There are two major philosophies about the best way to teach phonics in a self-contained classroom.

One method, the most commonly used, is "phonics in isolation," for want of a better label. The other system is "applied phonics."

Phonics is most often taught as a separate class in which materials such as workbooks, charts, and audio and video-cassettes are used to present the various phonics concepts in a planned sequence. Usually the entire class is taught at the same time. For some this means reviewing much that is already known completely. For others it is one more exposure to concepts that were not learned the first time and are more confusing, or hard to remember, now. Since the class is not involved in reading practice at the time phonics is taught, worksheets or workbooks are assigned to reinforce what the teacher has presented.

This style of phonics instruction in isolation is usually difficult for some children to transfer to the actual act of reading, when it is separated from regular reading instruction when silent or oral reading occurs. It has the same effect as the much disliked "round robin" whole language, whole class approach of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1990s, when reading was taught from one book. The one book is usually too easy for many, too hard for several and just right for a few who are learning it for the first time.


Applied phonics avoids these traps. Workbooks, worksheets, and tapes are used in centers, if at all. The objective of applied phonics is to develop in the child a habit of reference. Each child draws his or her own phonics need-chart on tag-board by copying elements from commercial charts displayed in the room.

First grade teachers using this approach will have screened the entering students to assess their strengths and needs in phonics. The teacher will find that most children will have learned many of the sounds associated with the single consonant letters, for example.

Children are required to copy key phonics charts in their own way, so that each has a small version of the rules.




Each child will have drawn small pictures to illustrate phonics elements. There will be sketches of objects to show the short vowel sounds: possibly apple = /a/, bed = /e/ (or a dot of red, or a horse named ED); igloo = /i/ (or a Native American Indian), octopus = /o/, and an umbrella = /u/. These kinds of pictures have been used effectively for years to remind us of the sound-symbol relationships. Digraph pictures might have a wheel for /wh/, a shoe for /sh/, a church or chair for /ch/, and a thumb for one of the /th/ sounds. Pictures to accompany the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ g and c would be beneficial- goat for the ‘hard’ g, giant for the ‘soft’ g, cat for the ‘hard’ c, and city for the ‘soft’ c.

Pictures are needed for vowels affected by adding an ‘r’: /ar/ could be a star; /or/ could use a horn; /ur/ a turtle; /er/ might be a drawing of a letter and envelope; and the /ir/ could use a bird or a circle. The ou-ow sound could be shown by a house and a cow (surprisingly, the oa-ow sound--boat, scarecrow-is not often a problem and may not have to be included in the child's phonics need-chart). The sounds of /oo/ are needed: oo as in moon, and oo as in book.

At the top of the child's chart should be a large drawing of the lower case b and the lower case d. Inside the circle part of the /b/, sketch in a ball to remind the child of the sound of /b/. Inside the circle part of the /d/, draw a dog or duck or doll to remind the child of the sound of /d/.

There are other phonics elements that could be drawn in, but the items mentioned here appear again and again as those that need immediate reference while a child is reading.

The goal of the chart in applied phonics is to eliminate the need for the chart during oral reading. The charts are to be used by the child as needed during oral reading without prompting from the teacher. This is the practical use of applied phonics. The child brings the small chart to the reading table. The teacher coaches and trains the child to automatically remember to turn to his or her chart when faced with a difficult word in oral reading--rather than guessing or miscalling, as is often the case. Oral reading should not be done until the same selection has been read silently by the child (after new vocabulary has been introduced by the teacher) either a few minutes earlier or during the previous session of reading. The child also may have a chart taped to his or her own desk for easy reference while doing work there.

To record phonics chart practices, write a + (plus) next to each correct individual sound symbol, until (++++++++++) ten or more successful practice pluses are accumulated. Each week, the child will have more success if practice is done on at least two consecutive days.

Then (after ten pluses) move the student to the next phonics chart. Continue until the child knows all phonics items on the second chart, and then on the third page, which does not show any illustrations. Use the plus system here as well.    Identified M.R. students typically need more practice sessions than their peers with "average intelligence".


VERY IMPORTANT AT ALL TIMES: Do not give a plus for voiced sounds meant for voiceless or whispered consonants (so that word-part sounds are not distorted). Some teachers have found that whispering all consonant sounds is helpful, as it avoids the voiced "uh" sound which has often been incorrectly added to such consonant sounds as b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, 1, m, n, p, s, t, v, w, y, and z. (Voiceless consonants are always whispered in speech: c, f, h, k, p, q, s, t, as well as two-consonant symbols such as ch, sh, and wh [although wh is often voiced as /w/ by many teachers and others, and is considered acceptable in Websters Dictionary as an alternative]).

If needed, you may discuss making the sounds correctly by calling 360-665-3708. Remember, phonics is simply a tool to help the student sound out unknown words and it should be done in an easy and relaxed manner. Genuine praise is critical for all correct responses. If a student makes a mistake, say "Good try. We'll get it next time." Gently help the student to understand what the correct response should be.

Phonics Chart 1

Phonics Chart 2

Phonics Chart 3

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