Teaching Children to Read and Spell - Learning Objectives for the Teaching of First Six Sounds

When teaching children to read and spell in the early years the most effective method, `s recommended by all government reports of the last decade, is a 'synthetic phonics' approach combined with activities combined to promote phonemic awareness.

If parents are teaching their own children to read, write and spell at home they can choose an 'initial sound group' e.g. the sounds chosen in the popular phonics program Jolly Phonics. These sounds are s,a,t,i,p and n, with the letter sounds being taught rather than the letter names. This is because the word 'sat' for example can be 'sounded out' for reading and also spelling with the sounds are taught. Even just using this sound group children can quickly learn to read, write and spell words using just those letters e.g. tan, tin, pan, pat, sit, sat, at, in. With the introduction of a few 'tricky' words the children can be reading, writing and spelling whole sentences in no time- for example 'Is it a pin? No it is a pan'. Readers can be made so that the children are actually 'reading' books with illustrations. Many are available online for free not for profit organisations such as Fantastic Phonics and SPELD SA.

When parents know what their children need to know before they move on to learning new sound pics (letter sounds) the following list can help them, as a 'check list'. By using this list parents can ensure that the child has understood the important concepts and are able to demonstrate the skills required for early reading and spelling acquisition ie code knowledge, blending, phoneme segmenting and manipulation.

When children can decode a word they can then start to learn its meaning. Fluency, comprehension and vocabulary come after decoding. If a child can't work out the word (ie read the word) he can't begin to understand it within sentences. So parents should focus first on teaching children how to decode and then expand on their teaching to include fluency, comprehension and vocabulary. However as can be seen from the following list this can happen very quickly, and these additional skills (fluency, vocabulary and comprehension) be incorporated into teaching alongside phonics and phonemic awareness training.

At the end of the initial sound group children should be;

* 'hearing' sounds in words - beginning, middle end

* recognising letter sounds in print - and knowing what (oral) sound they correspond with.

* forming letters correctly (this is arguably less as important as the other concepts, before they start school as they can 'spell' words and form sentences using magnetic letters etc.)

* blending sounds orally into words- and as they sound words on paper (knowing they do this from left to right)

* 'reading' words by decoding from left to right- and blending the sounds into words- also exploring what the word means and how we use it in our language.

* 'spelling words by listening for sounds in order - and (the next step) knowing how to order / blend them on paper (using letters and also by forming the letters themselves - can use a pencil and also keyboard with lower case letters)

* 'reading' the words (sat, it, at, in, pin, tin, sit, pat, nip, spin, tan etc) and then comprehending the meaning of the word and sentence if the words are written within a sentence (and in this case knowing that we read the words from left to right)

* learning some 'tricky' words eg 'I' 'was' 'the' - to recognise as sight words

They will also be able to read sentences - using decodable readers in line with this sound groups (also initial sound group in Jolly Phonics.)

What next?

If ready they can be moved on to digraphs - learning that 2 or more sounds can make a new sound (s, h and sh- 3 sounds) You could use bolded text to show children where the 'chunks' are in words- or 'Sound Pics'. So shop would be shown as having 3 sounds and 3 sound pics- sh+o+p.

After the first sound group children can move on to learn that sounds in our spoken language can be represented in several ways ( f could be ff as in gruff, ph as in phone etc)
And that some sounds on paper can represent more than one sound in our language- ow- as in cow or as in tow.

Parents should focus very much on auditory discrimination at first- rather than whats on paper. When we start with what the children know how to do- ie to speak - then it is easier for them to understand how to crack the code. when encouraged to hear the sounds in words, and to know where they are placed then it is easier for children to then learn that there are 'sound pics' that are simply pictures of the sounds in their words. So 's' is simply a representation on paper of the sound 's', and why we call them 'Sound pics'. Even early on children can learn to hear how many sounds are in words, even if they have not yet been introduced to the pic. For example to hear that 'ship' has 3 sounds and therefore would have 3 sound pics. You would then draw 3 lines on paper and the children can work out which sound pic sits on which line to build the word.

Teaching your child to read and spell early is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your child. It should be fun and help then to develop a love to learning and of words. The Reading Whisperer™ is often heard telling parents 'Being able to read and spell even before they start school will give them increased self-confidence, and they can start to 'read to learn' far earlier than most of the other children, who are still 'learning to read'."

What parent wouldn't want that for their child?

Emma Hartnell-Baker created 'Read Australia' in 2007 as a way to empower parents and carers and raise standards of reading and spelling across Australia. She is often referred to in the press as the Reading Whisperer for her passion for early reading and spelling achievement and for helping struggling readers teachers have given up on. The Reading Whisperer is dedicated to the prevention of reading and spelling difficulties is on the Advisory Board of 'Reading by Six within Australia; a panel of reading specialists and scientists across Australia committed to meeting the needs of every student.

Emma Hartnell-Baker BEd Hons. MA Special Educational Needs
'A Voice for Kids'