Category Archives: sound-letter links

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

Our goal is to develop phoneme proficiency in kids

This is a summary of the second half of an online video seminar entitled “Assessment and Highly Effective Intervention in Light of Advances in Understanding Word-Level Reading” (the first half I recently summarised here), which I hope encourages you to watch the whole thing.

It’s by Dr David Kilpatrick, was recorded at the 2017 Reading in the Rockies conference, and is on the Colorado Dept of Education website. Thanks so much to all those involved in putting this great information in the public domain.

The talk’s summary and conclusions are a good place to start:

  • We have not been working from a scientifically-established understanding about how words are learned.
  • Our intervention approaches have been around for decades, but are not informed by word-learning research.
  • The “culprit” in poor word-level reading is phonology.
  • Skilled readers have letter-sound proficiency and phonemic proficiency, weak readers do not.
  • Interventions that address these skill deficits have the best results, by far.

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

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

Pip and Tim decodable books from Little Learners Love Literacy

Before I buy a book, I like to pick it up and look through it properly myself.

I also like to hear about it from independent reviewers, not rely on information from those  selling it. They’re hardly going to tell me if there’s something wrong with it.

Unfortunately, a lot of excellent books and other resources to help kids learn to read and spell aren’t readily available in mainstream shops.

They’re only available online, or from specialist shops that aren’t always easy to visit. So they’re hard to leaf through, and it’s also difficult to find independent reviews of them.

I’m thus using this blog to help get the message out about good resources I use and recommend from publishers and specialist stores without huge marketing budgets.

I hope this helps more learners get access to them, plus helps those selling them compete with huge companies peddling nasty look-at-the-picture-and-guess books and other dross.

Here’s a video I’ve made about the Pip and Tim decodable books from Little Learners Love Literacy, which I think are perfect for Aussie 4-6 year olds. I use them with some 7-year-old strugglers too. They’re cute, funny and designed to help kids learn to sound out words quickly and well. They’re also available very affordably as iPad apps.

No, I don’t sell these books or get paid any commission on them. I just like them a lot, and hope that (if you have 4-7 year-old literacy learners in your life) you do too.

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