How to Help Fast Phonics on its Way

November 11, 2016 3:55 pm Published by

From the Times Educational Supplement of 5 November 2016, the headline: ‘Schoolgirls suffer in silence about their struggle to read.’

Leaving aside the emotive verb ‘suffer,’ more accurately applied to children in war zones, the writer is referring to the fact children, apparently girls in particular, thanks to phonics can now read every word but not comprehend every word. As my readers will know I have trumpeted phonics for 57 years, but in today’s parlance it is a no-brainer that phonic excellence goes hand in hand with dictionary skills. I would have assumed any school worth its salt would be providing dictionaries/iPads to enable their pupils to achieve excellence in both text understanding and analysis, plus word knowledge. In fact, it is an indictment of our education system if this is not so and is allowing competent readers to ‘suffer’.

As a teacher I always required each child in my classes to have a small dictionary on the desk, ”an extension of your right arm,” I told them. As we worked a passage or a poem together, difficult words would be looked up if we had the time, or explained to them if time was limited. Nobody could ever tell me he/she did not understand a word. They could fail to find one, but as long as a child made the effort I was satisfied.

A further problem is that many parents resort to using the 200 or so most common words at home, failing to realize that expanding their language can be fun. It is simple and can only help your children immensely. For years, when my child was small, we had a sheet of brown paper fixed to the back of the kitchen door. A new or interesting word would be added to the list daily, weekly or even monthly. The salient point here was we actually used those words, they became part of our daily communication. Not only did his vocabulary grow but mine grew too, immeasurably so. It works really well in the classroom also, with gains all round, better essays and a better and more confident overall performance from each child. Bottom line, children really love words!

Of course, what I find among most teenagers today is a reluctance to read anything other than prescribed texts. It follows, the less they read the fewer words they know – another no-brainer. When these youngsters do read, unknown words are generally glossed over, thus the text is only barely meaningful and the spirit and thrust of the book or poem is virtually lost. I have had children in Years 10 and 11 who, having claimed to have read a book ‘several times’ cannot define all the words on a page randomly selected. These children are not suffering from anything but a lack of research and investigation techniques or, dare I venture, diligence.

A wide ranging and colourful vocabulary is valuable, both for meaningful reading, interesting essays and articulate speech. As a bonus it enables your child to understand challenging exam papers.

A couple of ideas for primary schools to extend word understanding.

Add two or three Latin roots to the weekly spelling list e.g. ‘curro’, I run.

‘ambulo’ walk.

‘anti’ against.

‘aqua’ water.

‘bene’ well.

‘circum’ round.

‘peri’ around.

‘junct’ join.

‘pro’ for.

There are so many of these Latin and Greek roots which form the basis of a huge number of words we use and read each day. Giving children just a few with their spelling lists will help them decode word meanings for the rest of their lives. They have for me and I had them from Year 3 to Year 6.

Tip two is to ask children to research dictionary meanings for all of their spelling words – rather than telling them the meanings. I know several schools that do this already. Promoting dictionary habits will again pay dividends whatever they do in life.

Now for the next game as promised. This valuable exercise was called the Estate Agent game. We used free books available outside Estate Agent shops, but you can use the property section of your local newspaper. The game involves a buyer and a seller. The buyer must be slightly naïve and the seller a quick thinker. The seller must welcome his customer and offer a down-at-heel property, describing it in over the top terms and turning every negative into a glowing positive.

When the buyer demurs because the nearest school is so far away:

Seller. ”It’s only three miles – every child should be lucky enough to have a three mile jog to school, in fact the Government recommends it. Does wonders for the brain.”

Buyer. ”But the interior of this house has torn wallpaper and peeling paint.”

Seller. ”Oh you noticed,” joyfully, ”that is the latest trend straight from America and France.”

Buyer. ”But the pool is full of slimy green stuff.”

Seller. ”And only we can offer you this exclusively. Your very, very own penicillin. Imagine that, you never have to be ill ever again.”

Buyer. ”What about the broken steps?”

Seller. ”So olde worlde, everybody loves those.”

And thus it went, my small ‘seller’ persistently persuading me to buy his unsellable house. Once again he loved the game and often came up with ingenious reasons for why this was the bargain of the decade. Needless to say the game honed up his vocabulary and thinking skills and did wonders for writing and reasoning. He remains today an articulate and clever speaker. Back to our headline, ‘suffering’, I think not.

We move now to the next step in teaching your child to read. You have achieved a substantial set of phonic sounds and sight words and we add ten more sight words simply to allow the reading process to expand a little further. These words would be difficult to sound and so are better learned one at a time as whole words: They are:

said, oh, are, one, friend, magic, colour, their, great, who.

If any sound or word proves difficult to learn, slip ‘friend’ or ‘magic’ etc. into a pocket or a bag and take it for a walk, or take it shopping, leave it at the front door or place it in the fruit bowl. Make it different and it will be easily learned. Now your new reader can easily read:

”There,” he said, ”in front of me was the most beautiful, silvery white animal I had ever seen. His back and mane had a colourful pinkish sheen while the hooves were of fine gold. The horn was long and magical. It was twisted and along the groove of the twist ran a line of diamonds and emeralds. Oh, he was great and so very beautiful.” the little man said, as he remembered his friend, the King of the Unicorns.

Keep reading each day making it fun with expression and masses of praise. Good luck.

Next time another game and some more phonics to add to your list.

This is Teaching Post 8

Link to Teaching Post 9

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This post was written by Alonah Reading Cambridge

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