Phonics explained

Peter Bayne


Peter Bayne


Wednesday 15 September 2021 8:17

Phonics is a word that sends shivers down the spine of most parents and guardians.

During my training to become a teacher, I remember how difficult it was to grasp the method as I was taught using a different technique.

Essentially, phonics teaches children to break words into separate sounds (phonemes) and the letters (graphemes) that represent them. The main complexity with phonics is that most sounds have numerous ways to spell them, such as 'ee' in need and ‘ea’ in bead. In this week's column, I will break down some of the key terminologies and explain the first few steps that your child (and you!) will encounter on their journey to read and write.

Step One: Decoding

The first step is learning the letter sounds for S,A,T,P,I,N. The main reason is that children can arrange them into various words such as pin and tap. The aim is that once a child sees these letters, they will be able to say its associated sound (decoding).

Step Two: Blending

After children have grasped decoding, they begin blending letters into words. Blending takes individual letter sounds (phonemes) and combines them to make a word; for example, S-A-T would be blended to sat. Blending can be a challenging step for some children.

Step Three: Decoding CVC Words

CVC stands for consonant-vowel-consonant words. Vowels are the letters a,e, i,o, and u; consonants are every other letter in the alphabet. Children will read words that include the remaining consonants and vowels from step one: S,A,T,P,I,N such as hen.

Step Four: Decoding Consonant Blends

A consonant blend is simply two consonants grouped in a word, such as 'cr' in crab. Children will learn to read consonant-consonant-vowel-consonant (CCVC) words including hunt, fast, cart and milk.

Step Five: Vowel and Consonant Digraphs

A digraph is two letters that make one sound, and this is the step that most parents find great difficulty with. Consonant digraphs contain two consonants: 'ch' as in chip, 'ph' as in phone, and 'th' as in thin. Vowel digraphs are pairs of two letters with at least one vowel, such as 'ai' in train or 'ur' in turnip.

Phonics Doesn't Always Work

Phonics doesn't work for all children. Children tend to have three different learning styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic (touch) learners. If a child is a visual learner, it may be beneficial to focus on learning sight words.

This technique requires a child to memorise the words through repetition. The difficulty is that there are thousands of words to learn, but it is a proven method for visual learners. Learning through sight words can be aided by using flashcards, which include pictures that help with memory and defining certain words.

Auditory learners tend to respond better by using songs and rhymes. It may also be beneficial to record words and spellings on tapes and ask the child to listen and practice in a quiet environment.

There is an abundance of videos and songs which can be found through a quick online search.

Kinesthetic (touch learners) learn best by doing. This could be by arranging magnetic letters into words or by going on a treasure hunt for certain sounds/words. If you are unsure about your child's learning type, you could try a few techniques and see what works. Next week, I will discuss some home activities that you can try to help improve your child's reading, writing and spelling.

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