As readers advance, encourage them to write as well as read! Once they know their letters and sounds, they can practice writing their ideas. Even if their spelling isn’t correct, this helps them practice applying their knowledge of letter sounds.

Make Learning Phonics Fun!

Reading is fun — and learning to read should be too! There are a whole host of ways you can make learning phonics more fun and interactive. Here are a few of our ideas:

1. Magnetic letters and/or letter blocks.

During playtime or certain breaks throughout the day, have magnetic letters or letter blocks out and encourage your students to take turns spelling out different words they know — or even words they’re making up! Nonsense words can be a fun way to practice letter sounds, and who knows? Your students may even find out that they already know how to spell a fun word.

2. Play games like “I Spy” and “Animal Names”.

You can use “I Spy” books or just play the game in your classroom with prompts like “I spy something starting with the /f/ sound.” You can use either sounds or letters for this game, depending on whether you want to focus on phonemic awareness or the letter-sound relationship. For Animal Names, everyone picks an animal that starts with the same letter as their first name (Henry hippo, Amber alligator, Marty mouse); you can also play with other categories like sports or fruits and vegetables.

3. Label the classroom.

You can label the classroom — or you can hand your students sticky notes and ask them to label different objects in the classroom (desks, whiteboard, trash can, etc.). If you do the labeling, the labels can help observant students learn more words and spellings as they come to school each day. If your students do the labeling, they get to practice their spelling and phonetic word creation skills. 

Phonics is your students’ first foray into reading for themselves — and how you teach phonics can make the learning process fun and interesting. Hopefully, we’ve sparked your imagination. Now, let’s pass that inspiration to students!

What are the 4 types of phonics for children?

There are four major phonics teaching methods in which children who are studying phonics to learn to read might be taught. These include synthetic phonics, analogy phonics, analytic phonics, and embedded phonics. Read on to learn more about each of these different teaching structures.

  • Synthetic phonics: Synthetic phonics is a method of teaching where words are broken up into the smallest phonemes. This synthetic phonics is a method of teaching where words are broken up into phonemes - the smallest units of sound. We use this method of teaching as a way of showing children how to identify all the phonemes in a word, match them to a letter, and successfully spell the word correctly.

  • Analytical phonics: Here, teachers focus on teaching pupils to analyze letter-sound relations in words that they have previously learned to avoid pronouncing sounds in isolation.

  • Analogy phonics: In this approach, learners are taught to use parts of words they have already learned to read and decode words they don't know. This method of phonics helps children build upon their existing skills by creating connections to new information.

  • Embedded phonics: Teaching pupils phonics skills by using embedding phonics instruction techniques relies upon a much more hands-on approach to reading. There is a more implicit approach that relies on incidental learning.

Using one specific phonics approach alone does not necessarily give children the best exposure, which is why the learning process is broken up. This way, learners who do not speak English as a first language, can also get a chance to understand the entirety of the sounds and words.

The phonics approach is a way to address South Africa's reading crisis and therefore it is important to use as many resources to expose children of all backgrounds to phonics.

Phonics for children: Twinkl terminology glossary

One of the most common stumbling blocks for anyone looking to begin teaching phonics is how many bits of phonics terminology there are to learn. Check out this simple glossary to learn what these terms mean.

  • Phonics: Using the sounds made by individual letters and groups of letters to read words.

  • Decoding: Using your phonic knowledge to sound out and read words.

  • Grapheme: A written letter or group of letters, like ‘s’, ‘a’, ‘she’, or ‘air’. Some graphemes are single letters like ‘a’; others are digraphs like ‘ai’.

  • Digraph: Two letters that make one sound together, like ‘sh’, ‘ai’, and ‘oo’.

  • Phoneme: The sound a letter or group of letters make – e.g. the word ‘mat’ has three phonemes, ‘m’, ‘a’, and ‘t’. The word ‘through’ is longer, but it also has three phonemes, ‘th’, ‘r’, and the ‘oo’ sound in ‘ough’.

  • Sounding out: Use your phonic knowledge to help you say each sound within a word, e.g. ‘r-e-d’ or ‘s-au-ce-p-a-n’.

  • Blending: Running the sounds in the word together to read the whole word, e.g. ‘r-e-d, red’, ‘s-au-ce-p-a-n, saucepan’.

  • High-frequency words (also known as ‘common exception words’): The very important, very common words that we use a lot, but which aren’t always decodable using phonics. This includes crucial words like ‘the’, ‘one’, ‘where’, etc. Children are taught to recognize these words on sight – a few of these words are introduced and learned at a time.

Reading and phonics: How does phonics teach children to read?

 

When it comes to helping children with reading, phonics is one of the most effective methods out there. As we know, children studying phonics learn to read by matching written and spoken sounds, which gives them a huge boost toward making sense of written texts.

The way in which children will learn to read in phonics will depend somewhat on what method of phonics teaching you decide to use. However, the basic principles of phonics will still be the same. So, let’s take a look at how children studying phonics learn to read!

As we’ve found out, phonics is all about the process of linking sounds (phonemes) to the symbols that represent them (grapheme). For example, when children encounter the word ‘dog’, they might be taught that the letter ‘d’ represents a short ‘d’ sound. They might then be able to recognize this same sound in other words, such as ‘dig’ and ‘den’. Phonics gradually introduces children to different grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs), and eventually, some alternative grapheme and spellings that represent sounds.

As pupils learn new sounds and parts of words through reading in phonics, they’ll become able to decode words that they might not have encountered before. Being able to decode words by reading the phonics grapheme and identifying their sounds is an important skill that will help children to gain reading fluency. By the time they’ve become fluent readers, this process will be almost automatic!

Through the synthetic phonics method, children who are learning phonics learn to read with the help of processes called segmenting and blending. Segmenting is the process of breaking a word apart into its phonemes, while blending means the restructuring of that word. By doing these things, children in phonics learn to read by seeing all the sounds one at a time, before putting them back together and seeing how they work together to form a word.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of teaching phonics?

Like any other teaching strategy, there are many benefits of teaching phonics, as well as some disadvantages. It’s natural to feel slightly unsure or sceptical when you’re considering a whole new method of teaching for your learners, so we’ve broken down some pros and cons of teaching reading in phonics below:

  • Letter and sound recognition: Research into the benefits of teaching phonics shows that a child who learns reading through phonics will have excellent phonemic awareness. This means that children will be able to connect letter symbols with their appropriate sounds, even when letters can make more than one sound!

  • Supports children's independence when sounding out unfamiliar words: Phonics helps support children develop important reading skills that encourage children to tackle new and unfamiliar words. For example, if a child knows, through learning phonics, that 'ch' can say 'chuh', or 'shhh'. Depending on the word, they will know to try out both when sounding out an unfamiliar word.

  • Supports teaching an understanding of syllable structure: Another benefit of teaching phonics is teaching the understanding of syllable and word structure. A pupil who learns phonics will become familiar with syllable structure. With the help of a phonics programme will know that a closed syllable will end in a consonant and have a short vowel, while an open syllable will end in a vowel that makes a long sound.

  • It's fun: All primary education teaching strategies need to be as engaging and interactive as possible to help pupils remain motivated in the classroom. The teaching of phonics is often designed to be fun and engaging for children. For example, games are typically tied to lessons, and the visuals which accompany the lessons are usually very vibrant.

The disadvantages of teaching phonics

  1. Can overlook the meaning of words: The overemphasis on syllables in phonics programmes can overlook teaching pupils the meaning of new words. This means that learners can have a good understanding of how to spell and say words without understanding what they mean.

  2. There can be some gaps in teaching: Unfortunately, not all words are spelled phonetically. Many English words are not spelled the way they sound, which can be frustrating for new readers who depend on the phonetic approach while reading. Children who depend solely on the phonetic approach would fail to read such words correctly.

How are phonics lessons for children built into the CAPS curriculum?

Now that we know all about phonics, the difference between different phonics methods and how phonics helps children learn to read, you may be wondering how it fits into the school curriculum.

In Preschool, before they even start learning letter names and sounds, children begin developing their listening skills so that they are tuned into the different sounds in words. Being able to listen to and identify sounds is crucial in speech awareness and will really help children advance their oral comprehension.

In Grade 1, the letters of the alphabet are introduced and children learn one sound for each letter. At that point, they can sound out and read simple, short words like ‘c-a-t, cat’ and ‘s-u-n, sun.’ Next, children learn that some letters make different sounds when you put them together, like ‘sh,’ ‘ee’ and ‘ai.’ At this stage children may still be using simplified names for letters, however, this is something they will advance beyond as their understanding of sounds progresses.

Once they’ve learned to read words with the most common letter-sound combinations, children move on to learn lots of alternative combinations. They will start to practice reading increasingly complex words. By the time they finish Grade 1 the majority of children will be able to read pretty much all familiar English words.

In Grade 2 and 3, children go on to develop their skills further, practicing using phonics to read and spell words that are less familiar and more challenging.

Teaching Phonics for children: Introducing the RLC Phonics program

Now that we’ve learned all about phonics, considering a phonics approach, and how children use phonics to read, you might be left wondering where to start. There’s a lot of ground to cover when teaching phonics, and having a well-structured program can make teaching phonics much more straightforward. That’s where our Twinkl Phonics program comes in!

Twinkl’s CAPS-based phonics resources will empower your teaching and include everything you need to support your little learners. With clear and rigorous coverage of phonic sounds, tricky words, and essential skills, you can guide your Foundation Phase class quickly and confidently toward reading and writing fluency.

You can also easily make use of some of our CAPS-guided teacher planning resources! We have planning resources for you for the whole Foundation Phase.

If you're supporting your child during home learning, you can find some helpful phonics flashcards and homework sheets. You could also try some super fun games to help make learning phonics fun.

We've got a range of activity packs, games, activities and display resources to support your phonics teaching. Here's some you might like:

 

  • South African Phonics Taster Resource Pack - check out this amazing free resource pack to get your Foundation Phase phonics lessons sorted! Here you will find useful posters, word cards, activities and display resources to help you set the phonetic foundation.

 

  • Differentiated Worksheets - we have wonderful differentiated worksheets to help you give children of all levels of understanding a chance to practice their phonetic knowledge. These are fantastic activities to use when establishing the need for extra guidance.

 

  • Phonics Memory Game: oo Sound - there are also super fun phonics games to be played! These games are light-hearted and are ideal for a fun lesson that still challenges children to use their new sound knowledge.

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