Tuesday, November 9, 2021
Synthetic phonics is a system used to teach children how to read and write in English. It’s based on single letters (graphemes) and groups of letters (digraphs and trigraphs) that represent a series of different phonemes (sound units) in English. For younger learners, they acquire these sounds alongside a series of actions which aid memory and recall. Unlike other systems which represent the sounds of English, such as the IPA, synthetic phonics is based on the real spelling of the words and the letters that learners will see on the page.
Once learners are familiar with the letter sounds and their phonemes, they can start reading (decoding) by blending or ‘synthesising’ these letters together. These letters represent the sounds they most frequently represent in English and the vast majority of words that learners encounter at lower levels are fully decodable. Sight words (or tricky words) are words which cannot be decoded and have to be learnt purely by remembering the spelling. Once learners are able to decode words using the process of blending, they can move onto writing words according to the system, otherwise known as encoding.
There are many benefits to following a synthetics phonics programme with your learners. One of the main reasons it benefits students so much is that it allows students of differing reading abilities the opportunity to acquire a more efficient reading technique. Much of the learning we do as children when we learn how to read in English is based on memorisation of words, which never teaches learners how to approach words they have never encountered before.
As well as reading skills, synthetic phonics inevitably has big implications when it comes to writing. From the moment students learn how to decode a letter sound, they can implement this when writing and encoding what they hear. This means that students can develop their writing skills from a younger age and are less dependent on previous learning and memorisation of a set number of words.
Essentially, a good synthetic phonics programme which is implemented frequently in class will enable our learners to become much more autonomous readers, writers, speakers and listeners both inside and outside of the classroom.
Despite the fact that synthetic phonics is commonly used with younger learners, its principles can definitely be used and adapted for older learners. For students of any age and level, spelling and pronunciation in English always causes problems, which can be worked on in class through raising awareness of the system used in synthetic phonics.
Here are our top ten synthetic phonics activities to use in class with your learners. Remember, these can be adapted and extended for different ages and levels, depending on who you want to use the activities with.
The teacher has a list of decodable words. Students work in teams or as a whole group. The teacher gives the first person in the team/group a word and they write it down. When they have spelled it correctly, they pass the pen to the next person who is given a new word. The aim is to get to the end of the list in the fastest time. Keep a record of their total times so that they can see how quickly they complete the task in comparison to the last time.
Working on letter sounds in isolation, put them either on the wall or on the floor and the teacher says one out loud. A student then has to go and touch or jump on the sound that they hear. You could also do this with words and the student had to touch or jump on the word which contains the sound.
This can be done with older students who have a better range of vocabulary. Get a ball or something else which can be thrown around. The teacher says a letter sound and a category and then throws the ball to a student who has to give an answer in 5 seconds. If they don’t then they sit down. They throw it back to the teacher and they give another category and letter sound. The last student standing is the winner.
The teacher places either letter sounds or words containing letter sounds on the wall or the board. Students stand in two lines and the first in the line stand facing the wall/board where the letter sounds are placed. The teacher reads out a word containing one of the letter sounds. The student at the front has to hit the word/sound with the flyswatter. The first one to hit it is the winner and they stay there for the next round. The other student goes to the back of their line.
This can be done with any age and level; all that has to be changed is the difficulty of the word dictated. The teacher writes a series of dots on the board to represent the letter sounds in a word or series of words (they must be decodable). The teacher then dictates the word and asks one student to come to the board and write the corresponding letters above the dots. Alternatively, the teacher can dictate the word and then the students have to work out how many letter sounds in contains.
Any memory game will help students’ quick recognition of the sounds and is a fun way of revising the letter sounds they have learnt. Try having two sets of letter sounds and asking students to find the matching pair when placed face down on the table. Or have some on the board/table and take one away when the students close their eyes, they have to guess which one has been removed.
Give students a picture which they have to colour according to your instructions. Either have objects which contain some of the letter sounds that the students have learnt (e.g.: ant- a or dog- o). Tell them to colour each object a different colour. This way the students practise identifying sounds in words they hear, but they don’t have to write anything down. This is great for VYLs who are still working their letter formation skills.
Depending on the level of the group and their ability to remember a specific set of instructions you can make this as complex as possible. Each letter sound you are practising has to be associated with a particular movement, e.g. jump, step left, bend down and you need to make sure students know this. Then you stand the students in a vertical line and say one of the sounds, or a word containing the sound. When you do, get the students to do the movement you have practised before.
If you see a misspelled word which is decodable, then you can write this on the board and point to or highlight the incorrect part of the word. Then repeat the correct pronunciation of the word and ask them to try to correct it. If they don’t get it straight away, then you can repeat the specific sound in isolation and give them options from which to choose the correct answer.
Get some building blocks, or simply use cut outs of the letter sounds. Give students a word and ask them to put the blocks into the correct order so that they make the word you have said.