Geoff Richards

Phonics for teenagers and adults

Why should students feel intimidated?

Phonics for absolute and false beginners? Yup, and even up to intermediate level too. And beyond if your students benefit from it.

But phonics books are designed for kids! Yes, they are. So go download yourself this excellent resource by the late Hazel Loring;

It was designed for first grade teachers in the US, so don't read too much into the lesson planning section, just use the main body of it.

Reading and pronunciation are two of the biggest barriers to becoming competent in a second language.

Sure, if you're brilliant at memorising things, then no worries. Otherwise, phonics is the way to go as far as being able to read and pronounce the 70% of the English language which can be mastered by using the method. I actually think that this figure is higher because you can argue that words like ‘chemist' have a hard ‘ch' sound. And ‘tion' on the end of a word is always pronounced as ‘shun'. Etc.

But students feel intimidated by it? To answer a question with a question, why should they if it's helping them?

Those that aren't already familiar with it will quickly recognise it as an invaluable tool that really works.

Just watch their faces when they begin to read and pronounce words they've never even seen before. And, no, they don't need to know what the words mean unless there is a clear need to, i.e. because they're a part of the lesson.

So where to start with teaching phonics? Go with the individual sounds of each letter first of all. Leave long vowels like the ‘a' in ape and soft consonants like the ‘c' in celery until later. Start with the basics.

For 5 to 10 minutes of each class cover two letters. So, for example, in the first class ‘a' and ‘b'. Ant, at, apple. Big, bad, bag. Etc.

Draw these up on the board and write the key letters in a different colour and then have students copy them into their notebooks. Continually review the sounds of letters as you progress your way through the alphabet.

Once you've reached the halfway mark, you can start to play a game. Write up the letters that have already been taught. Form two teams and have one student from each step up to the board. Phonically pronounce a letter and have them run to touch that letter and say a word that begins with it. Students take it in turns and the first team to get to ten is the winner.

‘X' is the exception. Forget about the ridiculous ‘x-ray'. Teach it as an end sound. Ox, box, fox, mix, etc. And that sound by the way is ‘cus'.

When students have learned the basic sounds of the alphabet then you can start to use Hazel Loring's book from Unit 1. Aim to cover between eight to ten words per class. Sound out each part of the words. And again, make sure that you constantly review students.

Have them copy the words in two colours into their notebooks.

Unit 1 is where the really smart students will be able to read and pronounce words before you do. Let them do this because it encourages the rest of the class. By Unit 5 most if not all students should be able to do this.

All in all there are 44 units. In a school year where I teach phonics for 5 to 10 minutes of every class, I have only reached Unit 30.

Also, if you teach privately, the better students are at being able to read and pronounce words, the more likely they are to continue learning with you. And we all love repeat business!


Thanks for the tips above. They've really helped my perspective of the minds of teenagers with reding disabilities. what i don't understand is how to help those with various reading disabilities like dyxlexia, without having to take them to special schools for dylexics. thanks anyway. you've truely made my day.

By Nkyroukah Orji, Lagos,Nigeria (30th April 2011)

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