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

Letter Knowledge

Letter 1

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: http://bit.ly/2F9P7cI)

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?

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 sound (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:

More than 1 sound 1

Accents and Phonics

Bath - phonics section

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 bit.ly/1Qgc9dA and then scroll down the page to see the animations of the different pronunciations of the word ‘bath’.

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.

The ‘Long’ Vowel Sounds

Long Vowel Sounds 1

A couple of weeks ago we explained that there are 20 vowel sounds in the English (UK) sound system and last week 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 are so called due 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.

How Many ‘Short Vowel’ Sounds Do You Know?

Short Vowel song Pictures

There are 7 ‘short’ vowel sounds, although children are usually only introduced to the 5 which are most commonly heard in simple CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) words: /a,(æ)/ in cat, /e,(e)/ in peg, /i,(I)/ in pin, /o,(ɒ)/ in hot, /u,(ʌ)/ in bus.

The other two ‘short’ vowel sounds are: /oo(u),(Ʊ)/ in bull or could and /uh,(ǝ or schwa)/ heard  as the final sound in the words: zebra, doctor and corner.

Our ‘Short Vowel’ Finger Chant can help you, and your child, to learn and remember the 7 ‘short vowel’ sounds: bit.ly/1lR4AiV

Why do we ask children to ‘read out aloud’?

Reading with boy 4506329-1801x2700 (2)

Reading is the ability to first decode the letter sequence of the word (phonics) and then to place meaning to it in relation to the context in which it is being used.

Unfortunately, many children just decode, speak and do not actively listen to what they have said, so they do not gain meaning from the words they are reading (poor reading comprehension skills).

We ask children who are learning to read to ‘read out aloud’, but forget to tell them why. It is not just so we can hear they have decoded a word correctly. The important point is to encourage them to actively listen to what they are saying. The idea is that if they hear the words they will, if it is part of their vocabulary, understand their meaning and therefore fully comprehend the text they have read.

Poor reading comprehension skills may also occur because a child has a limited vocabulary usage and/or understanding. A language rich environment is vital to help support and develop a child’s vocabulary and linguistic comprehension, which in turn, will support their reading comprehension skills.

What are Vowels and Consonants?

Vowels & Consonants 1

The English Language is created through the different combinations of 44 sounds (phonemes), 20 vowels and 24 consonants. In our written language we refer to the letters of the alphabet as being consonant or vowel letters depending on which type of sound they are representing.

Vowel sounds allow the air to flow freely, causing the chin to drop noticeably, whilst consonant sounds are produced by restricting the air flow.

Vowel sounds are usually (in the UK Education System) split into two main categories based on sound quality:

  • ‘Short’ vowel sounds, due to the short duration of the sound being made. The sound cannot be held onto without becoming distorted
  • ‘Long’ vowel sounds, due to the length of their pronunciation. These can often be held without distorting their sound.

The letters of the alphabet that we normally associate as being the vowel letters are: a, e, i, o and u. The letter ‘y’ is sometimes referred to as an honorary vowel as it is used to replace one of the other vowel letters in words such as: fly or my.

All words in the English language have at least one vowel sound in them so the written version must have at least one vowel letter in it.

Consonant sounds are made (produced) when the air flow is being restricted in some way, for example, changes in tongue position resulting in the mouth not opening as wide. This means that the jaw doesn’t drop noticeably, which is different to vowel sounds.

The letters of the alphabet that usually represent the consonant sounds are: b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z.

What are Graphemes & Phonemes?

phoneme chart

grapheme chart keyboard

Last week 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;
  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.

We hope you find these useful.

What is the difference between phonics and phonemic awareness?

Phonic & Phonemeic 1

With the new school year well under way many new parents are being introduced to the world of phonics and the 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 phonic 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.

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

  • 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/letter association 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/letter association 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/letter association 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’.

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

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

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.