HOW TO TEACH FANTASTIC PHONICS
At the age of 5, children who have been exposed to English have a vocabulary of some 5000 words which they can recognise and speak but not read. This “speech vocabulary” is the core asset that Phonics works with.
Think about this for a moment; the entire principle of Phonics is that your child ALREADY knows some 5000 words by the age of school – they can speak the words, recognise them in speech and understand (mostly) what the meaning is.
But they can’t READ the words.
The SCIENCE of Phonics is that … we teach children what every, individual letter sounds like … then we join these letters in simple patterns (“c-a-t”) and finally … we demonstrate how joining the letters makes a word they can recognise from their speech vocabulary.
This process is called “sounding out” – an EXPLICIT strategy of sounding the letters in the word, slowly at first, so the child can understand that each of the letters have PREDICTABLE SOUNDS and that joining the letters produces a word they can recognise from their 5000 word vocabulary.
This strategy is called DECODING; children are taught the letters and their sounds, and shown how – when they meet a word they don’t recognise – they can “Sound out” the letters and make a word – that they can recognise and ‘match’ from their speech vocabulary.
In other words, Phonics is a simple system that is easily learnt and easy to teach – and your child already has the necessary ‘asset’ – their speech vocabulary.
YOU MUST BE EXPLICIT
“EXPLICIT” means, you must take care to explain how the ‘word sounds’ are formed by building them from each individual letter … SOUND EACH LETTER SEPARATELY, THEN MERGE THEM SLOWLY TO FORM THE WORD.
Phonemic awareness is a learned skill and does not develop naturally. There is nothing “natural” about reading … and the so-called ‘natural’ method, called Sight Reading (where a child attempt to memorise each word by sight) is the least successful approach to reading.
- Every school child is ready for instruction in phonemic awareness.
At its most basic, Phonemic Awareness is the ability to match a sound with a letter; as a student progresses, they learn to identify the beginning, middle and end sounds of a word (the letters and later, the syllables).
- Kindergarten is an appropriate age for phonemic awareness; learning the alphabet, recognising the sounds, associating letters to sounds (and vice versa) spoken by teacher.
- Children who are able to recognise individual sounds in words – when pronounced slowly – are said to be “phonemically aware” and are able to easily learn phonics.
- Phonemic awareness should occur before teaching sound-spelling relationships … for example, teaching the alphabet and the sounds of the letters BEFORE starting the reading/decoding process …
- … and phonemic awareness activities should continue while teaching the sound-spelling relationships (reading the books).
The Fantastic Phonics Digital Edition has comprehensive videos of phonemic awareness. We suggest you start every reading session with a run-through of the appropriate video.
THE PROBLEMS OF SIGHT READING
Please note (and this is important) Reading is not developmental in nature. A child who has difficulties in 1st grade will continue to experience those problems throughout.
If your child is experiencing issues with decoding, the the answer is – more practise in phonemic awareness. Research indicates that Phonics is THE only successful reading system – do not lose faith.
MOST PROBLEMS IN READING ARE ASSOCIATED WITH ‘SIGHT READING’ – WHERE THE CHILD ATTEMPTS TO MEMORISE THE WORDS, RATHER THAN ‘SOUNDING OUT’ AND DECODING.
“Sight Reading” is a traditional method where a person simply memorises the SHAPE of the word. Through a combination of “visual cues” – like the shape of the word, number of letters and specific letters – students attempt to remember each individual word and store it in long term memory.
Sight Reading has been completely discredited as a reading system. Research shows that a child who sight-reads ends up with a READING vocabulary (words they recognise) of about 8000 words (usually shorter words), compared to a Phonics reader who can reach 40,000 and upwards.
Generally, a sight-reader ends up knowing words that are high-use (repetitive) and words of 5 letters or less.
When a sight reader meets a new, unknown word, they have no ‘decoding’ strategy – except to try to guess the meaning/sound by the other surrounding words. This is called “contextual guessing” and is a complete failure as a decoding strategy.
The task of sight reading is relatively simple when the words are 3-4 letters; words like cat, cot, cup are easy to remember, but when a word grows to 5 and 6 letters, it becomes extremely difficult – words like house, horse, hoarse, hearse can all look the same.
SOME SIGHT WORDS ARE REQUIRED
A phonics reader can decode up to 97% of all English words by using phonics. However, there are about 3% of words which “contradict” the phonics principles – words like was, once, the – these words do not “sound” in the way they are written. So they need to be learnt by memory – but there are only a relatively few words which we need to memorise.
In Fantastic Phonics, these words are EXPLICITLY defined and must be taught as SIGHT words.
DECODING IS USED BY ADVANCED READERS
The process of phonics decoding is used by even the most advanced, adult readers; over time, we develop a skill where we memorise the shorter words and decode the longer; we need to, because the sound of many words will alter with the end of the word. For example, the ‘e’ on the end of a word will change the vowel from a ‘short’ to ‘long’ sound.
So: don’t consider Phonics decoding as a stepping stone – it is a life long skill where even the fastest readers decode words ‘on the fly’ – as they must – reading the first syllable, then the last, then the centre, because the last syllable often changes the middle sound.
This skill becomes highly fluent and automatic; but it starts with “c-a-t = CAT”
TEACH EACH SOUND-SPELLING RELATIONSHIP UNTIL IT IS EMBEDDED AS A FLUENT “NATURAL SKILL”
- Telling children explicitly the sound made by a letter or letter combination is more effective than asking the the child to figure out the sounds by giving clues.
- Many children have difficulty figuring out the individual sound-spelling correspondences if they hear them only in the context of words and word parts.
- So: separate the ‘sounds’ (phonemes) from the words when you are teaching. This is called “explicit instruction in phonemic awareness”. Sound out the words, break them into their compenents, make it easy for the children to see how the sparate letters join together to form a word.
- Once children understand the role of letters and their sounds, they are already on their way to decoding words.
Explicit instruction means that a phoneme is isolated for the children.
- For example, the teacher shows the children the letter ‘m’ and says, “This letter says /mmm/.” In this way a new “phoneme” (letter sound) is introduced.
- A daily strategy is to review phonemes that have been already learned; and to then introduce new phonemes … but not in the context of words, instead, focus on explicit instruction of phonemic awareness … for about 5-10 minutes, depending on the skill of the child.
Each Fantastic Phonics book has the specific phonemes to practise; but the new decodable words that will be introduced in the story; as well as the sight words used in the story.
TEACH FREQUENT, HIGHLY REGULAR SOUND-SPELLING RELATIONSHIPS SYSTEMATICALLY.
The most effective Phonics programs have only 48 sound-spelling relationships.
Only a few sound-spelling relationships are necessary to read. That includes the 26 “sounds” of the alphabet, plus another 5 “short” vowel sounds, plus another 17 vowel blends sounds.
So teaching phonics is simple AND effective – as long as you train children to learn the sounds created – the phonemes – from the letters.
The chart below represents the 48 most regular letter-phoneme relationships. (The given sounds for each of the letters and letter groups are either the most frequent sound or occur at least 75% of the time.)
PHONEMES: The 48 most regular sound-letter relationships
SHOW CHILDREN EXACTLY HOW TO SOUND OUT WORDS.
After children have learned two or three sound-spelling correspondences, begin teaching them how to blend the sounds into words.
- Show them how to move sequentially from left to right through spellings as they “sound out,” or say the sound for each spelling.
- Start with spelling each letter slowly; “c–a–t”, then “c-a-t”, then “cat” … spells “CAT” (say the word).
- Practice blending words composed of only the sound-spelling relationships the children have learned every day.
USE DECODABLE TEXT TO DEMONSTRATE THE SOUND-SPELLING RELATIONSHIPS
Children need extensive practice applying their knowledge of sound-spelling relationships to the task of reading as they are learning them.
Fantstic Phonics is DECODABLE TEXT – meaning, that eacg book includes ONLY the words that have been systematically taught. As the books progress, we focus on an increasing number of sound-letter realtionships, and we use decodable words which have been previously learned.
- As the children learn more sound-spelling correspondences, the texts become more sophisticated in meaning, but initially they are neccessarily limited.
- Only decodable text provides children the opportunity to practice their new knowledge of sound-letter relationships in the context of connected reading.
THE PROBLEM WITH GUESSING
Text that is not decodable requires the children to GUESS. There has been much research in this ‘technique’ and the result is clear; guessing has no role in the learn-to-read process.
Guessing is sometimes valuable (in comprehension) for predicting the next ‘event’ in a story, but the research clearly states that it is not useful in word recognition.
The following passage is a sample non-decobable text.The parts that are omitted are the parts that a child was unable to decode accurately. The child was able to decode approximately 80% of the text. If prediction is a useful strategy, a good reader should be able to read this easily with understanding:
He had never seen dogs fight as these w__ish c__ f__t, and his first ex____ t____t him an unf______able l_____n. It is true, it was a vi___ ex______, else he would not have lived to pr__it by it. Curly was the v____. They were camped near the log store, where she, in her friend_ way, made ad_____ to a husky dog the size of a full-____ wolf, th____ not half so large as _he. __ere was no w__ing, only a leap in like a flash, a met__ clip of teeth, a leap out equal_ swift, and Curly’s face was ripped open from eye to jaw.
It was the wolf manner of fight__, to st___ and leap away; but here was more to it than this. Th____ or forty huskies ran -o the spot and not com___d that s____t circle. But did not com____d that s____t in_____, not the e___ way with which they were licking their chops. Curly rushed her ant_____,who struck again and leaped aside. He met her next rush with his chest, in a p_____ fash___ that tum___ed her off her feet. She never re____ed them. This was __at the on____ing huskies had w_____ for.
DESIGN OF FANTASTIC PHONICS
There are 48 different letter combinations in the Phonics system. This is what makes phonics so easy to teach, because you only have to teach the specific letters and combinations and sounds they make, and from that, you can decode 97% of the 1,000,000 English words.
Series One of Fantastic Phonics (20 books) looks at all the basic VOWEL sounds – A, E, I, O, U – and in the first 20 books, the words are all using the “short” vowel sound. For example, ‘short A” as in “cat”, “short U” as in “cup”.
We focus on the SHORT vowels for the first 20 books.
In Series Two, we focus on an increasing range of different vowel sounds. The “LONG A” sound – as in “tale” – and we demonstrate to the children that an “e” on the end of the word changes a short vowel to a long vowel sound.
So “tall” (short vowel) becomes “Tale” (long vowel).
We also introduce VOWEL BLENDS, which is a SINGLE sound formed by the combination of two vowels in a single syllable. Words like goat, toad, road, read, meet, fuel.
In Series Three, we focus on more complex combinations, and multi-syllable words. By the time Book 60 is completed, your child is ready for independent reading (with some assistance, time to time, for words they cannot easily decode or do not know the meaning).
HOW TO TEACH FANTASTIC PHONICS
As a parent teacher, your job is to carefully go over each book, explaining what each letter sounds like, what each word sounds like, then slowly combining the letters until they form the word.
The average starting age of a child is 4-5 years … you can start earlier, but until they have established a sizable SPEECH vocabulary, you will find it hard going. You will be constantly explaining the meaning of words. So; until they have got the basics, you will find it better to read the books and explain the meanings – once they have the word meanings, you can teach them to decode.
When you start, START FROM BOOK 1 and work your way through each book. Do not start halfway through – each book relies on previous knowledge.
When you start, spend about a week on each book, about an hour each day. Children vary in their ability; a child with a good memory will find it much easier than a child who is distracted or has difficulty memorising.
SO: GO TO A QUIET PLACE, away from distractions and TV. And preferably not “just before sleep” when they are tired. After breakfast, after morning distractions.
Remember, you are not teaching the child to memorise words; the only words you should insist on memorising are the SIGHT words that are identified at the beginning of each book. Each time you start, run through each word; we split them into ‘decodable’ and ‘sight’ – show how the decodable words are decoded, and highlight the words that must be remembered.
This process is very easy and quite painless.
When they meet a decodable word they cannot make sense of, you must explain how the word is created from the letters – this is called “EXPLICIT INSTRUCTION”.
Over a very short time, children will learn the short, repetitive and sight words – and, it, but, the – and these words will become fluent.
GO FORWARD SLOWLY AND REVISE CONSTANTLY
Each child is different but the average child will need a week on each book. The questions at the end test their comprehension. DO NOT MOVE FORWARD UNTIL THEY CAN READ EACH BOOK FLUENTLY – and get all the questions right!
CONSTANT REVISION is required; each reading session should begin with TWO previous books that the child has “mastered”. If they cannot read each revision book fluently, then it reveals that they SHOULD NOT MOVE ON – you must spend more time with the previous books to ensure they logic of Phonics is implanted in their minds.
SERIES ONE is the essential building block; children should not progress beyond Series One until the can read each book with ease.
EVEN IF YOUR CHILD HAS SOME READING ABILITY – start with the basics of Series One; make sure they know the decoding process – it may be that they are sight reading – but you will notice this when the words become more difficult, because they will have no ability to decode.
CONTENT OF FANTASTIC PHONICS
60 Decodable, Printable Books and Lesson Plans
These books cover every component of the Phonics decoding strategy. They are gently graded and each book focuses on an explicit sound-letter relationship.
Each book is accompanied by a LESSON PLAN which provides a repetitive structure of holding a “class”. This allows you to organise a predictable experience for your child, where each SKILL is taught in an explicit, repetitive manner
Series One has an animated video for each story. These videos are designed to “bring the story to life” and assist the child to visualise the story.
Each video is split into two; the first run-through allows the child to simply enjoy the animation, while the second run-through asks them to read with the text.
These are designed for the Parents; they illustrate the most effective, evidenced based approach to teaching phonics. A teacher is video’d in the presentation of the story, and it highlights the approach you should take.
While designed for the parents, these videos can be used to educate the children.
The multimedia is “click and point” – children can click the words and hear each word sounded clearly. They can also hear the sentence pronounced. This helps child understand each word, separately and then in a sentence.
The multimedia is particularly useful in homes where ENGLISH IS A SECOND LANGUAGE; they provide a clear pronunciation which assists with understanding spoken English, and speaking it.
DOLCH words are important; in 1920, it was estimated that a child needed just 250 words to understand 70% of English writing. These are the most commonly used words in writing.
The DOLCH videos present these words as “words to be remembered”; yes, most can be decoded and will arise during the books, but with a VERY basic set of just 250 learned, memorised words, a child will experience an easier process of decoding.
The videos are presented as “video flash cards” where each word is presented for a short period and sounded by the narrator.
You are advised to work with your child with the volume turned up (so they can hear) and later, with the volume turned down so they can read along.
When they have a problem, you can stop and intervene.
Note, that the DOLCH words are not Phonics, however they represent a core group of words that will re-occur over and over. They also include most of the “sight” words required.
Each book has two quizzes that allow the child to practise the skills learned in the Phonics session. These skill involve alphabet re-ordering, simple sentence construction, word logic and other phonics skills
Each book features two games; one allows children to create words from text when a word is spoken. The other, “Word Blast”, requires that a child types the letters of a word they see on screen
SERIES TWO follows the same structure as Series One.
However, in this Series, we are more focused on READING skills and for this reason, the animated videos are absent, simply because (we assume) that the child has made the leap from passive watching to involved learning
SERIES THREE is focused specifically on the books; by the time a child reaches this series, they will be at a superior level – nearly reading independence.
For that reason, the reliance on multimedia and video is diminished and focus is explicitly placed on the text.