Phonetic Support

When I introduce a new group of students to my reading class, I explain that there are two main ways to teach reading — with sight words or with phonics. I tell them that I will present them with some information, and let them decide which method they wish me to use.

I explain that with the sight word approach (Dick & Jane, whole language, balanced instruction, balanced reading, re-packaged whole language, re-named whole language,…) the student only needs to memorize about 250,000 words, for instant sight recognition, in order to be a very good reader.

I explain that it is difficult for the human brain to achieve this feat, so the reading level of many people taught using the sight-word method — except for those individuals who u2018see’ the Code without being taught to do so, and learn to use phonics without the teachers even understanding the basis for the reading success of these students — tend to top out by the middle of elementary school, leaving those students unprepared for the increased reading and information requirements in the following grades. I point out that deaf children, lacking the ability to access auditory and phonetic information, often top out at the same level. A high third/low fourth grade reading level often seems to be the upper limit for the sight word approach, minus phonetic assistance or insight.

I then explain that for my reading instruction, students will need to know these "Keys for Unlocking the Code in Which English Speech Is Recorded in Print":

  • 26 ABC’s
  • 44 Sounds
  • 70 Main ways to spell those sounds
  • 29 Rules that provide assistance most of the time
  • 6 Syllable types and how to use them in decoding

These 175 items are so manageable, and set the stage for students to see the logic of English and to begin making fast and effective gains. When knowledge and automatic usage of these are in place, I begin teaching 100 word roots that come from Latin and Greek. Vocabulary knowledge and usage begin to expand, as reading comprehension improves, and students find themselves actually u2018feeling’ their reading level rise as they rapidly handle increasingly more difficult reading passages.

Needless to say, the students opt for u2018my way.’ Since they usually know the important ABC’s (Not u2018Athletics, Band & Cheerleading’) I begin by teaching the 44 sounds and the 70 spellings for those sounds. I do this by using the Phonogram Cards from Spalding. These should be used until the student can, when shown any phonogram card, automatically give all of the sounds of that phonogram, in the right order. For example, the student is shown the card

  • [a] and immediately responds: /a/ /a/ /ah/
  • [b] and responds /b/
  • [c] and responds /k/ /s/
  • [g] and responds /g/ /j/
  • [ow] and responds /ow/ /o/
  • [ough] and responds /o/ /oo/ /uf/ /off/ /aw/ /ow/
  • …so on through the entire set of cards

I introduce a few phonograms at a time, explain the rules for usage that are printed on the back of the cards, and practice until the students can automatically respond to any card without error. This instruction is u2018reading/decoding.’

For u2018spelling,’ I use the same flash cards, but do not allow the student(s)t to see them. The student has a marker board or a piece of paper. I say, "Write the phonogram that is the two-letter /f/." The student writes u2018ph’. "Write the phonogram that is the two-letter /a/ that I may use at the end of the word." The student writes u2018ay’. "Write the two-letter /a/ that I may not use at the end of a word, and the student writes u2018ai’. Continue instruction and practice until the student can write every phonogram accurately upon request.

The 29 rules (**From The Spalding Reading Method, with some of my own input) are extremely helpful, even if some are not 100% dependable. Many readers may be surprised to see that the rules are quite simple. The more knowledgeable the teacher and students are about the foundations of English, especially its Latin and Greek heritage, the more often the rules will make sense and assist the reader/speller.

  • 1. The letter q is always followed by u and together they say /kw/. (The u is not a vowel here.)
  • 2. The letter c before u2018e, i, or y’ says /s/ (cent, city, cycle) but followed by any other vowel says /k/ (cat, cot, cut).
  • 3. The letter g before u2018e, i, or y’ may say /j/ (page, giant, gym), but followed by any other vowel it says /g/(gate, go, gust). The letters e and i do not always make g say /j/ (get, girl, give).
  • 4. Vowels a, e, o, and u usually say their long sounds at the end of syllables. (Open Syllables — na vy, me, o pen, mu sic)
  • 5. The letters i and y usually say short i, but may say long /i/. In some areas, the i and y can also say /ee/ and even /ya/ — (baby, police, alien, onion)
  • 6. The letter y, not i, is used at the end of an English word. (my, fry, reply)
  • 7. There are five kinds of Silent E’s. (See “Teaching and Learning With Phonics”)
  • 8. There are five spellings for /er/: Her first nurse works early. In addition, at the ends of words like dollar and doctor, the —ar and —or will often say /er/.
  • 9. The 1-1-1 Rule (See “Teaching and Learning With Phonics”)
  • 10. The 2-1-1 Rule (See above explanation)
  • 11. Words ending with silent final e (come) are written without the e when adding an ending that begins with a vowel (com ing).
  • 12. After c we use ei (receive). If we say a, we use ei (vein). In the list of exceptions we use ei. In all other words, the phonogram ie is used.
  • 13. The phonogram sh is used at the beginning or end of a base word (she, dish), at the end of a syllable (fin ish), but never at the beginning of a syllable after the first one except for the ending ship (wor ship, friend ship).
  • 14. The phonograms ti, si and ci are the spellings most frequently used to say /sh/ at the beginning of a second or subsequent syllable in a base word. Usually the root word, or root stem, will determine which phonogram to use: face/fa cial; nat(birth)/na tion; sess(sit)/ses sion.
  • 15. The phonogram si is used to say /sh/ when the syllable before it ends in an s (ses sion) or when the base word has an s where the base word changes (tense, ten sion).
  • 16. The phonogram si may also say /zh/ as in vi sion.
  • 17. We often double l, f, and s following a single vowel at the end of a one-syllable word (will, off, miss) and sometimes this also applies to two-syllable words like recess.
  • 18. We often use ay to say /a/ at the end of base word; never use a alone. (day, may, say)
  • 19. Vowels i and o may say /i/ and /o/ if followed by two consonants (find, cold).
  • 20. The letter s never follows x. (x = ks)
  • 21. All, written alone, has two l’s, but when used as a prefix, one l is dropped. (al so, al most)
  • 22. Till and full, written alone, have two l’s, but when used as a suffix, only one l is written. (un til; beau ti ful)
  • 23. The phonogram dge may be used only after a single vowel that says its short sound (badge, edge, bridge, lodge, budge).
  • 24. When adding an ending to a word that ends with a consonant and y, use i instead of y unless the ending is ing. (marry/marriage; carry/carrying)
  • 25. The phonogram ck may be used only after a single vowel that says its short sound (back, neck, lick, rock, duck).
  • 26. Words that are the names or title of people, places, books, days or months are capitalized.
  • 27. Words beginning with the sound /z/ are always spelled with z, and never with s. (zero, zoo)
  • 28. The phonogram ed has three different sounds – /ed/ /d/ /t/. If a base word ends in the sound /d/ or /t/, adding ed makes another syllable that says /ed/ (sid ed, part ed). If the base word ends in a voiced consonant sound, then ending ed says /d/ (lived, loved). If the base word ends in an unvoiced consonant sound, the ending ed says /t/ (jumped, passed, wrecked).
  • 29. Words are usually divided between double consonants. For speaking and reading, only the consonant in the accented syllable is pronounced; the consonant in the unaccented syllable is silent (little/lit’ le; battle/bat’ le)

**The Writing Road to Reading by Romalda Spalding, Mary E. North, Editor, 5th Revised Edition, Quill/HarperResource, 2003, pgs. 223-225.

The rules do not need to be memorized. Rather, they are to be taught and discussed as needed. I suggest that those wishing to teach by this method should purchase a copy of The Writing Road to Reading and a set of the phonogram cards; should become knowledgeable with the information on the Spalding website, and if you are lucky enough to live where a Spalding course is being taught, take the class! For assistance in understanding the foundational structure of English, I recommend, Speech to Print by Louisa Cook Moats. For help in teaching the Latin and Greek bases, I recommend English From the Roots Up by Joegil K. Lundquist, available in a book, or in a set of flashcards, from Rainbow Resources Center.

Automatic decoding of the code, in which the language and speech of English are recorded into print, is vitally important for success in reading comprehension. When these skills are developed to automaticity, the brain need no longer worry about decoding, and can focus totally on comprehension of the text being read. The invention of the alphabet was a remarkable achievement. With this alphabetic code, mankind can record its history, discuss its present, and plan its future. To quote Rudolf Flesch (Why Johnny Can’t Read) — "it flies in the face of common sense" that teachers of reading; that college instructors of teachers of reading; would cast aside the marvelous invention that the alphabet is, and turn generations of students into word-guessing illiterates.