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For many children, phonics instruction is the root of learning to read. In this lesson, you will discover the importance of sound-spelling, blending, and dictation in phonics instruction.

Why Phonics?

Mrs. Riggins is a first-grade teacher who works with students at many different levels in their literacy development. Some of her students are already proficient and independent readers, while others are still emergent readers, just learning to decode and understand the relationship between written and spoken language. Mrs. Riggins used to feel that it was impossible to meet so many different needs at once, but over the years she has learned to use particular strategies that help different students. Mrs.

Riggins understands, that regardless of their level, her students will benefit from explicit instruction in phonics, or the relationship between letters and sounds. Though phonics should never be the only element of literacy instruction, Mrs. Riggins knows that students with a solid foundation in phonics will be better equipped to decode unfamiliar words, be stronger spellers, and ultimately be more fluent and independent readers. She uses a variety of strategies to work on phonics with her students.

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Sound-Spelling

One of the most important aspects of phonics is sound-spelling. Sound-spelling refers to transcribing speech sounds into written language, whether or not the sounds are in context.

Students who can accurately spell out sounds have a strong phonological awareness, or a sense of the way letters and sounds connect to each other and operate at the word and even syllable level. To work on sound-spelling with her students, Mrs. Riggins has her students do activities like these:

  • sort pictures based on the initial sounds, middle sounds, or ending sounds of words, then write the words in such a way as to emphasize the sounds they share
  • listen to books, poems, and songs, then write down the letters and sounds they hear most
  • play games involving listening to and producing rhymes, all the while discussing the way the rhyming syllables are spelled

Emergent readers often need many opportunities to spell out the initial letters or blends in words, whereas more proficient readers and writers are prepared to work on more advanced areas, such as spelling ending or middle sounds, or spelling polysyllabic words. Mrs. Riggins groups her students according to ability for sound-spelling activities so that children can work at their own phonics level.

Blending

Blending refers to putting sounds together in order to make a word. For instance, Mrs.

Riggins knows that she has students who can read the separate sounds in the word ‘cat’ because they know which sound corresponds to which letter. However, if students cannot blend, the word will sound like three separate syllables, ‘cuh,’ ‘ah,’ and ‘tuh.’ The inability to blend sounds becomes more problematic in longer and more complex words.To teach students about blending, Mrs. Riggins explains that they need to stretch words out. In order to stretch a word, students learn to cut the letter sound off after the initial phoneme (or distinct sound unit), rather than make it into its own syllable. Then, students blend that sound with the letter that comes after it.

Mrs. Riggins has learned that modeling blending using simple words is one of the best ways to get students into the habit of blending. She also gives them opportunities to read contextual passages, like poems or very simple stories, which help them understand that the things they read should sound like real words that make sense in context. For some students, visual representations of blending can be especially helpful; Mrs. Riggins might have three separate magnetic letters and then show students what they sound like as she moves them closer together. Other students benefit from writing letters in the air as they speak them, in order to get a kinesthetic feel for how letters sound when they blend into one another.

Writing sounds one step at a time can help students build their awareness of phonemes.
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Dictation

Once in a while, Mrs. Riggins uses dictation as a way to assess her students’ phonics abilities and allow them to practice their skills. A dictation is when students listen to the teacher saying words or sentences, and they then transcribe what they hear into writing. Mrs.

Riggins dictates sounds, words, sentences, and sometimes whole poems, and she has her students write down what she is saying. By looking over her students’ dictation work, Mrs. Riggins is able to understand exactly what sounds, groups of sounds, or concepts students are struggling with. This helps her form sensible groupings and it informs her instructional decisions.

Lesson Summary

Teaching phonics is an important part of helping students learn how to read and write. Students who have opportunities to work on sound-spelling and blending develop an ever more proficient relationship to sounds within words, making them more confident, fluent, and independent readers. Dictation can be an excellent way to assess students’ grasp of concepts in phonics and inform future instruction so that students continue to improve.

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