What are Graphemes & Phonemes?

A week ago we started to explain some of the technical language associated with the teaching of phonics, which some new parents may have little or no knowledge of. So, we thought it would be a good idea to continue with this over next couple of weeks to further support you in helping your child.

Graphemes are the alphabet letters, or letter combinations, that represent a single sound (phoneme) in a written word.

An example of a single letter (grapheme) representing a single sound (a phoneme) can be seen in the following words: sat, pat and dog.

Some sounds are represented by two letters and are called digraphs such as the ‘ch’ in ‘chip’ or ‘sh’ in ‘shop’ or ‘ea’ in ‘head’ and the ‘ai’ in ‘rain’.

Other sounds can be represented by 3 (trigraphs) or 4 (quadgraphs) letter combinations such as ‘igh’ in ‘light’ and ‘eigh’ in ‘eight’.

Phonemes are the smallest units of sound of a language; which we blend together to form words.

The English Language has 44 phonemes, 24 consonants and 20 vowels, represented by the unique symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).

The 44 phonemes of English (UK) are represented by more than 280 letter or letter combinations. Most letters therefore never make just one sound and that sound can be made by more than one letter or letter combination.

We have created over 1,000 videos that split words into their individual phonemes, showing which letters are making which sound in each word. You can access these videos in two ways:

  1. If you want to know which letter or letter combination represents a sound, click on the relevant phoneme button on the English Phoneme Chart (https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonics-phoneme-chart.html );
  2. If you want to know what sound a letter or letter combination makes and see supporting animations, click on the relevant letter or letter combination on the Alphabet Keyboard (https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonics-alphabet-chart.html ).

We hope you find these useful.

What is #phonics and #phonemic awareness?

With the new school year well under way many new parents are being introduced to the world of phonics and all the technical language associated with it. So, we thought we would take this opportunity to demystify some of that technical language.

Phonics is the association of sounds (phonemes) to written alphabet letters (graphemes). For reading (decoding) the phonics coding system is used to convert the written word into sounds. For spelling (encoding) the same phonics coding system is used to covert sounds heard into letters to form written words.

Phonemic awareness is our ability to split words into their smallest sound units (individual phonemes) and to manipulate these sounds through segmentation, blending, substitution, re-ordering and deletion. This is based on what we hear and say, not the written word.

Good phonemic awareness is the vital skill required before phonics can be introduced successfully as a tool for learning to read and spell.

  • Segmentation – being able to split words into their individual sounds, for example ‘cat’ into c-a-t.
  • Blending – being able to blend individual sounds together to say a word, for example d-o-g into dog.
  • Substitution – being able to swap one sound for another in a word, for example swapping the /k,(k)/ sound in the word ‘cat’ with a /h,(h)/ sound to say the word ‘hat’.
  • Reordering – being able to swap the sounds around to create a new word, for example changing the order of the letters in the word ‘cat’ to form the new word ‘act’.
  • Deletion (omission) – being able to remove a sound from a word to create a new word, for example removing the /t,(t)/ sound from the word ‘cart’ to say the new word ‘car’.

These are developed further when phonics is introduced, sound to letter association.

Watch our ‘Single Word Reading’ animation to see these manipulation skills in action: bit.ly/20JAHSa

The Importance of Using Letter Names for Developing Handwriting, Phonics and Reading Skills

Here at Teach Children we have always promoted the importance and power of teaching the correct letter names to begin with; through our Teach Handwriting website, Schemes and Teach Phonics website. Unfortunately, some schools, teacher and parents still seem to be concerned that this is not consistent with the teaching of phonics, which is just not correct.

A myth which became popular, in the early years of introducing synthetic phonics into schools, is that children should not be taught the alphabet letter names as they find it too confusing. However, in recent years this has started to change as phonics schemes have adjusted some of their approaches to teaching phonics to include the use of letter names.

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 (has a context). 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.

It is important to remember that just because a child can correctly recite the ‘Alphabet’ song it does not mean they know the letters of the alphabet. It is surprising how many children can do this but when shown letters from the alphabet cannot name them at all. They may be able to tell you the sound the letter makes but have no idea of the letters name.

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.

Teaching the correct letter names is important when supporting handwriting as this can in turn affect a child’s phonics understanding later on. For example, it can seem very easy when explaining to a child which letter to write when they ask which one is making a ‘kuh’ sound in a word such as cat to say a ‘curly kuh’. There is no such letter in the alphabet called ‘curly kuh’ it is the letter ‘c’ (cee). By adding the ‘kuh’ sound to the letter it reinforces incorrect phonics knowledge. The letter ‘c’ does not make a ‘kuh’ sound in words such as: city, circle, cycle and centre.

Some children will then only ever refer to the letter ‘c’ as ‘curly kuh’ and the letter ‘k’ as’ kicking kuh’. As I say these are not letter names of the alphabet and also devalue the power of phonics at the same time.

How can the education establishment get hot under the collar about not using the correct terminology in the teaching of English in schools such as: phonemes, graphemes, digraphs, modal verbs etc… yet still refer to the letter’s ‘c’ and ‘k’ as ‘curly or kicking kuh’!

Phonics is a powerful decoding and encoding tool. However, so is the alphabet letter naming system. Both need to working side by side to support our children, especially in those early years of their educational journey.

The English phonic system is very complex but this is why our language is so rich. Young children need to use letter names as an additional tool, as it takes many years for them to be introduced to the more complex phonics coding system.

Alphabet Name animation (scroll to the bottom of the page): https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonics-graphemes.html