Category Archives: sound-letter links

Phonics stocking stuffer

It’s the first day of summer here in Melbourne, after a long, hard year of lockdown. We’ve been mostly working online since March, which was quite a learning curve, so I’ve had almost no energy for blogging or the website (sorry). We’ve now had no new COVID-19 cases for a month (hooray! it can be done!) so are cautiously looking forward to the silly season.

If you’d like a simple, inexpensive phonics game as an end-of-year school activity or Christmas stocking stuffer, you might like my new printed (no laminating or cutting up required!) word-building card game. Lots of kids didn’t learn very well this year thanks to COVID-19, but we’re all pretty weary, so it seems like a good time to build skills and knowledge through games.

Here’s a 90-second video about the game:

Children who only know one sound for each letter of the alphabet will need adult help with the sounds for the consonant digraphs and trigraphs in this game (sh, ch, th, wh, ll, ss, ck, ng, tch, dge), but children who know these spellings can play more independently.

If a child builds a word they don’t know, you might like to tell them what it means and put it in a sentence or two, to build their vocabulary, or just skip over it if it’s not a common word.

Older/more advanced learners can put up to three adjacent consonants in their first words (e.g. bench, truck, splint and strengths), which are then much harder for their opponent to change. Knowing the consonant combinations used in English syllables helps with spelling and reading.

The game – 52 child-sized cards and 2 instruction cards in a box – costs $12 including GST from our online shop, plus $9.20 for packing and postage to anywhere in Australia, or you can click-and-collect from our office in North Fitzroy. Please ring first (03 8528 0138) to make sure our reception will be staffed when you visit, and it won’t be waiting room Peak Minute.

Sorry we can’t currently ship this game overseas. The DSF online shop also sells this game, and may take overseas orders. You can also get this game from the lovely people at Childplay toy shop in Clifton Hill, where I never fail to find the best gifts for kids.

The download-and-print version of this game is also still available, either by itself or in a set of three games, but you have to provide the cardboard and colour printer, laminate it and cut it up, and the end result isn’t as robust or professional-looking.

An earlier version of this game contained spellings like ‘v’, ‘j’, ‘ff’ and ‘zz’ which aren’t in many words, so that version was a bit harder to play. These spellings have been replaced by more common ones in the new game, so it’s easier and more fun for beginners and strugglers. I’m hoping to be able to produce more printed resources in future, if these cards are a success.

THRASS: the phonics of Whole Language

People often ask my opinion of the THRASS (Teaching Handwriting, Reading and Spelling Skills) approach, which has long been used in many Australian schools. Till now I’ve mostly replied that I’m no expert on it, but I’m yet to see robust research evidence supporting it, and aspects of it have never made enough sense to me to invest in the training.

I once worked at a school in a tiny room where lots of THRASS resources gathered dust. Two huge, laminated THRASS wall charts kept overwhelming their blu-tack and falling on my head.

I looked through the resources, but was working mostly with kids with language disorder or intellectual disability, and they would have been overwhelmed by wordy, THRASS-chart-based spelling explanations like this or this (cognitive load!). The THRASS graphemes kit was too big for our room’s tiny table, and lacked example words and some of the graphemes I wanted, so I made my own.

I tried using a THRASS board game but found it a bit incomprehensible. I don’t like teaching program-specific jargon, like “phoneme fists” or “grapheme catch-alls”, and rapping THRASS chart words might be fun, but I’m not sure why else you’d do it. Continue reading

Here’s the video of my LDA webinar on spelling logic

About 400 people had signed up to attend the webinar I presented for Learning Difficulties Australia on Wednesday called “English spelling has five kinds of logic”, but sadly, the LDA Zoom account locked all but 100 people out. I’m so sorry about that, I didn’t even realise till the end.

Anyway, here’s the video, so you can watch it at your leisure. Sorry I say “um” so much! Below the video is a list of some of the resources I’ve found useful for online therapy sessions targeting spelling, reading and related skills (including irregular verbs, which someone asked about), since I couldn’t fit as much practical stuff into the webinar as I had hoped.

If you have feedback or questions, or any great online teaching/therapy resource tips, please leave a comment.

Useful resources for online learning/therapy during COVID-19

Black Sheep Press has lots of downloadable speech and language activities, including on irregular past tense here and here. There are also apps like Past Tense with Splingo, and the Toddlers Seek & Find apps let you make something fun happen then discuss it. The ELR resources are another option for all kinds of online language activities.

Speech Pathologists needing articulation materials, try the Pottstown Schools website.

Good luck, stay well, and remember when life gives you lemons, you can make lemon tart, lemon curd, avgolemono, lemon butter, lemon delicious…(I’m not much into lemonade).

PS Don’t miss Emily Hanford’s latest, again-excellent report “What the words say”.

English spelling has five kinds of logic

This Wednesday at 6pm AEST I’m presenting Learning Difficulties Australia’s free Weekly Wednesday Webinar (yikes, but I’m back on LDA’s Council so thought I’d better contribute. Also, here in Melbourne we’re going into Stage 4 lockdown, our Jacinda The Warrior Princess hammers ready to smash the virus, so I don’t have an awful lot else on).

Here’s a bit of a preview, to help you decide whether to attend live and ask me Hard Questions in the chat (register here) , or perhaps watch it later on Youtube.

The title of the webinar is “English spelling has five kinds of logic”, and I’m hoping it helps teachers and parents better understand and explain our superficially bizarre spelling system. Much of what I’ll say won’t be news to LDAers or other experts, but I hope they find some useful ideas, angles and resources, and maybe a few laughs, and will want to send the link to others. Continue reading

Reading Eggs – Fast Phonics

Reading Eggs is a very popular early literacy program for young children, but to date I have not been much of a fan. Its logic has always seemed too Whole Language/Balanced Literacy. I didn’t include it in my Top Early Literacy Apps list earlier this year.

I was therefore pretty excited to hear that there is now a synthetic phonics version of Reading Eggs called Fast Phonics, and that it includes decodable books. I signed up for their 30-day trial (the sign-in options were “parent” or “teacher” so I tossed a coin and got “parent”), hoping to be able to enthusiastically recommend it. Continue reading

Teaching vowel spellings with a moveable alphabet

Late last year we made some videos with the help of a couple of amazing kids. Heroic Harrison, then aged four, has already starred in a couple of blog posts about early literacy apps and Embedded Picture Mnemonics.

His sister Amazing Amelie, then aged seven, here helps me demonstrate an approach I use to teach about vowel spellings with the Spelfabet moveable alphabet. Sorry it’s taken me so long to put this video up, was already snowed under before we had to switch to online therapy.

You don’t have to use my download-and-print moveable alphabet for this activity if you have a similar one, including an online one, or prefer to make your own. You can also devise your own teaching sequences, or try my Level 3 sequences. If getting anything from my shop before 30 June 2020, don’t forget to use the COVID-19 coupon code to get 30% off.

Thanks to Amelie for her amazing help, and to Caitlin Stephenson for organising this.

More phonics playing cards

We have a new set of download-and-print decks of phonics playing cards, this time targeting more advanced spelling patterns. The cards are still child-sized (5 X 6.5cm) with words facing both up and down, making them easy to read from either side of a table.

The first few decks each target one sound (phoneme) spelt multiple ways:

Continue reading