Phonics: Part 4: Teaching Strategies

Remember, teaching phonics is a visual thing: children must see the letter-sound correspondence. The following chart lists the 41 phonemes of the present day English language. The chart also included meaningful names and related hand gestures to use to help children make connections between the letters and the sounds they make.

Watch a VIDEO CLIP (click here)
Description: Angi’s kindergartners participate in a word sort where they focus on spelling patterns by making columns of words with long vowels made by silent “e” or by two vowels walking. Angi stops in the middle to sing “The Vowel Song.” This reminds the children of what the vowels are and reinforces this through their musical/rhythmic intelligence. Use the following list of vowel and consonant sounds and spelling pattern to make sure you are covering the complete spectrum of sounds.

English Phonemes, Spellings, Example Words, Meaningful Names and Gestures adapted from and
Long a: /A/ a (table), a_e (bake), ai (train), ay (say); Fonzie's greeting Fonzie's thumbs up
Short a:/a/ a (flat) Crying baby; baby lamb
Long e: /E/ e (me), ee (feet), ea (leap), y (baby); Raise open hands for shriek
Short e:/e/ e (pet), ea (head) Hard of hearing (cup hand behind ear)—eh?
Long i:/I/ i (I), i_e (bite), igh (light), y (sky) Raise hand in a salute as in "Aye, aye, Captain"; Point thumb toward yourself
Short i: /i/ i (sit); icky sticky (hold out separated sticky finger)
Long o: /O/ o (okay), o_e (bone), oa (soap), ow (low); Oh, I see (nod for "Oh, I see")
Short o:/o/ o (hot); doctor sound or cool drink (aaaah)
Long u: /u/ u (future), u_e (use), ew (few) "We want you." (Point like Uncle Sam)
Short u: /u/ u (thumb), a (about), e (loaded), o (wagon) punch in the stomach (Pretend to punch your stomach)
/oo/ oo (boot), u (truth), u_e (rude), ew (chew) howling wolf, ghost, or owl
/oo/ oo (book), u (put) Lifting weights (curl arms to lift weights)
/oi/ oi (soil), oy (toy) Seal noise
/ou/ ou (out), ow (cow) “Ow, it hurts!”
/aw/ aw (saw), au (caught), a[l] (tall) “Aw, poor thing!”
/ar/ ar (car) pirate noise (“Aaarrr!”)
er (her), ir (sir), ur (fur) growling dog (clench teeth for growling dog)
/b/ b (ball) Beating heart (pat chest for heartbeat)
/k/ c (cake), k (key), ck (back) camera (pull down index finger to click camera)
/d/ d (door) Knocking (knock on door)
/f/ f (fix), ph (phone) Angry cat (claw like angry cat)
g/ g (gas) Gulping soda (raise glass for gulping milk)
/h/ h (hot) Out of breath or tired dog (pant)
/j/ j (jet), dge (edge), g[e, i, y] (gem) Scrub brush (Scrub with scrub brush)
/l/ l (lamp) Lick a lollypop
/m/ m (my) Mmm mmm good (Rub tummy)
/n/ n (no), kn (knock) Motorboat noise (drive motorboat)
p/ p (pie) Popcorn (pop fingers open for popcorn)
/kw/ qu (quick) typewriter (type with two fingers)
/r/ r (road), wr (wrong) growling dog (clench teeth for growling dog)
/s/ s (say), c[e, i, y] (cent) Hair spray (spray hairspray)
/t/ t (time) Ticking clock (make a pendulum finger for ticking clock)
/v/ v (voice) vacuum (push vacuum cleaner)
/w/ w (wash) washing machine (move from side to side like washing machine)
/ks/ or /gz/ x (box, exam) Scissors (make clipping movement)
/y/ y (yes) Sticky mess (“yuuuuh”)
/z/ z (zoo), s (nose) Buzzing bee (make buzzing noise)
/sh/ sh (ship), ti (nation), ci (special) Be quiet (“Sssshhhh.”)
/hw/ wh (white) Blow out the candle
/ch/ ch (chest), tch (catch) Old train (“ch, ch, ch, ch.”)
/th/ or /th/ th (thick, this) Peeling tape; angry goose; wet shoes Peel tape
/ng/ ng (sing), n (think) Gong (strike a gong)
/zh/ s (measure) Sanding or sawing wood

Using Tongue Twisters for Phonics Instruction: The following tongue twisters could be used for phonemic awareness. In order to use them for phonics instruction, all you have to do is make them visible to the children on an overhead or chart tablet. Then, ask them to circle the alliterative letters. This helps them see the letter-sound relationship. Challenge your students to make up their own.
Classic Tongue Twisters Examples:
She sells seashells by the seashore.
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. How may peppers did Peter Piper pick?
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

More Tongue Twisters:
Andrew and Alice asked if Annie's active animals were angry.
Bill and Betty baked brown bread for Barbara's baby.
Carol and Claire can cook carrots, corn, cabbage, and candy. ?
David's daddy's dog didn't dig dirt in the dark.
The funny furry fly flew far to the flowers.
On Mondays Michael's mother Mary mostly mopped.

For more, see Wallach, M. A., & Wallach, L. (1976). Teaching all children to read. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Using Big Books and Language Experience to Teach Phonics: Big books, language experience stories (stories created individually or in small or large groups and written either on paper, the overhead, or chart tablet), and poetry can also be appropriate context for phonics lessons. Phonics Poetry: Teaching Word Families by Tim Razinski and Belinda Zimmerman (Allyn & Bacon, 2001) is an excellent resource for using poetry in systematic ways. The advantage is that you can read the short passages or poems together until the children are familiar with them. This form of memorization is the bridge between pre-reading and independent reading with emergent readers. Then, focus the children on specific sound by having them point to them or circle them. Some teachers have fun using decorated pointers—teacher’s magic wands—to point to the various letters.

Watch a VIDEO CLIP (click here)
Description: Angi does a phonics activity with the big book The Little Red Hen. She models for the children how to sound out the word “wheat.” She used the think aloud strategy to model the rule, “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.” She extends this by talking about the “bossy a” that makes the “e” says it’s own name. Then she helps them blend it all together.

Teaching Phonics with Word Sorts: To prepare for a word sort, the teacher simply writes words on cards. The children sort them in a pocket chart by spelling patterns. Word sorts can reinforce the spelling patterns featured on the class word wall.

Watch a VIDEO CLIP (click here)
Description: Angi is pulling some words from the big book, The Little Red Hen, in preparation for doing a word sort. While she does so, she discusses with the group what a word sort is and various ways they could do them. In the past they have sorted on beginning sounds, but they decide they could sort on middle sounds too.

Using Word Walls to Teach Phonics: Word walls are part of the Four Blocks framework for teaching literacy, designed by Dorothy Hall and Patricia Cunningham of Wake Forest University. Word Wall activities teach phonics because the focus is upon the letter-sound relationship. Word walls are displays of high-frequency words featuring spelling patterns. This allows children to learn common spelling patterns and apply them to decoding and spelling new words. Word walls are very versatile in that the lesson focus can be directed at the needs of individuals or small groups. Children typically have sets of letters for use during word wall activities. For a more in-depth explanation of Word Walls, see
In addition to the word lists, there are cheers and chants that help children remember the spelling patterns. See Each day children both chant and write the words, giving them multiple modalities for remembering the spelling patterns.
Teaching Phonics Through Onsets and Rimes, a Way to Organize Word Walls: An onset is the part of the word before the vowel, i.e. a consonant, a consonant blend, or a diagraph.
A rime is the part of the word from the vowel onward. For example /k/ is the onset for /cat/, while /at/ is the rime. Rimes make poetry rhyme.
Nearly 500 primary words can be derived from the following 37 consistent letter clusters:
-ack -all -ain -ake -ale -ame -an ank -ap -ash -at -ate -aw -ay
-eat -ell -est
-ice -ick -ide -ight -ill -in -ine -ing -ink -ip -ir
-ock -oke -op -ore -or
-uck -ug -ump –unk

On-The-Back Activities: On-The-Back Word Wall Activities are designed to extend knowledge of the Word Wall words and help them learn to spell other words. On-The-Back activities may include all the words on the Word Wall or may be limited to only the words used in the daily lesson. Examples are:
1. Students add endings to Word Wall words to form new words.
2. Students spell words that rhyme with Word Wall words and use the same spelling pattern.
3. Students use clues given by teacher to identify a pre-selected mystery word. Each clue will narrow down the Word Wall words the student will have to choose from.

More Detailed Information is presented on pages 125-129 of "The Teacher's Guide to the Four Blocks" by Patricia Cunningham, Dorothy Hall, and Cheryl Sigmon.
Phonics: What Should Be Taught and When?
Activity: The Importance of Consonants
Read the following passage:

-nc- -p-n – t-m-, th-r- w-s – y—ng w-lf n-m-d L-b-. L-b- l-v-d –t th- -dg- -f – d--p, ?d-rk w--ds. _v-ry d-- L-b- w-nt d--p -nt- th- w--ds t- h-nt n-rth -f ? th- l-ttl- v-ll-g- -f C-l--s.
Were you able to read the passage? What was the wolf’s name? Did you say Lobo? Many people do because “Lobo” means “wolf” in Spanish. What was the name of the little village? If you know France, you might say it is “Calais.” There are two points to be made here about reading. First, the consonants are the most important. You could read this passage because you know your consonants. Second, readers draw upon their past experience when making meaning from text. For example, you knew that stories often start with “Once upon a time.”
Conclusion: Teach the consonants first.
Other Important Rules to Teach
1. Rule: C sounds like “s” before e, i, y (c -cent - city – cycle) and like “k” elsewhere (c -cat - cot – cup)
2. Rule: G sounds like “j” before e, i, y (g -gem/agile/gym) and like “g” elsewhere (g -game/gone/guild)
3. Diagraphs are ch (chew/choir/chef); th (thin/this); wh (while); sh (shoe)
4. Blends are bl (black); br (brown); sc (scat); sp (spot); cl (clue); cr (cry); scr (screen); squ (squeak); fl (flap); dr (draw); sm (small); st (stump); gl (glass); fr (friend); sn (snow); sw (swing); pl (play); gr (ground); sl (slow); pr (proud); tr (trap)
5. Silent Letters are kn (knee); wr (wrong); mb (comb); ten (fasten)
6. 6. Short Vowels—CVC pattern i (if); a (act); o (hot); e (bed); u (much)
7. Long Vowels—CVCe or final e pattern (ape she time note tube)
8. CV pattern—When a vowel follows a consonant in a one-syllable word, the vowel is usually long (go be). Exceptions include the, to, and do.
9. R-controlled Vowels: er (her); ur (purr); ir (birth)—all three have the same sound; ar (car); and or (for)
10. W and L-controlled vowels: aw (saw); al (talk)—both make the same sound; ow (cow or mow); ew (threw)
11. The letter ”y” sometimes is a vowel and it has two sounds: my, baby.
12. When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking (reed rain boat say); ea makes two sounds: long (teach read); short (He read the book.)
13. “tion” says “shun” (nation precipitation)
14. Double vowels with “o” include ou (ounce); ow (cow); oo (moon); ou (soup); ough (through, except for ough sounds long in though); oo (book); ou (would); oi (coin); oy (boy)
15. Double vowels with “a” include au (because or laugh); ai (said)
16. In “igh,” the “i” is long and the “gh” is silent (sight)
17. Homophones—words that sound alike, but are spelled differently, like reed and read.
18. Homographs—words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently, like, “I strung my bow.” and “He made a bow to a girl.”

Adapted from Johnson, D.; Pearson, P.D., Teaching Reading Vocabulary, 1984 and Tompkins, G., Literacy for the 21st Century, 2006.
Homograph Activity
Read the following:
1. The bandage was wound around the wound.
2. The farm was used to produce produce.
3. The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4. He could lead if he would get the lead out.
5. The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert
6. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
7. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
8. There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
9. They were too close to the door to close it.
10. The buck does funny things when the does are present.
11. The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
12. Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

Did you read the sentences correctly the first time? Context is an important aspect of word identification, especially in the English language, which is so full of exceptions to rules. Context is the structure (syntax) and meaning (semantics) of the language around the word in question that help to explain it’s full meaning.
What else does this activity tell us about reading? Did you catch yourself saying the wrong word and correcting yourself? Good readers monitor their own comprehension. This is called metacognition or metacomprehension. They stop when they fail to understand and draw upon their background knowledge to correct themselves.
A good way to teach the exceptions to the rules is within the context of sentences such as those above.
Fun with Phonics: One way to reinforce phonics sounds is to do cooking activities related to each sound. See This allows children to use multiple modalities to remember letters and sounds.

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This interactive teaching tool was funded through a collaboration between Rhodes State Community College and The University of Findlay

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