CIP School in the Phils.

Explicit Systematic Phonics

on June 23, 2013



Explicit Systematic Phonics

The purpose of phonics instruction is to teach children sound-spelling
relationships and how to use those relationships to read words. Phonics
instruction should be explicit and systematic. It is explicit in that sound-spelling
relationships are directly taught. Students are told, for example, that the letter s
stands for the /s/ sound. It is systematic in that it follows a scope and sequence
that allows children to form and read words early on. The skills taught are
constantly reviewed and applied to real reading.
Systematic and early instruction in phonics leads to better reading. This is
because phonics knowledge aids in the development of word recognition. Word
recognition, in turn, increases fluency. Reading fluency, then, improves reading
comprehension since children are not struggling with decoding and are able to
devote their full attention to making meaning from text. Inadequate decoding is
characteristic of poor readers.
Good phonics lessons contain the following critical parts. Each will be discussed
in depth on the following pages.
Phonological Awareness
Introduce Sound-Spelling
Phonics Maintenance
Word Building
Phonological Awareness
Phonemic awareness is the understanding or insight that a word is made up of
a series of discrete sounds (phonemes). This awareness includes the ability to
pick out and manipulate sounds in spoken words. Phonological awareness is
an “umbrella” term that includes phonemic awareness, or awareness of words at
the phoneme (sound) level. It also includes an awareness of word units larger
than the phoneme. Therefore, phonological awareness includes:
• words within sentences;
• rhyming units within words; • beginning and ending sounds within words;
• syllables within words;
• phonemes, or sounds, within words (phonemic awareness); and
• features of individual phonemes such as how the mouth, tongue, vocal
cords, and teeth are used to produce the sound.
Children sometime come to school unaware that words consist of sounds.
Phonological awareness activities help children learn to distinguish individual
sounds, or phonemes, within words. This awareness is a prerequisite skill before
children can learn to associate sounds with letters and manipulate sounds to
blend words (during reading) or segment words (during spelling).
Often children who have difficulties with phonics instruction do so because they
have not developed the prerequisite phonological awareness skills that many
children gain through years of exposure to rhymes, songs, and being read to.
Phonological awareness training provides the foundation on which phonics
instruction is built. Thus, children need solid phonological awareness training in
order for phonics instruction to be effective. For example, phonics instruction that
begins by asking a child what sound the words sit, sand, and sock have in
common will not make sense to a child who has difficulty discriminating sounds in
words, cannot segment sounds within words, or does not understand what is
meant by the term sound. Children must be able to auditorily discriminate /s/ in
the words sit, sand, and sock before it makes sense to them that the letter s
stands for this sound in these words.
Most phonological awareness activities are oral. They are playful in nature and
provide an engaging way for children to discriminate the sounds that make up
words. For example, oral blending activities help children to hear how sounds are
put together to make words. These activities will lead to decoding, in which
children begin sounding out or blending words independently. Children who have
difficulty orally blending words will have difficulty sounding out words while
reading. The oral blending exercises begin with blending larger word parts, such
as syllables, and progress to blending onsets and rimes and finally whole words
sound by sound. The earliest oral blending exercises use words that begin with
continuous consonants such as s, m, l, f, r, and z. These consonant sounds can
be sustained without distortion. This makes it easier for children to hear the
distinct sounds and more efficient to model the principle of oral blending, because all the sounds in the words can be “sung” together in a more natural
manner. For example, the word sat can be stretched out and sung like this:
sssaaat. Movements can also be added to help children note when the speaker
goes from one sound to the next. Many children will benefit from these visual
The oral segmentation exercises help children to separate words into sounds.
These exercises begin with a focus on syllables, which are easier to distinguish
than individual sounds. Segmentation exercises will lead to spelling, in which
children begin segmenting words into their component sounds in order to write
them. Children who have difficulty orally segmenting words will have difficulty
breaking apart words in order to spell them. You can tell if children are
developing the necessary segmentation skills when they begin asking questions
such as “What stands for the /a/ sound in cat?” or “What stands for the /sh/
sound in shop?”
Oral blending and oral segmentation tasks are the primary tasks focused on
because of their connection to early reading and writing development. In addition
to these tasks, discrimination activities will help children to focus on specific
sounds in words. For example, children are asked to listen for vowel sounds.
Since vowel sounds are necessary for decoding, and children’s early invented
spellings often omit vowels, much practice is provided to help children hear these
sounds in words. It is easier for children to discriminate long-vowel sounds than
short-vowel sounds. Therefore, the exercises contain long- before short-vowel
sound discrimination. Additionally, children practice listening for specific
consonants at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of words.
Phonological awareness is not the same thing as phonics. Phonological
awareness deals with sounds in spoken words, whereas phonics involves the
relationship between sounds and written symbols. Therefore, phonics deals with
learning sound-spelling relationships and is associated with print. Most
phonological awareness tasks, by contrast, are purely oral.
According to Adams (1990), there are five basic types of phonological
awareness tasks. Within each task type are progressively more complex
activities. These task types and sample activities include the following. • Task 1—The ability to hear rhymes and alliteration
a. rhyme
Example: I once saw a cat, sitting next to a dog. I once saw a bat,
sitting next to a frog.
b. alliteration
Example: Six snakes sell sodas and snacks.
c. assonance
Example: The leaf, the bean, the peach—all were within reach.
• Task 2—The ability to do oddity tasks
a. rhyme
Example: Which word does not rhyme: cat, sat, pig? (pig)
b. beginning consonants
Example: Which two words begin with the same sound: man, sat,
sick? (sat, sick)
c. ending consonants
Example: Which two words end with the same sound: man, sat,
ten? (man, ten)
d. medial sounds (long vowels)
Example: Which word does not have the same middle sound: take,
late, feet? (feet)
e. medial sounds (short vowels)
Example: Which two words have the same middle sound: top, cat,
pan? (can, pan)
f. medial sounds (consonants)
Example: Which two words have the same middle sound: kitten,
missing, lesson? (missing, lesson)
• Task 3—The ability to orally blend words
a. syllables
Example: Listen to these word parts. Say the word as a whole.
ta . . . ble—What’s the word? (table)
b. onset/rime
Example: Listen to these word parts. Say the word as a whole.
/p/ . . . an—What’s the word? (pan)
c. phoneme by phoneme Example: Listen to these word parts. Say the word as a whole.
/s/ /a/ /t/—What’s the word? (sat)
• Task 4—The ability to orally segment words (including counting
a. syllables
Example: Listen to this word: table. Say it syllable by syllable.
(ta . . . ble)
b. onset/rime
Example: Listen to this word: pan. Say the first sound in the word
(the onset) and then the rest of the word (the rime).
(/p/ . . . an)
c. phoneme by phoneme (counting sounds)
Example: Listen to this word: sat. Say the word sound by sound.
(/s/ /a/ /t/) How many sounds do you hear? (3)
• Task 5—The ability to do phonemic manipulation tasks
a. initial sound substitution
Example: Replace the first sound in mat with /s/. (sat)
b. final sound substitution
Example: Replace the last sound in mat with /p/. (map)
c. vowel substitution
Example: Replace the middle sound in map with /o/. (mop)
d. syllable deletion
Example: Say baker without the ba. (ker)
e. initial sound deletion
Example: Say sun without the /s/. (un)
f. final sound deletion
Example: Say hit without the /t/. (hi)
g. initial phoneme in a blend deletion
Example: Say step without the /s/. (tep)
h. final phoneme in a blend deletion
Example: Say best without the /t/. (bes)
i. second phoneme in a blend deletion
Example: Say frog without the /r/. (fog) TIPS
• Move through the activities quickly. You need not spend a lot of instructional
time on these activities. They are designed to be quick-paced and playful.
• Carefully pronounce all the sounds. Avoid distorting sounds. For example, avoid
adding an “uh” to a sound, such as saying “suh” instead of /sssss/.
• Do not expect mastery of all skills. Some children will need many opportunities
with various phonological awareness tasks to become successful. Hints
throughout the lessons provide ideas for modifying tasks to help children
experiencing difficulties. In addition, phonological awareness intervention
activities are provided at the end of each lesson. Informally monitor students and
select those who need this intervention. Conduct the activities during
Differentiated Instruction/Independent Center time. Introduce Sound-Spelling
Introducing a Sound-Spelling Follow these steps when introducing a new
• Write the spelling on the chalkboard or point to the alphabet frieze card
containing the new sound-spelling.
• State the sound-spelling correspondence as you point to the spelling and key
word (or picture) on the card. For example, say “The letter s stands for /s/ as in
• Write the key word (the pictured word on the card) on the chalkboard and circle
the spelling. For example, write the word sock on the chalkboard and circle the
letter s.
• Point to the spelling and have children state the sound it stands for. It is
important that all children participate in all aspects of the lesson. Therefore,
group choral responses, rather than calling on volunteers, is ideal.
• Write the spelling on an index card and add that card to a growing deck of cards
you will use for phonics review during the Phonics Maintenance portion of the
• For children needing additional support, use the following Teach-CoachAssess-Reteach Model during Differentiated Instruction/Independent Center
Teach: Write a lowercase s on a card with an arrow underneath. Then place
the letter card in the pocket chart. Say, “Here’s how we spell the sound we
just heard. My turn.” Point to the tail of the arrow. Pause. Then move a finger
under the letter and say its sound—/sssss/. Since s is a continuous sound,
hold your finger under the letter and say its sound for two seconds and then
slash to the right. Say, “I’ll say it again.” Repeat the same sequence (point,
pause, move finger and hold under the letter, then move off to the right).
Coach: Say, “Together.” Point to the tail. Pause. Say, “Sound.” Then quickly
move your finger under the letter and hold for two seconds. Then slash right.
Move your finger back to the tail. Pause. Say, “Again.” Move your finger and
hold, etc.
Assess: Say, “Your turn.” Point to tail. Pause. Say, “Sound.” Then move your
finger under letter and hold if continuous. Then slash right. Move your finger
back to the tail. Pause. Say, “Again.” Mover finger, etc. Reteach: If students have difficulty, repeat the instructional sequence (model,
coach, assess).
Phonics Maintenance
It is important that children actually overlearn the sound-spelling relationships.
Therefore, phonics maintenance is a critical part of each phonics lesson. After
each sound-spelling is introduced, and the spelling is written on an index card,
use the index card deck to review all the sound-spellings.
• Display one card at a time. Have children chorally state the sound that the
spelling stands for. For example, when you show the s card, children will chorally
say /s/. For spellings children struggle with, place the index card at the bottom of
the deck, and review it again.
• When completed, state the sound for the spelling on each card. Have the class
chorally state the letter or letters that stand for the sound. The show the card for
children to check their response. For example, when you say the /s/ sound,
children will chorally say “s.”
• You may wish to repeat this procedure at the beginning and end of each day’s
lesson to provide additional review. It is critical that this be a daily routine.
• Mix and vary the order of the sound-spellings reviewed from lesson to lesson.
• Use some sort of signal so students respond in unison. For example, point to
the left side of a spelling, pause for about a second (to give students thinking
time), say “Sound,” then quickly move your finger under the spelling. If
necessary, repeat by saying “Again” and then move your finger under the
spelling as before. (Please note that you are not saying the sounds with the
students but rather listening to them to see if they know them.) Correct any
• After going through the entire set of index cards, always review those soundspellings that were troublesome.
Blending Words
Purpose The purpose of blending is to teach children a strategy for using their
knowledge of sound-spellings to read words. At the beginning of the program,
children will be blending words sound by sound. As they get more reading
practice and repeated exposures to words, many words will become sight words and sound by sound blending will be unnecessary. However, it is critical that you
model for children how to blend words daily and you help children work through
every decodable word in the stories they read. Blending is constantly modeled to
show children how to figure out, or read, unfamiliar words.
There are two blending procedures which have the greatest reading “pay-off”—
final blending and successive blending. In final blending, the sound of each
spelling is stated and stored. The whole word isn’t blended until all the sounds in
the word have been identified and pronounced. An example of this procedure
using the word sat follows:
1. Point to the letter s and say /s/.
2. Point to the letter a and say /a/.
3. Slowly slide your finger under the letters sa and say /sa/ slowly.
4. Then, quickly slide your finger under the letters sa and say /sa/ quickly.
5. Next, point to the letter t and say /t/.
6. Slowly slide your finger under sat and say /sat/ slowly.
7. Circle the word with your finger and say, “The word is sat.”
The major advantage of this procedure is that you can determine where a
student is having difficulty as he or she attempts to blend an unfamiliar word
using this method. For example, if the student does not provide the correct sound
for the spelling s, you have valuable information for further instruction. In
addition, you can determine which students lack the ability to orally string
together sounds. For example, if a child correctly identifies /s/ for the letter s and
/a/ for the letter a, but pronounces these two sounds in combination as “suh-aa,”
the student is not blending the sounds.
In successive blending, the sound that each spelling stands for is produced in
sequence, without pauses. An example of this procedure using the word sat
1. Point to the beginning of the word sat.
2. Run your finger under each letter as you extend the sound that each letter
stands for. For example, you would say ssssaaaat. Do not pause between
sounds. For example, do not say /s/ (pause) /a/ (pause) /t/. If the first sound is
not a continuous consonant sound, quickly blend the first sound with the
vowel sound that follows. For example, say baaaat.3. Slowly compress the extended word. Therefore, go from ssssaaaat to
ssaat to sat.
4. Circle the word with your finger and say, “The word is sat.”
Both blending procedures are best introduced in phonics lessons using simple
CVC words (sun, mop, red). These lessons should be the first lessons children
are provided. It is the principle of stringing together sounds that is so critical and
that students must master. Therefore, teach and model it in the most efficient
manner. Choose the blending method that works best with the majority of your
students. You may wish to use the other method during individual and small
group sessions (Differentiated Instruction/Independent Center time) with those
children struggling with blending. This alternate method may be more effective
for these students.
As the year progresses, you want to move children from orally blending words to
silently blending them. That is, you want to encourage children to begin to blend
words silently or in a whisper before saying the whole word aloud. This is a
transitional step that some children need help going through. You may wish to
begin this transition in the third unit, after children have had a couple months of
blending orally and have learned many sound-spelling relationships. Model for
children how to do this and provide them with opportunities to do so.
Blending Lines Formal blending practice begins by using blending lines written
on the chalkboard. These blending lines contain sets of words and sentences.
They are cumulative in nature, reviewing sounds and words previously taught.
For example:
Sat sad at
am Sam Pam
I am sad.
I see Sam.
Use the following blending procedure:
• Write the blending lines on the chalkboard.
• Have children chorally blend the words sound by sound. Run your hand under
each letter as they blend the word aloud. Then have children say the word naturally. Model blending as needed. Continue this procedure for all of the words
in each line.
• Blend the sentences by blending one word at a time, sound by sound. Then
reread the sentence at a standard pace. As the year progresses, children will
need less support blending each word in the word lines; they should begin
blending the words independently, with support given only when necessary.
• Review the blending lines until you feel children can blend the words
independently. For any high-frequency words in the sentences in the blending
lines, simply state the word aloud as a whole unit. These words will be learned by
children as sight words long before they can blend them and many contain
irregular spelling patterns that make blending confusing or difficult for children.
As an option before working with the blending lines, use the following blending
• Using letter cards and a pocket chart, build a word for children to blend. In the
first few lessons, model for children how to blend the words sound by sound.
Point to the first spelling, and have children say the sound. Hold for two seconds
if it can be sustained. Then move on to the next spelling and, if possible, hold it.
Children should start saying the second sound without a pause or break. In a
sense, the sounds are “sung” together. Continue in a similar fashion for the rest
of the spellings in the word. Then ask children to identify the word they just
blended. For example, for the word Sam, you would say “SSSaaammm,” not /s/
(pause) /a/ (pause) /m/. This “connected” form of blending is easier for children
who cannot blend segmented (isolated) sounds. For words that start with sounds
that cannot be sustained (such as the word can), blend the consonant with the
vowel as if it were a syllable. In addition, you may wish to draw an arrow under
each word to visually illustrate for children the direction in which the sounds are
• Do this every day. Note how words change from lesson to lesson. The primary
purpose of this activity is NOT to master any one set of words but rather
experience success applying sound-spelling strategies for figuring out unfamiliar
• Have the words written on the chalkboard in advance. Do not group the words
by pattern but rather mix them thoroughly. • Use some sort of signal so students respond in unison. (Point, pause, then say
“Read.”) If students have difficulty with a spelling (or are used to ignoring vowels
altogether), consider precueing them by pointing to that spelling in a word and
having them say its sound before reading the word itself. Discontinue this prompt
as soon as possible.
• Be thoughtful in your correction of errors. For one-to-one relationships, point to
the spelling on the index card or alphabet frieze as a reference. Then point back
to the spelling in the misread word and say “Sound.” Then point to the beginning
of the word and say “Read.” For generalizations (such as final e), use a walk-talk
correction. (Is there an e at the end? So is this vowel going to be long or short?
What sound? What words?) For consonant clusters or blends, have students
practice saying the sounds as a unit, for example brrrr or cllll.
• For children struggling, provide additional blending practice during
Differentiated Instruction/Independent Center time.
• Discuss the meanings of any words in the blending lines and sentences. Have
children use the words in sentences of their own. You may wish to preteach the
meanings of the words in the blending lines to students learning English as a
second language. Preteach the words during Differentiated
Instruction/Independent Center time in the days prior to the lesson.
• Avoid telling the words to students in advance and discourage individual
students from calling them out before the group blends the words chorally. Dictation/Spelling
Just as students practice decoding through blending, they practice encoding
through dictation. Dictation initially begins during word-building exercises, in
which children are introduced to more and more sounds and spellings and given
opportunities to form words using these spellings. Children will quickly begin to
see how their control over written language grows as they are capable of writing
more and more words. They will also begin to see how reading and writing are
related. Just as blending gives them a strategy for figuring out unfamiliar words,
dictation gives them a strategy for spelling words. Research shows that children
learn letter-sound relationships and spellings as they write. The formal,
sequential dictation practice in each lesson provides children with structured
opportunities to develop their writing and spelling skills. It will also help you to
assess those children who are unable to segment words and need additional
phonological awareness practice with segmentation.
The dictation exercises are not meant to be used as formal assessment tools, but
rather as guided practice in writing words and checking children’s understanding
of sound-spelling correspondences. Since many of the words in the dictation
lines contain the new sound introduced, children are not expected to have
mastered the sound at this time.
Sample Dictation:
sat am at
Sam is sad.
Use the following steps during dictation:
• State aloud the first word in the dictation line, and have children repeat it. For
those children who have difficulty hearing the sounds in the words, you can
provide two levels of help. One level involves saying the sounds more slowly
while moving your hands from right to left while facing the class to illustrate
beginning, middle, and end. A second level of assistance involves modeling the
blending for each sound in the word. In effect, children are helped to hear and
write one sound at a time.
• Then have children write the word. Walk around the room, and give help as
necessary. This may include showing children the correct stroke procedure for
writing letters or directing them to the correct spelling on the alphabet frieze. In
the case of multiple spellings for a single sound (such as c, k, and ck), tell children which spelling is correct. Continue this procedure for each word in the
dictation lines. For the dictation sentence, read the entire sentence aloud and
then focus on one word at a time.
• As each word is completed, provide feedback by writing the “answer” on the
chalkboard so that children can correct their work. A key component of dictation
is self-correction, in which children begin to notice and correct their errors.
Sample Model:
This time I want you to write a word that can be sounded out. The word is sat.
Say sat. The students say sat. Sound sat. Here you slowly say the sounds in
sat without any break and again showing beginning, middle, and end with
right to left hand motions. Then move your hand back to the beginning
position and ask “What’s the beginning sound?” The students should say
/ssss/. Write /sssss/. Wait for the students to finish. Then ask, “What word are
you writing?” Sat. The beginning sound was . . .? “/ssss/” Next sound . . . ?
“/aaaa/” Write /aaaa/. Wait for students to finish. What word are you writing?
Sat. What do you have so far? /ssssaaaa/. Last sound . . . ? ?/t/? Write /t/.
When students finish, ask the class to tell you the sounds in sat as you write
the word on the chalkboard.
Follow the same procedure for all the words. While students are writing, walk
around and monitor their work, paying more attention to those who are likely
to experience difficulty. (Note: This teacher-assisted sound by sound process
is critical for students who cannot segment sounds. Don’t take short cuts by
just giving students the word, waiting for them to finish, and then writing the
answer on the chalkboard. Some students will wait and copy what is on the
chalkboard and will not learn how to become independent.)
For the sentence, say, Now you will write a sentence with three words. The
sentence is Sam is sad. Repeat it. Sam is sad. What is the first word? Sam.
How do we start a sentence? With a capital letter. Is Sam a word we can
sound out or a word on the Word Wall? Sound Sam. Use hand motions as
before. First sound? Students say the first sound. Write it. What word are you
writing? What do you have so far? Next sound? The students respond. Write
it. Continue in a similar manner until the word is done.
What sentence are you writing? Sam is sad. What have you written so far?
Sam. What is the next word? Is. This is a word on the Word Wall. If you know how to spell is go ahead and write it. If you are not sure, check the Word Wall.
Repeat the above procedures with sad treating it as a word that can be
sounded out.


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