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An introduction to phonics

Improve Literacy Newsletter

23 April 2008 -- Issue 4

In this issue:

1. All about phonics
2. Games and exercises you can try to help your child with phonics
3. Website resources for phonics
4. Readers' tips

Hi everyone!

In this month's newsletter we are going to look at 'phonics', and how it can help your child's reading skills.

1. Using the "phonics approach" is one of the most effective ways to learn to read.

This means identifying the sounds in a word first, and then learning how those sounds are represented in letters.

So what exactly is "phonics"?

A good definition of phonics is "teaching reading by training beginners to associate letters with their sound values" ( Think of it this way. We know that there are 26 letters in the alphabet. However, there are 44 sounds that we use when we talk, and we join these sounds together to make words. Sometimes we combine letters to make some of these sounds - for example, if we add together the letters 's' and 'h' we get the sound (or 'phoneme') /sh/ as in 'shiny'.

What's more, some sounds can be spelt in more than one way. Think about the words 'jolly' and 'hedge', for instance. Both contain the 'j' sound, so we would say that they both contain /j/ phonemes, spelt in different ways.

Phonics may sound complicated, but it's actually very simple - and it's a great method for getting children used to letters, sounds and words.

2. Try a few of these phonics games and activities with your child:

a. Letter cards - Write individual letters of the alphabet on a few index cards (about 4 or 5 will do to start with). Take turns with your child to make the sound of the letter. After a while, and depending on how comfortable your child is with the exercise, try combining some of the letters like 'c' and 'h', or 's' and 'h', and making the /ch/ or /sh/ sounds.

b. Listen to your child's favourite songs with her, and then try to spot the different sounds that make up the main words of the song. She will be far more receptive to this if it's something she is enjoying. The Wiggles or Sesame Street are perfect for this!

c. Eat phonic snacks - Treat your child with snacks that begin with different sounds. For example, 'b' can be a banana, 'ch' can be chocolate, 'w' can be watermelon etc. You can bet that the positive association of tasty food will help your child's learning.

d. Letter search - assign your child a letter or sound to find within a page of one of his favourite books. Then ask him to circle the letter or sound in pencil each time he sees it on the page. You might want to limit this to a maximum of 10 times on the page.

e. Make alliterative/assonant sentences - Have some fun with your child by making up sentences where each main word begins with the same letter (e.g. Peter Piper picked a piece of pickled pepper).

3. Some useful phonics resources

Here are a few useful resources for help with phonics. We've written a brief critique of each one:

Jan Brett's Phonogram Flash Cards - Good (if a bit old fashioned) resource for phonic flash cards - simply print out the cards and cut them out with scissors.

Starfall's ABCs Online - A great interactive way for younger children to get to know letters of the alphabet, and how they sound.

BBC Words and Pictures - For slightly older children, this site has a number of phonics-related activities and games that are in line with the National Literacy Strategy Framework for Teaching in the UK.

Cookie Monster's Letter of the Day game - A fun way for young children to get familiar with letters and sounds, with the help of one of the favourite Sesame Street characters.

Keep sending in any tips that work for you, and we will try to show them in future editions.

4. Readers' Tips

Judith from Bloemfontein, South Africa says: "When I'm out and about with my 4 year old son Jake, he tries to read signposts and shop signs. If he is able to read out what is on a shop sign correctly I treat him to something from the shop (within reason of course!!)"

Darryn from Manchester, England, says: "When we take my son to the football, we always buy a match program which he reads avidly from cover to cover at the stadium, and afterwards back at home. He usually doesn't like reading much, but it's almost impossible to get him to put it down! Sometimes we ask him to read it out loud, which he just loves doing".

Keep sending in any tips that work for you, and we will try to show them in future editions.

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