Friday, October 12, 2012

Teaching Reading: Stories of Traveling Letters

Painting: the Reading Lesson by George Hardy

I always feel a little bit sorry for my beginning reading and writing students. Getting  the alphabet memorized is one hurdle, but learning phonics is another, as the exceptions to the rules are numerous and often don't seem to make any sense! Even though we do phonics, so much of it ends up having to be memorized as we shrug and say "that's just the way it is."

We've picked up some tips here and there in books and games to help us remember the phonics, such as "igh" being the "3 letter I" or that a silent "e" makes the other vowel long (such as in "pie"). Some things that have been a great help, though, have come from the imaginations of my students!

One of my reading students came up with a little story to help him learn phonics sounds (we were doing the Writing Road to Reading at the time). His "aha" moment with diphthongs came and he said, "when these two letters travel together, they make [this or that] sound." I have been using this phrase ever since on all my other beginning readers!

Those traveling letter pairs or groups sure are interesting. Some letters dominate over the others, and won't let the other one speak up. Some letters are sneaky. Some decide to change their names entirely, preferring anonymity. Some try to slide past without being noticed at all.

Here are some examples:

When O and W travel together, they sometimes say "ow" as in "cow." But sometimes, they say a long O as in "low."

When E and A travel together, E is the one that does the talking, as in "beast" or "each."

When A and I travel together, A does the talking, as in "pair" or "fair"

When A and U travel together, they act like a short O-- as in "caution."

Q is really shy. Q prefers to be in company with U before he'll talk. He sounds like a hard C but wants to say W too, so in words like "quilt" and "quail" you can hear him speak up.

When E and I travel together, they are pretending to be A so they can get past security. So in the words "Eight" and "weigh" they think they are disguised.

When S and H travel together, they don't want anyone to know. So they say "shhh!" TI, SI, and CI also want everyone to hush up in some words, so they say "shhhh!" in "nation" or "mission" or "precious." Frequently, S and I will say they are Z as in "excursion." We are pretty sure that these letters are spies.

Some letters are silly and think that they can get past by pretending they are someone else, such as P and H in "Philip" pretending to be an F.

T and H make a very silly sound, sticking their tongues out at you when they go by.

Some letters are hiding behind others, such as K, which hides behind N in words like "Know" and "knot." G and H are like that-- sometimes in words like "Ghost" the G is dominate, but a lot of times they are hiding in the groups of letters, like "night."

By far the boldest travelers together are O, U, G, and H. These letters are all over the map in pronunciation, and they like it that way. Sometimes they sound like an "f" as in "rough" and sometimes they can all get away with having the vowels speak up for them, such as O's short sound as in "thought" or U's long sound in "slough." There are over a dozen ways in which this group will try to sneak past you.

Not only do these little stories help the child with learning diphthongs, but it makes it a lot more fun for the teacher, who may be going through the phonics flashcards for the 300th time!

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