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Phonics has from time to time, been questioned from educators who advocate the whole language approach. They say it’s too regimented and mechanical. But phonics is the only system proven to teach children to decode words effectively. Phonics instruction is essential in the teaching of spelling also. Whole language or context reading is useful for content area reading and should be a part of the curriculum. But phonics instruction is crucial for initial instruction.

Here is a phonics and spelling program that I developed for use with special needs students. It worked so well that I used it general education students, adults and my own children in home-schooling. Remember that these rules fit for individual words as well as syllables within a word. See my article on syllabication patterns as part of a phonics and reading program. Learning syllable rules helps students learn to read.

My program is very simple. Each sound pattern is coded with a certain color. I use color coding initially as a way to learn sound patterns in phonics. Students then use the same color coding rubric to write out words that they need to spell. My program addresses each type of sound and spelling pattern that students will encounter. I teach them sequentially also. Here is the order and method I use.


Blue: (consonant that only make one sound):b, d, f, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, z . We also color c, g, h, and y blue when they make their hard sound, such as c as in cake, g as in gun, h as in happy and y as in yellow. Remind students that C and G make soft sounds when followed by A, O or U and H and Y make their regular sounds when they begin a word.

Purple: (soft consonants) C and G when they make their soft sound as is cider and gym. Remind students that both c and g make soft sounds when followed by I, E or Y.

Light blue: (beginning and ending blends) Although the consonant sounds do not change, I do note the blends slightly differently to help students learn to connect the sounds.

Beginning: bl-, br-, cl-, cr-, dr-, fl-, fr-, gl-, gr-, pl-, pr-, sc-, scr-, sk-, sm-, sn-, sp-,spl-,spr-, st-, str-, sw-, tr-, tw- vr-
Ending: -ft, -lb, -ld, -lf, -lk, -lm, -ln, -lp, -lt, -nd, -mp, -pt, -sp, -st

Green: (digraphs-two consonants that make a single, different sound)
These digraphs can come at the beginning or end of a word and make a unique sound: -ch-, -sh-, -ph-, -tch comes only at the end of a word, -th– (NOTE: -th- can be voiced or whispered at the beginning of a word, both only whispered at the end: think, though, moth).

Blue and Yellow (digraphs that make the sound of one of the letters or are double consonant digraphs) Color the spoken consonant sound blue and the silent partner yellow.

-ck -(only at the end)
(only at the beginning)
-ff, -gg, -ll, -ss, ( in the middle, they indicate a syllable division, like kitten or at the end like staff, egg, small, mess)
-bb, -dd, -mm, -nn -tt (these are only found in the middle of words and are generally only doubled when adding a word ending or in consonant -le patterns; use the same blue/ yellow pattern – rubber, waddle, batter, battle, winner, drummer)


Orange:regular short vowel soundsa as is cat,e as in bed, i as in lit,o as in hot, u as in cup.
Red: long vowels sounds
Yellow:Silent vowels. (NOTE: all long vowel patterns require a silent vowel to make them long, or vowels which ‘say their name’ as we call it. It is typically the second vowel that is silent)

silent ‘e’ at the end of the word or syllable with the CVC-silent E pattern
silent vowel partners (in this case, the vowel which says its name in colored red and the silent partner is yellow, reminding students that it makes no sound)

-ai (paid), -ay (lay) NOTE: in syllables, the long a sound is spelled ai when followed by a consonant and -ay when it ends the syllable or word.
-ea (bean) -ee (seen), -ey (key) NOTE: Y is a vowel when it follows another vowel.
-ie (tie)
-oa (coat), -oe (toe) -ou (as in dough only* see -ou rules below) -ow (blow), NOTE: ‘W’ is a vowel when it follows another vowel.
-ui (suit), -ue (glue)

Peach: (diphthongs or vowel slides in which the vowel combination makes both vowel sounds or a different one altogether) aw, eu, ew, oo, oo, ou, ow, oy, oi


Pink: (vowel/consonant blends in which neither one make the usual sound) eigh, (freight) augh(caught),ing, ang, eng, ong, ung

Turquoise (-r controlled vowel sounds) aras in car, er as in her, ir as in bird,or as in cord,ur as in hurdle

Red/ Blue/ Yellow: (igh, ight) Because the ‘i’ says its long sound, it is red, the ‘gh’ is silent and therefore yellow, and the ‘t’ is blue because it makes its usual sound.

Shades of Brown: (ou and ough) Since there are several possible pronunciations for ou and ough, (*other than ou as in dough), I teach students to color each way in a different shade of brown:

cream–ough (ow as in bough)
tan–ough (aw as in bought)
medium–ough (awff as in trough)
red/brown–ough (uf as in rough)
dark brown–ou (oo as in should)
beige–ou (oo as in you)

Silver: (suffixes and word endings) -tion, -ion, -ous, -cian, -y, -ily, -est, -er
(prefixes) pre-, un-, re-, a-, mis-
This should only be for prefixes and suffixes which change the word meaning and which are not stand alone words. There are many more; these are just a few.


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