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readilearn: Teaching phonics and letter-sound relationships in early childhood classrooms

  • Published on May 11, 2018

teaching phonics and letter sound relationships in early childhood classrooms

Teaching phonics and letter-sound relationships is an important part of literacy education in early childhood classrooms. To be fluent readers and writers we need to understand the relationship that exists between the letters and sounds of our language. This knowledge is what enables us to extract meaning from texts we read and ensure that others can interpret the intended meaning in words we write.

The process of expressing thoughts in writing can be laboured for young children as they stretch out words to identify individual sounds and the letters we use to represent them. From the initial stages of making arbitrary marks upon the page, children develop into proficient writers through recognisable stages of approximation. Readable writing is dependent upon the effective use of letters to represent sound.

Reading is not so dependent as there are other cues and strategies that readers can employ to interpret a writer’s message. Young children garner information about texts they read from supporting illustrations, prior knowledge of the subject matter and text type (for example, narrative or non-fiction) and understanding of how language works. This information supports their reading which is guided by words they recognise by sight as well as their knowledge of letter-sound relationships.

When teaching children to read, it is important to ensure children learn to use effective strategies that access all available cues. Over-dependence on any one cuing system leads to a break-down in the process. While the teaching of phonics has an important place in early childhood classrooms, I have resisted making resources for teaching phonics in isolation for two main reasons.

Two reasons against making resources to teach phonics in isolation
#1

I believe reading is best learned and taught by reading. Knowledge of letters and sounds can be learned while reading meaningful and enjoyable texts. Teaching and learning can occur in literacy lessons, lessons in any subject, or whenever an opportunity to interact with print exists, which is frequent in our print-rich environment.

I have previously written about some strategies I consider beneficial for teaching reading and will no doubt write more in the future. You can read some of those posts here:

What’s in a name? Teaching phonics, syllabification, and more!

Engage Learners with pizza-themed cross-curricular teaching and learning resources

Learning sight words by reading and writing in context

Let’s read, write and spell with Schuyler

Show and tell: a writing and reading experience

Reading across the curriculum

These are just a beginning. Follow these links: reading and writing, to see other resources designed to support your literacy teaching.

Three of my favourite strategies are:
  • Reading and discussing great literature with children — a must for every day.
  • Cooperatively reading big (enlarged) books or texts with children — great for discussing and teaching what they need to know about print and reading.
  • Involving children in reading texts prepared as covered cloze exercises — engages them in using an effective reading strategy using all cuing systems. You can read more about covered cloze here and check out Bullfrog’s Billabong and The Ice Cream Shop: covered cloze stories for use on the interactive whiteboard.
#2

There is already a plethora of resources for teaching phonics, many free, on the internet. Though I’d received requests, I wasn’t enthused about simply duplicating what was already available.

It was partly in response to these requests that I wrote about using children’s names as a starting place. When interactive resources were recently suggested, I decided to accept the challenge. This week I have uploaded three new phonics resources, two of them interactive.

printable flash cards for teaching letters and sounds and the alphabet

Alphabet flash cards is a printable resource for teaching and reviewing letters and sounds of the alphabet. It includes teaching ideas and suggestions for use with the whole class or in groups. The letters are available in two sizes, as are matching picture cards. A checklist for recording children’s progress is also included. The cards support the interactive resource The Alphabet.

an interactive resource for teaching letters and sounds and phonics on the interactive whiteboard

The Alphabet is designed for teaching letters and sounds of the alphabet on the interactive whiteboard.

an interactive resource for teaching letters and sounds and phonics on the interactive whiteboard

The alphabet is presented in three ways for different uses:

  • Automatic – The alphabet is played automatically. Children learn to recite the letters of the alphabet in order. They may say, or predict, each letter as it appears.
  • I’ll do it – You may click through the letters of the alphabet in order to allow time for discussion of each.
  • Random – Letters of the alphabet are presented in random order to provide children with practice in recognising the letters and sounds out of alphabetical sequence.

interactive whiteboard resource for teaching initial letters and sounds

Phonics – Initial Letters, Sounds and Pictures is an interactive resource for teaching initial letters and sounds. In the resource, each letter of the alphabet is presented on its own slide. The slide also displays pictures of two items that begin with the most common initial sound attributed to the letter.

Letters, sounds and pictures are presented in four ways for different uses:

  • Automatic – Advance through the alphabet automatically. Listen and join in with reciting the letter names, sounds and pictured words.
  • I’ll do it – Click through the letters of the alphabet in order to allow time for discussion and teaching.
  • Clues – Click through the letters of the alphabet at your own pace. This time children are required to identify the letter names and sounds without using the pictures as clues. They may click on the clue icon to reveal the picture if needed.
  • Random – Letters are provided with the pictures hidden, as for “Clues”,  but are presented in random order.

A printable version of the letter cards can be accessed from within the resource.

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Comments

    When teaching Michael to read, I found he learned easier with phonics than with word recall which is now the favourite method of teaching reading here in South Africa. I persisted with my own methods and Michael is now a good reader.

    That’s wonderful, Robbie. It’s always best when the teaching methods meet the child’s needs. 🙂

    Like many who have dyslexia, I’ve found the breaking down of components difficult. I never could learn to read through phonics, but luckily I was in love with books and understood they contained stories, and kept at it trying to break the code until I could read. Later, in college, I did enjoy linguistics and breaking down language. But it was not how I could have learned language. I like that you have different options in your lessons so it expands beyond rote memorization.

    That love of books and all they have to offer is the key, Charli. I’m so pleased your persistence and not yet mindset put you on the road to success. When learners are offered a variety of strategies, it is more likely they will find one that suits.

    So much information here and YES I think phonics is best taught within the reading experience, especially with books larger in size that have illustrations. I enjoyed learning about the different strategies available for learning phonics. As you say, there are many free online resources to help teachers and parents. <3

    I always loved those enlarged books for reading together, Christy. All effective reading strategies can be taught together in context. It’s one reason I have written stories for sharing on the interactive whiteboard. Before many texts were available in a large format, I used to make copies of some of my favourites by hand and use them on an overhead projector. The introduction of interactive whiteboards opened up the possibilities enormously.

    I’ve found flash cards to be a very effective teaching tool, Norah. They’re visual, auditory, interactive, succinct, and promote immediate feedback. Now that I think about it, they would be a good resource in my ESL class. Thanks for the inspiration, girlfriend! ❤️

    Hi Tina, I’m pleased you found some inspiration in the post. Sometimes our memories just need a little tweak, don’t they? I didn’t know you taught ESL. I’d love to hear more about it. What age group do you work with?

    My memory often needs a bit more than tweaking, Norah 🙂 I teach Chinese-speaking seniors in our community. It’s such a pleasure. They’re so personable and very eager to learn ❤️

    How wonderful of you to teach Chinese-speaking seniors in your community, Tina. I’m sure they gain a lot of value from your classes. That eagerness to learn makes such a difference in outcomes. Congratulations. <3

Please share your thoughts. I love it when you do.

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