Beyond Spelling

21 de febrero de 2017 / Por Craig Thomas

Constructing Understanding of the Sounds of Words through Phonics

Students learning a second language not only have an obstacle to learn the vocabulary and the grammar of the new language but also the sounds and letters that affect the spelling and pronunciation.  While there are many similarities between Spanish and English, there are also many differences.  The English language has twice as many consonant clusters, vowel sounds, and diphthongs.  We can ask the students to memorize lists of words each week, but that only helps the students to learn that small list.  Students should be taught how to approach new words, decode them, and understand how they are spelled through the process of phonics.

The term phonics refers to the study of the sounds and letters of the English language.  The concept of studying phonics goes beyond spelling which is only based on an orthographic process that uses a visual memory of the words.  Phonics provides the students with the necessary strategies to decode words and develop a greater understanding of their structures.  This process helps the students improve their spelling and pronunciation as well as becoming confident readers. 

In order to prepare and guide the students through this process, they need to develop strategies during two stages.  The first stage is called phonological awareness which is the ability to hear and manipulate sound units in the language.  This stage begins in preschool and helps the students to recognize and identify different sounds while developing a stronger inner ear.  In this stage, they do not look at written words and only focus on their sounds.  Through a variety of didactic activities based on songs, chants, poems, word games, etc., they become exposed to a variety of sounds and the fluency of the English language.  They should also be challenged to observe words by inviting them to compare isolated sounds and identify certain characteristics of the sounds in different words.  Helping the students understand how to identify and produce specific sounds of words will help them in their transition when they begin to see letters and read words. 

When the students transition and enter the next stage, they begin phonetical strategies which use the sound-letter relationships in words.  The purpose of this stage is to provide the students with different strategies that allow them to decode written words.  They begin to understand how the different letters or groups of letters represent each sound they hear in a written word.  They also understand how words can be classified based on what they have in common. 


Long A sounds:

5 Ways to Represent

the Same Sound


This concept also invites the students not to see the spelling of an isolated word but rather how words with similar sounds can have the same letters.  When learning the words bought and thought, a student could be asked to memorize all 6 or 7 confusing letters (b+o+u+g+h+t).  They could also be taught that each word has 3 sounds and the sound in the middle is represented by ough.  (bought= b + ough + t.)  Through comparisons, they can make conclusions of what the sound is of the oughand how it is represented.  Now they understand the structure of the sound and can apply the beginning and ending letters to create words.   


They will also be able to use these words as a reference in the future by manipulating the sounds to create new words.  If they find the word brought in a book, they will now be able to read it correctly because they understand the structure of the word and its sounds and letters.


Write the word:  Brought


We understand that English has a very complex structure of sounds and letters and this makes reading and writing very difficult for students but we want students to be confident readers and to have a great level of pronunciation.  These strategies that we apply in Agora with our students are great tools that achieve these goals and challenge them to use their thinking and observation skills while achieving very rewarding results. 


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Craig Thomas

Escrito por Craig Thomas