Category Archives: phonics activities

Phonemes are sounds AND articulatory gestures

Phonemes are perceptually distinct speech sounds that distinguish one word from another, e.g. the “p”, “b”, “t” and “d” in “pie”, “by”, “tie” and “die”. They’re also articulatory gestures.

A 2009 article co-authored by reading guru Linnea Ehri says “awareness of articulatory gestures facilitates the activation of graphophonemic connections that helps children identify written words and secure them in memory.” Melbourne Speech Pathologist Helen Botham (Hi, Helen!), lists a number of references on her Cued Articulation website indicating articulatory awareness facilitates phonemic awareness.

I sit right across the table from my clients, so we can see and hear each other’s articulation well. It must be a lot harder to teach a whole class about phonemes, in order to link them to graphemes. Videos on the internet (including my own) about phonemes seem to put them all in one video, making them hard to isolate and repeat on a classroom interactive whiteboard.

I’ve thus filmed my utterly adorable and orthodontically photogenic niece Vivien (thanks, Vivien!) saying each phoneme separately. The 44 videos are below, each with example words which link to the relevant spelling lists on my website.

I hope these are useful in developing kids’ phonemic and articulatory awareness, as well as in teaching adults to say consonant sounds crisply and correctly (without adding a schwa vowel or voicing voiceless consonants) when teaching blending, segmenting and more advanced phonemic awareness.

Stop/plosive consonants:

VOICELESS VOICED

p as in puppy, troupe, steppe, subpoena

b as in bubble, build, cupboard, Bhutan

t as in totter, jumped, serviette, Thomas, doubt

d as in doddle, hugged, aide, dhal

k as in cat, kit, quit, fox, school, mosque, soccer

g as in gaggle, guess, ghost, league, example

Nasal consonants (all voiced):

m as in mummy, thumb, Autumn, gendarme

n as in nanny, know, sign, caffeine, pneumonia

ng as in song, think, tongue

Fricative consonants:

VOICELESS

VOICED

th as in think

th as in them, breathe

f as in fluffy, phone, graph, giraffe, sapphire

v as in vet, solve, skivvy, of, Wagner, Stephen

s as in sassy, cent, house, niece, fox, scent

z as in zip, is, buzz, freeze, cruise, example

sh as in ship, action, musician, discussion

zh as in vision, treasure, beige

h as in house, who

Affricate consonants (stop followed by fricative):

ch as in chip, catch, future, cello, cappuccino

j as in jam, gem, bridge, large, region, budgie

Glides/liquids or semivowel consonants

w as in wet, when, quiz

y as in yes, onion, lasagne, hallelujah

l as in lolly, bottle, grille, imbroglio

r as in remarry, wrist, rhubarb, diarrhoea

Checked or “short” vowels (must be followed by a consonant)

a as in cat, plait, timbre, salmon, reveille

e as in red, head, said, any, friend, bury, leisure

i as in pin, gym, pretty, sieve, busy, women

o as in got, want, because, cough, entree

u as in up, front, young, flood, does

oo as in good, put, could, woman, tour

“Long” vowels (can be the last sound in a word/syllable)

ay as in make, rain, say, paper, eight, they, cafe

ee as in see, sea, we, these, field, silly, honey, taxi

I as in like, my, find, pie, night, bye, type, chai

oh as in home, boat, no, slow, toe, oh, though

ooh as in soon, chew, June, flu, soup, blue, fruit, to

you as in cute, few, human, cue, feud, beautiful

Other vowels (sometimes called “long” too, as they can be the last sound in a word or syllable)

ar as in car, grass, calm, heart, galah, baa

er as in her, dirt, turn, work, learn, journey, were

or as in or, saw, more, all, four, walk, door, haunt

ow as in out, how, drought, sauerkraut, Maori

oy as in boil, boy, Freud, lawyer

air as in care, hair, there, bear, parent, aeroplane

ear as in near, deer, here, pier, bacteria, weird

uh as in a, the, over, liar, actor, fire, metre, future

Finally, I should say (for the linguistic purists) that there is more than one way to slice and count sounds, and how you do this is also affected by your accent. However, slicing and counting them this way (24 consonants, 20 vowels) seems to me to make the most sense of our complicated spelling system for speakers of General Australian English.

The Speech Pathology purists will also notice that Vivien’s alveolar fricatives are slightly fronted (i.e. she has a very tiny lisp) but it’s not noticeable to most people, so I think the /s/ and /z/ recordings I’ve made still count as allophones of /s/ and /z/. People who don’t like them can get their own niece, or someone else, to face the camera.

In fact, teachers might find that kids enjoy making videos of each other pronouncing the phonemes, and find doing it and watching the results helps get everyone thinking and learning about speech sounds. Why use my videos when you can make your own?!

What is a decodable book?

A decodable book is a book for a beginning or struggling reader which contains words she or he can sound out.

In practice this means it contains sound-letter relationships and word types its reader has been taught. It doesn’t include patterns not yet taught.

Decodability thus describes how well a book/text matches its reader’s decoding skills. It gives us a proper, objective way of identifying a just-right book, by ensuring lesson-to-text match. Continue reading

It’s not a spelling test, it’s a quiz

Spelling tests are boring, right? The teacher reads out a word, everyone writes it down, then it gets marked. Ho hum. Nobody really likes them except annoying pedants and teacher’s pets.

Quizzes, on the other hand, are fun. They have quizzes on TV and in pubs, board games and apps. Quizzes are about thinking laterally, friendly competition, and having a bit of a laugh. They can even be done in teams, if collaborative learning is the main aim. You can ham it up with a top hat and some pictures of typical quiz prizes (you win the steak knives!).

Here’s an example beginner’s quiz for a six-year-old. She is working on three-sound words with “short” vowels, and starting to learn about consonant digraphs like sh, ch and th. She was keen to write on a whiteboard rather than use pencil and paper, but whiteboards aren’t necessary. My questions were something like:

  1. I’m like a really big car that lots of people can fit in, and I drive on the road, and stop to pick people up, and I start with the sound “b” and I rhyme with “fuss”.
  2. The opposite of the bottom is the “t…”
  3. I am an animal that says “woof, woof” and I like to go for walks, and when I was a baby I was called a puppy.
  4. When I need to buy something, I go to a “sh…”
  5. I am a thing you can wear on your head to keep the sun off or keep your head warm, and I start with “h” and I rhyme with “cat”.

Continue reading

Free spelling lists for teachers

One of my fun summer activities has been refreshing and editing the free spelling lists on my website (yeah, weird, I know).

I hope teachers find them useful when teaching spelling, I know some already do. Other free spelling lists on the internet tend to focus on what words look like, but not what they sound like, or how they’re constructed, or they tend to reflect UK or US accents, not Australian English.

My lists menu allows words to be looked up in three different ways:

  1. Starting from sounds (phonemes) and looking up their spellings (graphemes). This is the direction we need to work in for spelling, i.e. turning speech into print.
  2. Starting from spellings and looking up the sounds they represent, which is the reading direction i.e. turning print into speech (whether reading aloud or silently).
  3. Starting with short, simple words and working towards longer, more complex ones, the direction needed for teaching. This sequence is the one used in my workbooks, but it’s not better than any other sequence. The important thing is to have a sequence. If wanting to use this one, but not sure where to start, my free low-frequency word spelling test might help.

Continue reading

MSL Club 2018

The MSL Club is a four-day non-residential camp for children in Years 1 to 8 with, or at risk of, reading and spelling difficulties. Many, but not all, have dyslexia diagnoses.

Such kids can often feel a bit like a fish out of water in mainstream schools, especially if they don’t know other kids their age with similar difficulties.

It can be a great relief to meet many other kids just like them, learn and play together and form friendships.

The camp aims to help these children feel less isolated, and more supported and celebrated.

Program for kids

The 2018 MSL Club in Melbourne was held at St Joan of Arc PS in Brighton from 15-18th January.

Morning sessions for kids involve intensive structured literacy intervention for 2-3 hours. Here are some 2017 photos borrowed from their website to give you the idea, click here for heaps more:

The sessions are run by experienced teachers and therapists with Multisensory Structured Learning (MSL) training, many of whom could earn much more elsewhere, but sign up to help kids, learn from and share ideas with like-minded colleagues, and make the club a success.

Volunteer Speech Pathologists from Gameplan Education provided free assessments for some of the older kids.

“It was so wonderful to teach alongside like minded professionals and to see children who often find school a challenge engaged, enthusiastic and happy”, said Sarah Asome, a key organiser.

A variety of afternoon activities are designed to build children’s relationships and confidence at MSL Club.

I asked Sarah for a few photos of things club participants did this year for this blog post, and it seemed to include robotics and making giant towers, quel fun. They also had fairy floss and slushies lined up for the last day this year, though these were under threat from a planned power cut (this and local roadwork detours kept organisers on their toes).

Sessions for parents and professionals

MSL Club also runs a parallel information days for parents and teachers.

This year’s sessions were astonishingly good value at $75 for a whole day, including lunch and morning tea. The well-attended Parent Info Day agenda is here, and presenters’ slides will be available on the MSL Club website soon. They contain heaps of great information, of the type now also accessible via the great new Dyslexia Victoria Support website.

The Professional Info Day agenda, which included a session from yours truly (here depicted banging on about that Seidenberg book again) is here. Slides from the sessions will all soon be on the MSL website, if you’re kicking yourself for missing out.

MSL Club provided an opportunity to listen to educators and researchers in the field of dyslexia, dyscalculia, speech pathology, occupational therapy and psychology, as well as expert teachers and advocates. I learnt quite a lot from the other speakers, and the day I attended was also excellent for professional networking. A morning session about Emotional Intelligence on one of the other days also looked great, and again very affordable at $50.

Staff and volunteers

As well as MSL Club Director Kate Bertoncello (below left) and Educational consultant Sarah Asome (below right), key organisers included Kathryn White (next picture down, on left, in 2017), Christine Clancy (on right), and Lauren Segal and Michael Bertoncello (not pictured, sorry).

The world’s greatest supermums (two sterling examples of the species, Heidi Gregory and Gemma Crouch, are pictured below) volunteered on the resource table and lent a hand with afternoon activities, plus there were some volunteer first aiders on hand in case of (hopefully just) papercuts.

The professionals and key volunteers involved all went out to dinner together on Wednesday night, to kick back, catch up and talk about how to change the literacy-teaching world.

All the hard work paid off, and even with the road closures and power outages, it was still such a rewarding and inspiring four days,” said Kate Bertoncello.

Congratulations to the amazing team that made it all happen. I just wish this project could get some government or philanthropic funding to allow families without much spare cash (e.g. from public housing estates) to still send their dyslexic kids along for a holiday boost.

MSL Club Sydney 2018 and Melbourne 2019

More MSL Clubs are planned for Sydney in October 2018 and Melbourne in January 2019, but if you’d like to enrol a student, you need to keep a sharp eye on their Facebook page www.facebook.com/mslclubaustralia to find out when registrations open, and get in quick.

It’s first come, first served, and in 2017 the MSL Club was booked out in 24 hours.

Photos in this blog post are from the MSL Club website and Facebook page, the Dyslexia Victoria Support Facebook page, Kate Bertoncello, Rosemary Fazio, Heidi Gregory, and Sarah Asome.

Alternative facts about phonics

I’ve just read a new e-book called Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning, edited by Margaret M Clark OBE, a UK Visiting and Emeritus Professor who the About The Editor section says “has undertaken research on a wide range of topics and has developed innovate (sic) courses”.

Its announcement elicited some e-eye-rolling from members of the Developmental Disorders of Language and Literacy Network, and jovial suggestions that others buy, read and comment on it, but apparently I’m the only one with nothing more important to do (sigh).

Also on my reading list at the moment is The Influential Mind, about how to persuade people in the face of Confirmation Bias, our tendency to ignore or dismiss evidence that’s not consistent with what we already believe. Confirmation Bias is why presenting scientific data to the climate sceptic in your life never works. You can watch a video about it here.

Reading the Clark et al e-book thus also became an interesting exercise in thinking about my own thoughts. I’d set aside time to read the book in order to write what I hoped would be a thoughtful, informed response, but my brain kept coming up with other ideas. Did it keep switching off because of my own confirmation bias, or because of the standard of what I was reading? Continue reading

Write this word backwards

Looking for a fresh early-level spelling activity? Inspired by the old board game “Backwords”, lately we’ve been having competitions to write words backwards.

For example, I say “write nip backwards” and learners have to write “pin”. This requires and builds awareness of the sounds in words (phonemic awareness) which is crucial for spelling.

Sometimes we use paper and pencil, and sometimes mini whiteboards, which are often somehow more exciting (novelty, I guess). For the hardline “I’m not picking up a pencil” brigade I also have an embarrassment of colourful and novelty pens and pencils, and coloured paper.

If working on four sound words, words like “spin” (nips) and “nuts” (stun) can be reversed. Continue reading

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