Lessons with Ben continue. At first he was somewhat reluctant to have to sound out my words. He wanted a quicker way - to guess, but he soon began to realise that when he sounded them out, he was able to read all sorts of words that he didn't know he could read. This has slowly begun to change his attitude to the lessons. It has been truly wonderful to see those odd, albeit rare 'light bulb' moments when you suddenly realised that he has totally engaged with the lesson and has taken a step forward.
We have progressed from cvc words, onto four letter words and now beyond to the 'Moving on with phonics stage'. Now, Ben is not secure with consonant blends. We have done a lot of work with them, for several weeks, but I felt that he at least now knows what I am talking about when we try and spell a word, for example, sleep: he wants to put one letter for sl, but we talk about it and say it's two letters, now what two sounds can you hear? So I am still very much supporting him with this, but by moving on I am giving him a sense of progress. Most of the words in the Moving on with phonics actually only involve three sounds. He can do these confidently. He will get plenty of practice with consonant blends by the end of this stage.
So what does a typical lesson look like?
Since the beginning I have had Ben arrange magnetic letters into alphabetical order. This had been a very foundational part of his current success. I found that Ben was very confused by some of the letters that looked the same. Not just b/d/p/q but also n/u, and when we did the capital letters, Z and N. By letting him handle physical letters he could turn them round to see the difference between them. This is multi-sensory learning that is vital for all children not least those with any special need. Ben had great trouble with 'l,m,n,o,p'. I find this is common as the usual alphabet 'song' gabbles these letters. A better tune is The Grand Old Duke of York.
I have now moved away from always physically arranging letters to having him write out the alphabet. This again has highlighted difficulties in letter formation and we talk about the letters as we go. Ben does know the sounds each letters stands for securely. I have made some sandpaper letters for him to trace to teach the right formation. We do one letter until he has mastered it. He seems to take great pride in being able to do each letter properly, though does love to tease me by doing it wrong sometimes!
I then have him put the vowels in order for me, saying both their name and sound.
This is important as a secure knowledge of these five letters is the foundation for starting to put them together to make new sounds.
On Mondays we start with the dictation for last week's sound. He writes it in a special exercise book. his writing is still not great, but there is a marked improvement. I still have to give a lot of support, but whereas to start with he was reluctant, thinking he couldn't do it, he now tackles it confidently, knowing I will help if he gets stuck.
Then we review all our flashcards, including odd words.
Then I teach him the new phonic sound for that week. I show him the list of new words (as found here) and he reads them. Then I hide the list and dictate them to him. At first he was only comfortable writing them on the white board. He now takes great care writing them in his spelling book.
If there is time I will give him some sentences to read with the new sound in.
Then we play a game.
The next session that week we start by reviewing our flashcards, and doing handwriting practice. This can be copy work, or letter formation.
Then we work on the spelling of the new words using a worksheet. Sometimes I give him speed tests - a list of words containing the sounds he has learnt and he reads from top to bottom as fast as he can. This helps to train his eye to see the letters in the words and aids in fluency.
Again we finish with a game.
This is a simple procedure. what is not so simple is handling the unpredictablilty of his moods/behaviour and adjusting the lesson on the spot to however he presents each lesson. This however can be true for children with no special needs. They are not all on peak performance every day. Be ready to change activity, if the one you have planned doesn't seem appropriate. Be ready to cut the lesson short if need be. Be ready to take advantage of anything they might bring up. Ben will often make an observation about some words - for example, one day he wanted to say pat for pit and he thought they should be the same. And so I diverged into a lesson on how vowels change a word. Because he had brought it up, he learnt more from it than my planned lesson, which I saved for another day.
I hope with these little insights into our lessons, to show you what this programme looks like in real practice. Let me know how you are getting on!
N.B: All names have been changed
I have the privilege of teaching Ben. Ben is a 14 year old boy who is autistic and has ADHD. He is very behind with his reading and writing and his mother has become concerned about his lack of progress. From the reports from his school it seemed his reading was better than his spelling, but neither were great. I first needed to find out where he is at and where the gaps are that are hindering his progress.
It has taken me several sessions to win his confidence. To start with I met just with his mother, who showed me various reports so that I could get a feel for where he is at. I then gave her a lesson in phonics, starting with initial sounds and progressing to hear the sounds in cvc words. I left her with my Alphabet Matching game. When I next visited, I was told that he had really enjoyed playing the game and had played it several times. My next step was to invite Ben to my garden, where he picked raspberries and joined in a game of football with my son. By my next visit to his house he was no longer running away, but willing to talk. At this point I still didn't try and teach him, but just let him get used to me.
For his first visit to my house for a lesson, he started by wanting mum to stay, but 5 minutes later, told her she could go! Another game (fishing - see instructions below) had caught his attention and he was delighted to find he could read the cvc words with the vowel 'e'. After much fun and laughter, he was relaxed enough to sit at the table with my son, with a white board each, and I tested his ability to write given letters as I said their sound. He performed quite well with this, but his fear of failure was evident as he was reluctant to directly show me his work. I contrived a way whereby he checked with my son first, before showing me. He was happy with this arrangement.
Assessment is taking time as I am having to slowly win his trust, but my initial reactions are that Ben is fairly secure on his initial sounds, with just the letter 'x' causing problems. Handwriting is an issue, and I think some letters he knew but couldn't remember how to write the letter. This was confirmed when the next session I gave him a set of magnetic letters and asked him to match them to the alphabet game pictures. He did this very quickly and accurately. However, he had difficulty recognising some of the magnetic letters, particularly, u/n and b/d/p/q. This is not unusual.
After asking him to spell out some cvc words, I discovered that he was not sure about the final sounds of cvc words. We will work on that with the Final Sounds game next session.
Ben is very keen to read. He read me a book his mother had bought him, but it was obvious to her and me that Ben had learnt to use the pictures as a cue to guessing. Therefore, he wasn't actually reading the words. I had chosen this book from his collection as it was titled 'Mad, Mad, Mad' and contained some cvc words I felt he could read. I therefore covered over the pictures and suggested we share read it. He started and I read the non cvc words. He did know little words like 'the' and 'is'. I could feel the temptation to guess was strong and I had to keep saying, 'Now you can read this word - sound it out!' He was so thrilled at the end. I feel sure he himself knew the difference between really reading and guessing.
At the end of his second lesson with me, I printed out 'The hen' without pictures. His excitement at having a book he could read all by himself, for real was tangible. On his return to his home, he hugged his mother and started kissing her - he was so pleased! She commented that he had come back a changed boy. Well, that comes when a child truly feel themselves progressing. I've seen it many times.
The fishing game:
Print out a page of fishes.
Write a cvc word clearly on each fish.
Attach a paper clip to each fish.
Make a pond with a piece of blue paper/card.
Make two rods with cardboard tubes, a length of string and a magnet to tie on the end.
Take it in turns to catch a fish. If they catch more than one, I allow two (after all it means more reading!)
by Vera Conway
The idea of teaching phonics through games was first conceived out of sheer desperation when I met my first un-cooperative pupil. he told me confidently "I do not need to learn to read because I am going to be an actor!" As he was then only seven years old and quite unable to project his mind into the future, no argument of mine could convince him to believe otherwise.
A year later when this boy was diagnosed as being severely dyslexic he was triumphant. He stubbornly closed his mind to everyone's attempts to help him and his behaviour in school gave much cause for concern, but our lessons continued. I spent two hours with him each week and, in spite of himself, he learned to read and write. The almost miracle was achieved by means of games we played together, which he actually enjoyed.
Since then, my phonic games have been played time and time gain with pupils who have a variety of problems as well as those who appear to learn to read and write without experiencing any difficulties. As I saw more and more pupils benefitting from playing games, I wanted to share them with other pupils - both old and young - so that they can experience the joy and laughter that comes with learning to read and spell.
I also hope that parents and teachers of all kinds will become better acquainted with the simple logic of teaching reading and spelling by phonics (sounds).
Vera's games are published in books by Hopscotch Books. But you can now have access to some of her games by visiting Lilibettes Resources where you will find many games with a small price-tag that you can purchase, download and print, either in colour or black and white. They are simple to play and bring much enjoyment to the phonic lesson. Each game comes with instructions.
Some of you may be in a school position where you are trying to help children who have already become discouraged and see themselves as non-readers and have 'given up' wanting to try, but you are not in a position to do this programme with them . How can you coax an interest in wanting to learn to read in these children? May be you are a classroom assistant and you know that the children you are working with cannot cope with the work you are expected to do with them. What can you do?
Over the years I have tried many ways of helping 'difficult' cases to learn to read.
Some things I tried before I discovered phonics, but I think I would still try them now, but then move on to the phonics programme as soon as I could (if I was in a position to do so) as I still see it as essential for all children, to help the child to become a confident reader and speller. These ideas actually do use look and say to start with, despite all that I have said in the main pages of this site. But remember, we are talking here about children who have become despondent. They are probably year 2 plus children. They may well have had poor phonics teaching and the teachers have deemed phonics not to be working for them. This is probably because the phonic system used was not systematic, or because the teacher did not understand phonics her/himself. My phonic programme will work, but you may not be in a long term position to use it, but you can do something to help! You can point them in the right direction.
Let me share with what I have done with children, that has worked, to lift a child off of the bottom and out of despair. In fact I did this even with my own son who wasn't talking fluently until age 5, to get him reading. I started him off with sight words but as quickly as I could I started to train his ear to hear sounds in words (as he learnt them in speech therapy) and recognise his initial sounds and then we transitioned on to the phonic programme, but sight words got him started.
Have a little word box for each child. Start with the child's first name, write it clearly in correct case on a small piece of card. Card is better than paper as it is more durable. Make sure the initial letter is a capital and properly form your letters. See 'How to form letters' if you are not sure.
Hopefully the child can recognise their own name, if not introduce it and stress that this is one word they can read.
Then add their surname. Spend this first session looking at those two names. What sound do they begin with? Can they hear the initial sound as they say it, as you say it. Can they feel it with their lips and their tongue?
Let's take the name Benjamin. Say 'When we say your name, Benjamin, right at the very beginning of the word we put our lip together like this. (Mime saying 'B') then we gently make a sound as we blow our lip s apart. You try. It's the sound 'b'. When we write the sound 'B' we can do it in two ways (demonstrate on paper/chalk board/white board). Because this is your name and it's special we use the capital letter 'B' to start it.'
Don't expect the child to remember the sound. At this stage we are just developing a link in the child's mind between the sound they hear and feel with their lips when they say their name and a symbol to represent that sound on the paper. You can teach them to write the initial sounds of their names too, if they can not already do it, but even so, it helps if they can write each letter, saying it's sound as they write.
Practice reading these two words. Put them behind your back and say 'I'm going to show you a word, I wonder if you'll be able to read it?' and be delighted when they can. Again this is no guessing. You are only asking them to read words that you have already taught them what they say.
Then get to know your child. Ask what they like doing, What is their favourite toy/game/food. You are going to use this information to make their reading lesson unique to them.
Let's say their favourite game is football. My next word would be 'ball'. This is a noun, a naming word and naming words are easier to remember than words like this/they/the.
Again write it on a card and add it to their box and introduce it at the next session. Tell them what is says. Emphasise the initial sound again.
Now take out all three cards and say 'We are going to play a game'. I'll show you a card and you see if you can read it to me'. Take one card (I always start with their first name to build confidence), show it to the child and let them see if they can remember it. This is look and say at this point, but you have looked at the initial sound and that may help provide a clue. So hopefully they will be able to read the word you have shown them. Praise them if they get it right, encourage them if they need help but keep playing until they can read all three words quickly. If you feel they are ready for another word then proceed, if not spend another session working on these three words.
Introduce one more noun, maybe another toy, or favourite food. Add the word to the flashcards in the box and practice until it is secure. On the next page in their book, write this new word.
It's now time to add in another little word...'a'. It happens to be the first in the alphabet, so continue the phonic training, explain that it sometimes says it's name 'ay'. Make a flashcard for it and put it in the box. Each session, take all the words from the box, practice them, play games with them. See 'Hands behind the back' and 'Which one will you choose' on the GAMES PAGE.
Now it's time to start putting two words together. 'a ball', 'a sausage' whatever their nouns were. If you need 'an' then use 'an' too but introduce it as a new word and teach them to sound it out by emphasising the two sounds. Can they feel them, hear them? Phonics is being introduced here, but in a low key way - just introducing the idea.
I would write these little sentences one each on a new page in the book.
'a ball' on one page. 'a sausage' on another. Let them read their book each session. It can take the place of the flashcards sometimes.
When that's secure, I teach 'look'. Most children find it an easily memorable word. Draw their attention to the first sound. Can they hear 'lllll' and feel it. The two 'o's' are saying 'oo' - just tell them, but don't expect them to remember, then on the end there is a nice 'k' sound. Say 'look' and really emphasis the 'k'. 'K' kicks hard and makes a lovely distinct hard 'k'. Can they say a hard 'kicking k'?
Then we can make 'look, a ball', 'look a sausage'. For any that really have trouble I draw eyes in the 'oo's to remind them! Make new pages, write the new sentences.
Now add in 'is'. Just make a flashcard, but don't try and make sentences yet - you won't be able to! Again, focus on the 'i' sound and the 's' which is making a hard buzzing sound in this word. Can they hear them, can they produce the sounds? You see we are teaching them that the letters they see in these words are no accident. There is logic and order to words. They don't have the code yet (phonics) but they are developing their phonetic awareness, which is very important. Meantime we are trying to help them feel that they are readers.
Maybe throw in another noun here - 'aeroplane' is a good one, its long and again easily memorable, although not an easy one for phonics!! So don't attempt to confuse the child by sounding it, just add it to the flashcards. Children often are pleased they can read such a big word, it boosts their confidence no end! Once learnt it can have it's own page in their book, then another page saying 'an aeroplane' (introduce 'an' here if you haven't already as above.)
Now it's time for a hard word..'here'. Write 'here' on one side of the flashcard, and 'Here' on the other. It is easier if it is attached to sentences so I start by putting it in front of 'a .......'. So Make a sentence with the flaschards on the table:
'here is a ball' (choose one of your nouns). Read it to the child. Can they read it back? Now they should know all the words except 'here' so prompt them for 'here' if they stall, then let them finish the sentence themselves.
Now make other sentences using the other nouns....'Here is an aeroplane.' 'Here is a sausage'. Only after introducing in sentences, put the words back in the tin. Take out 'here' and only two others that they know well, maybe the nouns. Play 'Hands behind the back' until they can say 'here' when they see it. Praise, tease (I bet you can't read this word, it's so difficult!) Laugh with them when they get it right, but if they don't, prompt until they do, then praise. Keep going a few times more then stop for that session. At the start of the next session, go back to making the sentences first before playing with the flashcards. You see we want to build success, not failure. We want to make it easy for them to succeed, one tiny step at a time.
Now you can see we can add to our sentences, 'Look, here is a ball.' and so on.
Can they find the words to make the sentence you say? Can they make up a sentence of their own? Think of ways to keep reinforcing the words they have learnt and slowly extending their reading vocabulary. Keep praising, but keep it genuine.
I could go on, and write pages but hopefully you are beginning to get a feel for what is necessary? You may never be able to do more than sight words with the child, but what you have done will be invaluable, especially if you have emphasised the link between what is seen and what is heard/felt.
If you are being asked to do the high frequency words with the child, then slowly work through them, using your imagination to present them one at a time in a meaningful way. Add in more nouns as you need - car, bus, pram, park, lorry, McDonalds (OK we might not condone frequent meals here but if this is the experience of your student then it will be meaningful to them. One lad I taught only ever could think of 'Kentucky Fried Chicken'!) You see we are not anti-meaning!! These children just need the whole process broken down into minute steps.
Use your imagination to do whatever you think will help them learn. Make your sessions purposeful, meaningful, progressive - i.e. the child can feel their progress, see their progress as the pile of words gets bigger and they can read more and more sentences.
Now I don't go along with look and say because at some point you will reach saturation point and they will find it harder to retain new words. So my aim all along is to steer them towards phonics so I can start my programme with them. So at some point check their knowledge of initial sounds. Have a check sheet beside you and discreetly note the ones causing problems and seek to do activities to 'firm up' that stage one knowledge. Continue to train their ears to hear sounds in words. Sometimes, just play hearing games....even without letters, use whistles, bells, rattles etc.. so they equate hearing with reading. Keep the phonics in mind all along.
If you are in a school setting, see if they won't buy Vera's phonic games books for you to use with the children. They make learning so much more fun and were written while she was doing one to one work with children needing reading-catch up. They were her way of using her imagination to give each child just what they needed. Each game was originally created with an individual child's needs at heart.
Now you also have the option of purchasing some of these games for a small price, ready made and instantly downloadable. See the examples below.
Finally, if you have any questions, do please ask.
The other day I was sitting in a waiting room and there happened to be a young lass aged 5/6. She picked up a book from the children's shelf and started to try and read it but there were too many words on the page, the text was too small and after attempting the first word, she gave up. Her mother intervened at this point and put her finger under the words and she managed a couple more, before giving up again. At this point her mother wisely said 'I'll read it to you.' So they snuggled up for a story, talking about the pictures as they went. This young girl's opinion of herself as a reader was kept whole.
With this picture before me I recalled something I'd read earlier this week. It was on a school's website where parents were complaining that the language in their child's reading book was so stilted and unnatural. Maybe you have thought this yourself?
Let's think about this. Let's look back at the young lass I saw. What was her expectation. She didn't pick up the book and ignore the words. She wanted to use her new reading skills to actually read the words. After all, we tell pre-school children enough times that they will learn to read when they go to school. Many of these pre-schoolers will have spent a couple of years pretending to read. And that's a great way to start, but they know they can't decipher the words and they desperately want to be able to. So they enter the Reception class with great expectancy! Bright eyed, bushy tailed, they are going to learn to read. The teacher sends home a book and tells them it's their reading book. It's a colourful book with several words in natural sounding sentences. But oh dear. There are so many words, and they have so few reading skills, that they know they can't properly read it. There are lots of pictures so they do what they are encouraged to do and make up a story and some may get some satisfaction from finding out that the words they came up with were actually written at the bottom of the page. Now this is because the author has tried to make the language as natural as possible, to match what a child will most probably say on looking at that picture. But it is a method that encourages guessing which may work with some, but as many teachers know and find, fails many children. This is called the Whole Language approach to reading.
For many children this isn't going to be good enough. They know that adults don't look at pictures and make it up. They read words, and they want to be able to do the same. For many children this making it up continues, and continues until they become despondent. Other seemingly brighter ones may have managed by now to remember what some of the words say (by look and say and maybe a smattering of phonics), but for many they remain a mystery and all they can do is 'make it up'. And in time, they give up. Reading becomes unpleasant, despite numerous teachers/classroom assistants all encouraging them with big smiles. They are soon left behind and in need of 'remedial programmes', not so labelled but that's what they are.
This was the way to teach reading when I started teaching back in the 1990's (and for many years before) and although the Government now insists on phonic teaching, old philosophies are only just under the surface. It may even have been the way you were taught. Most teachers when questioned will tell you that there is no one way that works with all children. Many still deep at heart believe that meaning is more important than decoding. Decoding is sneered at as secondary to meaning as if young children are not capable of making sense of anything by themselves. The truth is that of course we bring meaning to language, otherwise language is nonsensical and little children start to talk with an in-built need to communicate which presupposes meaning.
Now the scenario above need not have happened. Young childen are vastly underestimated in our day and age in my opinion. They are far more capable than us adults like to think. In years gone by children of 5/6 were not only reading and writing their own language fluently, but often another as well. And yet this is the age of progress. Our Reception children want to be able to read words. So why do we fob them off by trying to make them think they are reading when they know they are not reading words. Why don't we help them read the words?
Well let's try the scenario again. This time our Reception child starts school and the teacher says, 'Today I'm going to teach you to read.' Our little one sits up importantly. They want to read, after all, isn't this why they've come?
The teacher explains about the letters of the alphabet and how each ones represents a sound. S/he gives an example.
'When I think of the word 'apple' I think, what sounds can I hear? The first sound I can hear is 'a,a'. Can you hear it? Say it with me 'a-apple'. So we see that when this word is written down here, at the start of it is the letter that stands for 'a'' and s/he writes the letter 'a' on the board. The children after some more practice go to their desks to learn to write the letter 'a' and to maybe draw pictures of things they can think of beginning with 'a'. All the while the teacher is watching to see what impact her/his teaching is having: who needs more practice, who seems to be hearing the sound and feeling it with their lips and tongue? She uses this information to plan the next lesson.
'Tomorrow we will learn another sound, but tonight I want you take take a book home and look in it for as many words that start with an 'a' sound.' Get someone to read it for you and you follow the words and see if you can see any words starting with the sound 'a'.
So the book is taken home, but not with the expectancy of reading it, but of practicing that first nugget of knowledge that they have tucked under there wing. They find some words and feel hopeful that the next lesson will reveal more of the mystery of reading. Their confidence is well intact. The good teacher does not rely on this extra practice for the success of her/his teaching. S/he will ensure that every child will get all the help they need in class.
After a few more lessons they begin to put together stage 2 words from my programme - cvc words. Now these are very simple words and if you look at my sentences, there are not many and they do sound a little stilted. But nothing a child can't understand! I would not have sent books home for the child to read at this point. I would make sure that all parents understood the programme and that any books sent home at this stage were for sharing together. Many schools feel obliged to send 'reading books' home though, so they either send books with no words, to encourage the focusing on meaning, or they send especially written phonic books, the ones that seem very stilted. My only problem with these is that they are not individually written to match the progress of each pupil And that is precisely what is needed at this very early stage.
Once the child has learnt some basic sight words and can sound out to a reasonable level (say stage 6 of this programme), then they will have sufficient word knowledge to tackle books with more realistic language. But not before. It would be like expecting a toddler to talk in proper sentences. We model proper sentences for them, but we don't expect them to use them themselves yet. Why then do we expect children to read fluently when they are just starting out?
Therefore this programme does not expect children to be reading books from the word go. I wouldn't suggest starting Peter and Jane until level 6 when the concept of using units of sounds to build words is understood and they know some sight words. Then, keeping the phonics as the main part of the 'reading lesson' I might introduce a little reading from the reading book. The sight words in this programme do not have to be learnt exactly where they are. They have just been spread out over the course so as not to overwhelm the child with too many to learn at once, but they can be learnt in any order.
In the meantime they will be building increasing more complex sentences, making their own books, relevant to them and finding that they can read word on cereal packets, in the shops, and all around them. The written word has suddenly become alive. Reading is exciting. They can do it themselves!
What about meaning? WelI I can honestly say I have never met a child who doesn't understand the simple sentences of stage 2 and 3 and more. If we do come across a word they have never heard, we discuss it to give it meaning. We start with sounds, we build words and with words we build sentences, all the time the child will be bringing their knowledge of the world to bear on their reading. If you are doing as many of the things I outlined in my section 'Getting ready to read' as you can, then your child will have no problems with comprehension at this stage and even later on. Children will of themselves strive to make meaning of life, including what they read. They may for a time be so focused on decoding each word that they lose sense of the longer sentence, but if they re-read it, they will understand it. If you are not sure you can always talk about it and check what they have understood.
Do expect these early reading books to seem a little repetitious, especially at the beginning. It builds a budding readers confidence and fluency to see familiar words that they can 'remember' after having decoded them a few times. This is natural and to be encouraged. We don't want them decoding for ever! It is only a means to an end, but without decoding, many children are left to guess and have no means of working out new words and they can easily become despondent. Of course not all 'look and say' schemes take the whole language approach. The Ladybird series, Peter and Jane certainly doesn't. So the language in these books is rather stilted to begin with too.
The truth is that whole language methods don't work for all, but phonics can work for all if it is taught systematically, even for children with special educational needs. Children will naturally develop 'whole language' skills once they are comfortable and confident at the sound and word level and as they build their 'bank' of experiences in life. Reading lots of stories and encouraging children to re-tell them and write about them will be going along beside phonic teaching in a good classroom and home environment.
Don't underestimate your child!
Lilibette taught for many years in a London state primary school, having responsibility for the teaching of reading.