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

Developing and Supporting Your Child’s Reading Journey – Week 6

Letter Knowledge

Letter knowledge is understanding;

  • That the same letter can look different, for example, a lower-case letter ‘b’ looks different from a capital letter ‘B’. Letters will also look different depending on which font type is being used or if it is handwritten, for example, an Arial font letter ‘g’ looks different from a Calibri font ‘g’.
  • That letters have names and the same name is used for that letter even when they look different, so the lower-case letter ‘a’ and its capital letter form ‘A’ are both called ‘ay’.
  • That letters (graphemes) are used to represent sounds (phonemes) in words. Teaching the unique letter names of the alphabet is an important pre-phonics skill. A letter or combination of letters can represent more than one sound and so the only way of identifying alphabet letters when we talk about them is to use their unique names.

Developing Letter Knowledge:

Through Play:

  • Sorting and Matching Games- use plastic or wooden letters, alphabet letter flash cards; can they group all the lower-case letters together, or all the capital letters or all the different letter ‘ay’s’ together.
  • Kim’s Games – use plastic or wooden letters, alphabet letter flash cards. Using a few letters at a time, place 5 to 10 on a tray and let your child look at them and talk through which letters are there. Cover with a tea towel and ask your child to look away, then remove 1 or 2 of the letters. Then ask your child to look back and remove the tea towel. Can they spot which letters are missing.
  • Detective Games– focus on identifying individual letters of the alphabet and naming them, this can be played at home or when out and about.
  • Leap Frog – use the letters of the alphabet on home-made paper lily pads. Use the letter names to identify the target lily pad for your child to either jump onto or to throw a bean bag/soft toy on to.
  • Skittles and Throwing Games – use letters of the alphabet on the targets and use the letter names as a way of identifying which of the targets your child is aiming for.

Through Drawing/Writing:

  • Making lists of things to do or a shopping list. Their version of the list may be just squiggles and dots (so don’t rely on this for your shopping trip) but it is the beginning. I would keep the list and get them to tick off things done or items purchased as part of the experience so that it has a genuine purpose (children really like this).
  • Making and drawing their own story book.
  • Learning to write letters correctly (see our Teach Handwriting Website: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/parents.html )

Through Songs/Nursery Rhymes:

  • Singing Alphabet Songs, try singing it to different tunes.
  • Make up Your Own Rap – point to the letters as the rap is said.

Through Talk:

  • Talk about letters as being shapes made up of straight, curves and diagonal lines.
  • Look at the letters in your child’s name, talk about the fact that the first letter in their name is always a capital letter and that normally the other letters are lower-case letters.
  • Point out, especially for slightly older children, that lower-case letters are about half the size of the capital letters.
  • Compare letters looking at what is the same and different about them.
  • When taking about letters use the letter name as well as the sound it is making in the word, remember a letter is often used to represent more than one sound. The letter ‘a’ can be used to represent different sounds in the following words: ant, apron, was, and any (just 4 of the eight sounds it is used to represent).

Through Book Sharing:

What books to choose?

  • Books with shapes
  • Books where you have to find things (like I spy)
  • Alphabet books
  • Books which use different font styles in the pictures and text.

Book Sharing Tips:

  • Alphabet books do not need to be read from cover to cover. Let your child choose which letters they want to look at.
  • Trace the letters with your finger or let your child trace it (make sure you trace the letter using the correct formation orientation, encourage your child to do the same).
  • Talk about the pictures in alphabet books before focusing on the letter, its name and the sound it can make.
  • Show your child the first letter in their name and then look for that letter in the book.
  • Show and talk about how some letters are in their capital form and others in their lower-case form. Can they find other examples of the letters?
  • Choose two letters to talk about: How do they look alike? How do they look different? What shapes/line styles are they made up of?

Developing and Supporting Your Child’s Reading Journey – Week 3

Vocabulary Development for Comprehension

Vocabulary is knowing the meaning of words including names of things, feelings, concepts and ideas. The larger a child’s vocabulary (understanding what words mean not just being able to say them) the easier it is for them to understand what they are reading.

The more you talk and share words and their meaning with your child the greater their vocabulary will become.

Vocabulary building:

Through Play:

  • Introducing and playing sorting games helps your child to build a mental filing cabinet system of categories, this helps them to remember and learn the meaning of words. Start by introducing simple categories of everyday items like food or clothes as their vocabulary increases categories such as colour, size and texture become more appropriate.
  • As babies handle objects and toys describe how they feel, what they look like or the sound they make
  • When you are playing with your child add in new words (explain their meaning), descriptions or expand on words they use in play. For example, if you are playing cars with your child you may comment on the size difference or colours between the cars.
  • Remember children learn new words best when they are learned in context, that is, in a natural setting.
  • If they are trying to say a word let them finish and then say it back to them clearly and correctly. Do not make them repeat it back to you, they may choose to do so but make it their choice.

Through Drawing/Writing

  • When drawing or painting with your child, or they are sharing their pictures with you, talk about the shapes, colours types of lines (straight line or curves line), what you like best about the picture, and the objects you can see.

Through Songs and Nursery Rhymes

  • Listening of nursery rhymes and children’s song is a good way of helping your child make the distinction between the music and words (language used) in them. It is a good idea to practise this skill when there are no other noise distractions. 
  • Try playing some action songs and rhymes to help your child learn the actions for the rhyme, then let them have a go on their own. Watch them to see if they can do some of the actions at the right time in the song, to see if they are listening for the right cue words. If they are struggling, explain they have to wait for certain words and show them what to do and when to do it.
  • Nursery and silly rhymes are great ways to introduce your child to rhyming sounds and increase sound play in words.
  • Singing often slows down our pronunciation of words, helping your child to pick out unusual or rhyming sound patterns. As with reading aloud it can introduce a wider vocabulary for your child.
  • Finger rhymes and action songs encourage your child to interact with words, the sounds within them and the rhythms they create. Finger rhymes such as ‘Round and Round the Garden’, ‘Pat-a-cake’ and ‘Incy Wincey Spider’. ‘Row, Row Your Boat’ is a lovely whole-body movement song that encourages a rhythmic whole-body motion, which babies and toddler enjoy (as well as the adults).

Through Talk

  • Speak in ‘parentese’ until a child is about 9 months old as they will listen to you longer and hear more words
  • Talk about feeling and situations throughout the day.
  • When your child points at something tell them the name of the object, for example if they point at an apple, say “Apple”.
  • Explain words or give synonyms
  • Avoid replacing unfamiliar words with familiar ones (explain the meaning). Remember to try to use the new word in context regularly as repetition of the word will help your child to remember it and reinforce the meaning of the word.
  • Repeat and expand on what your child says, so if they say “Dog!” you may say “A big dog!” This also helps them to develop an understanding of sentence structure.

Through Book Sharing

What books to choose?

  • Books with words not used in everyday conversation.
  • Non-fiction books (informational, instructional, true stories) -as they use different words to fiction (story) books.
  • Any book really. The language of books in much richer and varied than that of everyday conversation.

Book Sharing Tips

  • Sharing and talking about the books you are reading helps to build word knowledge, as you point to the pictures, picking out different objects. 
  • Reading out aloud helps to introduce your child to words that they may not experience in their everyday talk. This helps to expose them to new vocabulary and the sounds to be found in those words.
  • Reading aloud poems and story books with strong rhyme elements, like those found in Dr.Seuss books, helps introduce the new words and rhyming sounds in words.
  • Try exaggerating the rhyming words to help highlight the sound patterns, making it easier for your child to tune into them.
  • Explain unfamiliar words; don’t replace them with familiar ones.
  • When a word has more than one meaning. Talk about the different meanings.
  • Add descriptive words or more information than in the book.
  • Encourage your child to talk about the pictures. Add information and ideas to what they have said.
  • Use words to describe how characters in the book might have felt at a point in the story.
  • Use words to describe ideas in the story even if they are not used in the book.
  • Remember children learn new words and their meaning through repetition, so you will need to be patient as you re-read the same story over and over again or answer the same questions over and over again.

Homonyms & Homophones!

Homonyms and homophones need to be heard or read within a specific context if we are to understand what the word means, for instance, if I say the word ‘bank’ and do not give any other verbal or written clues what do I mean?

The word on its own could mean a couple of things the bank of a river or sand bank or a bank where I can collect money. If it is not put into a context its meaning is unclear. The word ‘bank’ is classed as a homonym.

Homonyms are words which are pronounced and spelt the same; therefore, their meaning can only be truly understood when the context in which the word is being used is made clear. For instance, the word ‘bark’ can be used to mean the bark on a tree or the noise a dog makes.

Homophones are words which are pronounced (sound) the same but have a different meaning and are spelt differently such as, ‘their’ and ‘there’, ‘one’ and ‘won’ or ‘two’, ‘to’ and ‘too’.

To view more examples, scroll down the page of this link:  http://bit.ly/2BcUa8N

Accents – Phonemic awareness & Phonics

Because the English language is so rich and diverse it is very difficult to create a phonics system that caters for all. Every region that speaks the English language has its own accent which means there are always variations in the way that a word is pronounced.

Across England we all spell words the same but we certainly do not say them all the same, even though we all use the same 44 sounds. In the English language the 44 sounds can be represented by over 280 letter combinations.

So, accents have arisen from regions applying different phonemes (sounds) to graphemes (letters) when they pronounce words. The regions still use the same sounds and letters, they just associate them differently.

For example, in the South of England the letter ‘a’ can be pronounced as the ‘long ’R’ controlled’ vowel sound /ar,(ɑː)/ in words such as ‘grass’ and ‘bath’ whereas in the North of England it will be pronounced as the ‘short’ vowel /a,(æ)/ sound in these two words.

Click and then scroll down the page to see the animations of the different pronunciations of the word ‘bath’. https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/teaching-phonics.html#pronunciation

Both pronunciations are correct, which can make teaching phonics a little tricky; the key is to teach the sound to letter relationships which best suit the children being taught in relation to their regional accent. It is important to remember that children’s knowledge of the sounds that make words is based on how you speak to them naturally and not a strict standardized set of sounds.

However, for general educational and learning purposes the English language’s phonics system has been standardized, this is known as the ‘Received Pronounced’ (RP) English, and is used in comprehensive English dictionaries and translation dictionaries. The RP is based on a southern accent sound to letter relationship basis.

Letter & Sound Relationships That Break the #Phonics Rules

Back in September we explained that Phonics is very useful as a decoding tool used for developing reading skills and an encoding tool for spelling. It is the simple process of linking sounds to letters, its complexity comes from how many sounds (phonemes) to letter combinations (graphemes) there are.

Some letter and sound associations just don’t follow the normal phonics rule of a single sound being associated to a letter or letter combination. A few letters represent two sounds, such as the letter ‘u’ which in the word ‘cupid’ represents the two sounds /y,(j)/ and /oo,(uː)/.

A more common one letter two sound relation is that of the letter ‘x’ representing the two sounds /k,(k)/ and /s,(s)/ as in the words: six and box.

Here are some other examples of single letters and split digraphs making two sounds instead of the usual phonics rule of only making one sound:

The ‘Long’ Vowel Sounds

A couple of weeks ago we explained that there are 20 vowel sounds in the English (UK) sound system and a after that we looked at the 7 ‘short’ vowel sounds. This week we are taking a look at the remaining 13 ‘long’ vowel sounds.

Here at Teach Phonics we split them in to two groups: 7 ‘long’ vowel sounds and 6 ‘long ‘R’ controlled’ vowel sounds.

The 7 ‘long’ vowel sounds areso calleddue to the length of their pronunciation; these can often be held without distorting their sound.

 The /ai,(eI)/ sound found in the words: train, tray, cake and break.

The /oa,(ǝƱ)/ sound found in the words: boat, hotel, toe and bone.

The /oi,(ɔI)/ sound found in the words: boy, coin and buoy.

The /ow,(aƱ)/ sound found in the words: owl, house, drought and hour.

The /ee,(іː)/ sound found in the words: tree, pea, me, and pony.

The /I,(aI)/ sound found in the words: iron, fly, pie and light.

The /oo,(uː)/ sound found in the words: spoon, blue, screw and you.

The 6 ‘long ‘R’ controlled’ vowel sounds are so called because of the slight /r,(r)/ sound quality that can be heard in them along with the length of their pronunciation; these can often be held without distorting their sound.

The /ar,(ɑː)/ sound found in the words: car, father (southern UK accent) and art.

The /or,(ɔː)/ sound found in the words: fork, door, walk and sauce.

The /ear,(Iǝ)/ sound found in the words: ear, here, deer and pier.

The /er,(ɜː)/ sound found in the words: bird, kerb, nurse and worm.

The /re,(Ʊǝ)/ sound found in the words: manure, tour and mature.

The /air,(eǝ)/ sound found in the words: chair, pear, square and where.

The Consonant Sounds with their Most Common Letter and Letter Combinations

There are 24 consonant sounds in the English language. A consonant sound is made (produced) when the air flow is being restricted in some way, which means that the mouth doesn’t open as wide and so the jaw doesn’t drop noticeably, which is different from vowel sounds.

Here is a list of just some of the most commonly seen letter and letter combinations used to represent the 24 consonant sounds. For a more comprehensive lists check out our English Phoneme Chart (https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonics-phoneme-chart.html) or Alphabet Keyboard (https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonics-alphabet-chart.html) which can be found on our ‘Phonics’ page (https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonics.html):                    

  • /b,(b)/      bin, rabbit
  • /k,(k)/      cat, key, duck, queen, anchor, broccoli
  • /ch,(ʧ)/    church, watch
  • /d,(d)/     dog, ladder, towed
  • /f,(f)/       fish, puffin, phone, laugh
  • /g,(g)/     girl, digger, ghost
  • /h,(h)/     hen, who
  • /j,(ʤ)/     jigsaw, giant, bridge
  • /l,(l)/        lion, llama
  • /m,(m)/   man, hammer, lamb
  • /n,(n)/     nest, penny, knife, gnome
  • /ng,(ŋ)/  king, sink
  • /p,(p)/    panda, hippo
  • /r,(r)/      robin, lorry, wrist
  • /s,(s)/    sun, dress, city, geese, castle
  • /sh,(ʃ)/    ship, chef, delicious, initials, sugar
  • /t,(t)/     tent, butterfly, jumped
  • /th,(θ)/   thumb
  • /th,(ð)feather, breathe
  • /v,(v)/   van, sleeve, of
  • /w,(w)well, whale, penguin
  • /y,(j)/    yo-yo, euro
  • /z,(z)/   zero, puzzle, sneeze, cheese, is
  • /zh,(Ʒ)measure, television