Using Letter Names & Phonics

Letter 1

On our Teach Phonics website, and as part of our Teach Handwriting Scheme and website, children are taught the letter names. Some schools, teacher and parents still seem to be concerned that this is not consistent with the teaching of phonics.

A myth which seems to have become popular, since the introduction of phonics into schools, is that children should not be taught the alphabet letter names as they find it too confusing. However, there is no evidence to suggest this is true. The Independent review of the teaching of early reading, final report, Jim Rose March 2006 states:

“The teaching of letter names is often left until after the sounds of the letters have been learned, in the belief that it can be confusing for children to have to learn both together. However, research indicates that children often learn letter names earlier than they learn letter sounds and that five year olds who know more letter names also know more letter sounds. The reasons for this are not fully understood by researchers’.

Given that children will meet many instances outside, as well as within, their settings and schools where letter names are used, it makes sense to teach them within the programme of early phonic work.

It appears that the distinction between a letter name and a letter sound is easily understood by the majority of children.” (Page 26)

Rose, cites Professor Morag Stuart who suggests that:

‘…children expect things to have names and are accustomed to rapidly acquiring the names of things.’ (Independent review of the teaching of early reading’ final report, Jim Rose March 2006, page 27.)

Learning the unique letter names of the alphabet is a pre-phonics skill; as well as an early learning goal. It has to be remembered that a letter is a shape which only represents a sound when it is placed within a word or sentence. Also a letter or combination of letters can represent more than one sound and so the only unique way of identifying alphabet letters when we talk about them is to use their names.

Learning the correct letter names helps to reinforce that when talking about the letter ‘a’ (ay) for example it has a set shape regardless of the sound that it will be representing in the word. This further supports children’s handwriting development as the communication of your requirements is unambiguous.

One of the first things we like a child to be able to write correctly is their name, however most names are impossible to spell using the simple phonics code taught to young children. A name does not have to be long in length to be phonetically difficult to spell such as Christopher or Charlotte. Shorter names such as Lucy or Liam also cause a problem.

The only logical answer I suggest is to use the letter names until a child has been introduced to the more complex phonics coding system.

Are your child’s phonics skills good for their age?

Phonological Awareness chart 2

With more and more expected of our pre-school and 4 to 7 year old children it can be difficult to know what the realistic age appropriate skills are in relation to phonics.

In fact, phonics is only part of the story starting in stage 8 of 10 of a child’s phonological awareness development.

Stage 1 to 7 of a child’s phonological awareness, what we refer to as pre-phonics skills, are the continual development of their understanding and knowledge of our spoken language as well as other communication forms, such as gestures, facial expressions, body language and social conventions.

Stage 8 to 10 of a child’s phonological awareness, the phonics reading and writing stages are the continual development of their understanding and knowledge for learning to reading and write.

As a child’s phonological awareness skills build on each stage, the age at which a child reaches them varies making it difficult to know how your child is doing.

In our ‘The Ten Stages of Phonological Awareness’ section of our website (https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonological-development.html ), we recognise this variation and use age ranges as a rough guide to help you understand where your child is in their phonological awareness skills.

By clicking on the various stages of phonological awareness you will find appropriate age range information, advice and activities to support your child. Try not to jump a stage as each one is important in unlocking the knowledge and skills for the stage above.

Back to School – What is Phonics?

Phonic 1

With the new school year under way some of you will have been introduced to phonics for the first time.

Phonics is the simple process of linking sounds to letters, its complexity comes from how many sound (phoneme) to letter (grapheme) combinations there are. So, to be good at phonics a child needs to know the 44 sounds and numerous letter and letter combinations of English and then learn the associations between the two.

Children can communicate orally from an early age; it is when they move to the written word that they need to learn how to decode text, to turn the letters into words they already know.

Using phonics knowledge for reading entails:

  1. Identify the letter or letter combination, in a word, that represent a sound
  2. Associate the letter or letter combination to one of the 44 sounds
  3. Blend each of the sounds together to form the word
  4. Recognise the now oral word to extract its meaning

The theory supporting the teaching of reading using phonics, especially synthetic phonics, is that if a child can decode a word by associating individual sounds to a letter or combination of letters they will then be able to blend those sounds together to form and say the word.

Once a word has been spoken they will extract its meaning by using their far more extensive spoken language comprehension. Children are therefore using the same mental processes to understand written text and speech.

Be School Ready – Ways to Support Your Child’s Phonics Knowledge

Blog Phonics

After the long school summer holiday it is always good to take some time to check your child has not slipped back.

Playing some simple letter name and sound games can really help get your child (and you) back into school mode.

Some simple game ideas:

  • You can use words in books, cards, on labels or signs when out and about. Ask your child to point to a particular letter in the word using the letter name. Then ask your child to say the word, or you can say it. Then ask them to tell you what sound the letter is making in that word.
  • Pick a card at random, using lower-case and capital letter flash cards (you can make your own); show your child and ask them to tell you the name of the letter on the card, and to give you a sound the letter makes. Ask older children to give you the other sounds the letter can make. For older children you can also use cards that have common digraphs (two letters representing one sound) and trigraphs (three letters representing one sound) on.
  • Play Pelmanism (Memory Game). How to Play:
    • You will need two sets of flash cards. The cards are thoroughly mixed and spread face down on the table or floor. They can be arranged in a regular pattern or randomly, but they must not overlap.
    • One player turns over a card, leaving it in the same place, they say what it is (letter name and/or sound) and then turn over another saying what it is. If the two cards match then the player keeps them and has another go. If the cards do not match then the cards are turned back over in the same location as before and it is the next players turn.
    • The game is finished when all the cards have been matched and the winner is the one with the most pairs.

If you are not sure of all the sounds a letter, or combination of letters, can represent then use our Alphabet Keyboard to help you find the sounds (phonemes): bit.ly/2bUtZae

Summer Fun – Part 3 – Get Cooking!

Cooking is a great fun way to practise getting both hands to work together. This helps to develop coordination, hand and finger strength and dexterity skills; all skills required for handwriting. However, it is amazing how much talk can come from this as well, not just at the time with you, but when they share the day’s experience with others later on (developing their phonological awareness).

An added benefit at this time of year is that you can do ‘Pick Your Own’. Getting out and about and encouraging your child to pick their own fruit is not only great fun but another sneaky way of working on their hand and finger strength.

There are so many recipes, especially online, for making quick easy great tasting food.

So, if the sun is shining, or it is just not raining, get out there find your local ‘Pick Your Own’ and get cooking!

Summer Fun – Part 2 – Think more Play, Play and Play!!!

Summer Play B1.jpg

We are half way through the summer holidays, six weeks may have seemed like a long time but it is amazing how quickly it is passing.

The last thing you and your child probably want to think about right now is developing your child’s phonological awareness skills ready for next term; and quite right too!

So, don’t think about it in the conventional way of practise, practise and practise.

Think more play, play and play!!!

Children learn so much through just playing; developing physical, mental, communication and vocabulary strengths and skills, which all support them at school and with learning. Once introduced to a new game or activity children will very often take it and make it their own, making new rules and introducing extra characters or challenges.

The skill as a parent is remembering to let go of your preconceived ideas about how a game should be played and letting your child take the initiative.

If you provide the opportunities it is amazing how they will take on the challenge of inventing a new game or (in their eyes) improving an existing one.

This does not have to cost a penny; use the toys they already have or make games using empty plastic bottles or cardboard tubes.

The following kind of play supports and develops language and communication skills your child needs to help them learn and you have not had to mention school or homework.

  • The local play park is a fantastic free resource; running, jumping, crawling and climbing can all be encouraged. If your child is a little reluctant then it may well be that they are unsure how to do some of these activities. Explain when jumping that they needed to land on their feet and bend their knees as they land. Start small and as their confidence grows so does the height or distance they jump. Climbing can be scary for some children so again explain how to climb, moving one hand or foot at a time so that there are always three other points of contact.
  • If you are lucky enough to have a garden then mud play is messy but so much fun, it can be contained in a small area and will not only make you a cool adult but, if you join in, it will knock years off you (have a go, it is a great free therapy session).
  • Skittle games are always fun. Extend the activity by decorating the skittles (plastic bottles or cardboard tubes) using anything from crayons, paint or even dress them up as people or animals.

Summer Fun – Part 1 – Indoor/Outdoor Summer Circuits Ideas

Summer Play A 1

Well, true to form, the Summer Holiday weather is a mixed bag, sunny one minute then pouring with rain the next!

So, here are a couple of ideas to help your child burn off some of that pent-up energy. Best of all you can class it as language development homework (working on instructional, directional, body awareness vocabulary and listening skills).

An indoor/outdoor circuit training course does not have to take up much space or be messy (but it might be a good idea if indoors to move ornaments a little further out of the way).

Simple activities can be fun if they are done for short periods of time and children do love a time challenge. Make each activity last anything from 30 seconds to 1 minute.

You could record how many they did in the time and see if they have improved when you try it again.

Why not try:

  • Hopping on one leg and then the other (balance & coordination)
  • Use the bottom step of the stairs for step ups (bi-lateral coordination)
  • Curl ups (Core strength -see our games page)
  • With a cushion balanced on their head can they touch their toes without dropping the cushion (balance, coordination, bi-lateral coordination and core strength)
  • Star Jumps (balance & coordination)

For more fun, simple activity ideas check out our games pages, it is amazing how much fun you can have just hopping, jumping, skipping and dancing on the spot: http://bit.ly/2FhFkR7

If you are feeling really brave why not try building an obstacle course, a lot of the fun is in the designing and making.

Let go and have fun!!!