Phonics Crash Course, Part 2, phonics rules and terminology that they should have taught you in college, but didn't. a perfect cheat sheet for kindergarten, first,, and second grade teachers

Everything you needed to know about teaching phonics, you learned in college….right?  Wrong!  My professors were great, but there really wasn’t a course dedicated to teaching phonics.  Once you have your own classroom it doesn’t take long to realize that the phrase “sound it out” will only get your students so far.   Don’t worry!  I’ve compiled some of the phonics tidbits I’ve learned along the way.  Check out my phonics crash course, part 1 here.  And now, hold on to your hats because here comes the crash course in phonics, part 2!


Crash Course in Phonics, part 2, everything you wish you would have learned about teaching phonics when you were in college



Blends– Blends are two (or sometimes three) letters that make a distinct sound such as /bl/, /cr/, or /st/.  You can hear all the letter sounds in a blend.  Blends are typically learned in 1st or 2nd grade.

Digraphs– I honestly don’t think students need to know the word “digraph” but as a teacher you’ll see it in your curriculum.  These are pairs of letters that work together to make one completely new sound.  Examples include th, sh, and ch.  Kids need to memorize these chunks (phonograms, if you want to get technical) because they can’t be sounded out.

Vowel Digraphs– Vowels in English are so tricky because they can make more than one sound and when you combine two of them, who knows what’s going to happen!  One rule that teachers frequently tell their students is, “when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.”  It works for words like rain, seat, or goat.  I was very surprised to learn that if you look at the most commonly used words, the rule only actually works 36% of the time (see All About Learning Press for more on that).  I think the “two vowels walking” rule is a decent place to start.  I let students know that it doesn’t always work, and when it doesn’t we try a different vowel sound.  I have found that getting comfortable with vowel digraph (or vowel team) words is a major part of phonics learning in 2nd grade. (see vowel digraph practice HERE)

R-Controlled Vowels– You’ll also hear these referred to as “bossy-r” words.  The story goes that when r comes after a vowel, it looks back and bosses that vowel into making a different sound.  The -ar pattern is fun to learn because that’s what a pirate says! -Er, -ir, and -ur all make the same sound.  I tell my students it’s “RRRR like a motorcycle starting.”  -Or can make the same motorcycle sound (like in world, or word) or it can make a different sound (like corn and fork).

Check out R-controlled vowel practice HERE

Soft C and G– If you work with younger students, you’ve probably seen them read the word “city” as “kitty.”   Here we are again with letters making more than one sound…thanks a lot, English!  The soft C sounds like /s/ and the soft g sounds like /j/.  Check out the catchy song on the picture above.  It’s so annoying that after you sing it a few times, you only need to sing the first line to help a student who is stuck on a word and they will immediately say “OK, OK, I GOT IT!” to make you quit ; )

If you’re looking for materials to help you teach phonics, check out my posters, centers, mini word list books, word sorts, and more!

posters, mini word list books, centers, word sorts, and more!


There is definitely way more that could be said on this topic.  In fact, I feel a Crash Course in Phonics, part 3 coming on.  Follow me using one of the choices on my sidebar so you don’t miss out!

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The awesome clipart in this post comes from Sarah Pecorino Illustration.

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Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun is a former teacher with 8 years of experience in the classroom and a master's degree in early childhood education. She designs engaging, organized classroom resources for 1st-3rd grade teachers.


  1. I love this post and it is so true, there was no instruction in college about phonics, and as a kid I have memories of everyone working whole group and you just learned to read. I appreciate your putting this up and hope for more as some of the rules get tricky. One of my coworkers was in my class the other day and we ended up laughing at ourselves as we were trying to figure out whether a word needed a double consonant based on its rule. Of course it breaks the rule and you don’t put one, but it had us stumped for a few and made up laugh that, yes we teach children, haha.

    • Thanks, Christina!
      Diphthongs are when two vowels are together and you hear two different sounds. For example, in /oy/ like in boy the pattern sounds like long o and then slides to a long e. I’ll have to address diphthongs in another “crash course” installment. Stay tuned!

  2. Hi, this is a lovely post! This has helped me reach my daughter phonics. Something I never learnt during my schooldays.
    I have one question… How do I teach my child when to use ay/ai/ea. it’s quite confusing… Is there any rule for that too !!

    • Thanks, Mayura! The ay/ai/ea and other patterns that sound the same are so tricky. I don’t know of rules for those. I usually have kids practice those as word families but I think they just have to have a lot of exposure through reading and other word work so they begin to notice when a word doesn’t look right.

  3. Hi Hannah,
    Can I sing the song with the g?
    It seems to work with ge and gy but maybe not gi.
    For example, girl and gin – one hard and one soft.
    Thanks for your help. Fantastic visual!

    • Hi Leanne,
      I have sung the song with g. There will definitely be some “rule breaker” words with just about any phonics rule. It might be worth collecting up some of those rule breakers and putting them on a chart for your students. I try to always pull it back to meaning. If students apply a phonics rule to sound out a word and then end up with something that doesn’t make sense (something that isn’t really a word) then it’s time to try a different sound. Just looking at a list of words that start with “gi,” there do seem to be a lot of rules breakers for that one.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. hi my name Derya. Thank you very much for the information. 38 years old and I’m trying to learn English. thanks again.

  5. I learned to speak English when I transferred to a high school in the States, and I had no background knowledge of how phonics worked. Your Post helped me a lot! Is there Part 3 as well? Please keep them coming!

  6. Love this. Just as an FYI ‘vowel digraphs’ are actually called diphthongs. I have my kids use this vocabulary to identify the pairs.

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