Phonics is still the number one way to teach children to read and write and that is why it is still an instrumental part of the British curriculum. Through phonics we teach the children the sounds of the letters rather than the letter names.
I have had the privilege of seeing children taught phonics in many different schools, ranging from international schools, bilingual, Thai schools and even language schools. I have seen Phonics taught brilliantly at times and at other times not so well. If you are a phonics teacher then I hope this blog post is helpful as I guide you through the structure of a phonics lesson, how to make it fun and some of the common mistakes made by untrained teachers.
Firstly some common mistakes:
1) Knowing the letter sounds (Phonemes) - It is imperative that you know the letter sounds, and by this I don't just mean /a/ for apple, I mean all the diagraphs (th,ng,ch etc) and consonant clusters (bl, gl, st etc); all the alternative ways to represent vowel sounds and not forgetting the tricky words (sight words) that need to be memorised as they are not phonetically decodable. These words are taught in a very particular order dependent on a) their importance and b) the frequency that children use them.
2) Pronouncing the sound correctly - A common mistake is to add vowel sounds to the end of the sound that you are focusing on, for example ‘m' as "mer" or ‘h' as a short ‘her'
3) Teaching the sounds in the correct order (not alphabetically) - The whole point of phonics is to teach the letter sounds in order that they are most used. This can be found in the Letters and Sounds scheme; the Jolly Phonics program is not in order but you can find a copy of the songs reordered correctly here.
4) Teaching too many sounds in a single lesson -trying to teach too many sounds in one go is problematic for beginners, especially if the sounds are similar or the letters formed in similar ways like ‘b' and ‘d'. More advanced learners can learn more than one spelling but keep the sound the same, e.g. ai, ay, eigh, a etc...
Structuring a lesson
There is a lot to teaching phonics and indeed the Letters and Sounds booklet is a bit daunting so lets keep it simple. Basically a child needs to recognize the sounds through speaking and then through seeing. Once they are confident with this they should be able to move on to writing by copying and repeating and finally to writing through listening.
I tend to teach the recognition and reading on the first day and writing on the second with early learners but both skills with older or more advanced learners who will also be blending and segmenting too. A basic lesson should be structured as follows:
Revise and review: Spend a couple of minutes revising previous sounds
Teach: Introduce a new sound
Practise: Practise that sound, maybe mixed in with other sounds
Apply: Make sure the children know the sound in context
Assess: Check to see which children have remembered the sound and which will need another session.
Making phonics fun
Phonics can be taught in a variety of ways. Different games focus in on different skills and different levels but most can be adapted to meet the needs of your students. Try searching some of the following:
Fishing for sounds
Phonics matching pairs
North South East West
Ball and cap game