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