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Find Ways To Teach Phonics Throughout The Day Using Quality Texts

Don’t restrict your phonics teaching to the mornings. Spot graphemes and phonemes in quality texts throughout the day and help children understand why it’s worth all the effort, says Rachel Clarke...

  • Find Ways To Teach Phonics Throughout The Day Using Quality Texts

Every day in Reception and KS1 classes the length of the country, teachers and children take part in the daily phonics lesson. It’s a pacey affair of revisiting previous knowledge, learning new sounds, building words, and then using what’s been learnt to read or write captions. But what is it all for?

You and I know we teach phonics as the foundations of literacy; that is to equip children with the basic skills of decoding for reading, and segmenting sounds for spelling. But do all children share our view? Some, certainly. However, I’ve met a few who think phonics is a lesson that takes place before playtime. Full stop. One little sage even told me that she wasn’t sure how useful it was, “Coz I write lots of words on a whiteboard, but I don’t get to keep them coz I have to rub them off.” When I suggested the skills themselves might help her with her wider reading and writing, she gave me that look.

She’s a teenager now and questioning the validity of homework and maintaining a tidy bedroom, so I guess it could be more about this particular child. I blame her father.

The words of my youngest daughter struck a chord and have influenced my thinking about phonics for a number of years. Do we make the skills we teach in phonics explicit enough to the children? Do they realise why they’re learning sounds and letters? And if not, how can we embed phonics in our wider units of work?

Giving phonics meaning

Most Reception and KS1 teachers I work with use high-quality texts as the cornerstone of their English provision. These texts provide models of sentences, have narrative structures that can be replicated in the children’s own writing, are rich with interesting vocabulary and, most importantly, inspire young learners with stories they might otherwise be unable to read. Many of these texts also offer opportunities to embed and apply the phonics teaching that has already taken place in the discrete daily phonics lesson. In short, they are essential tools in making explicit the link between phonics lessons and the broader aims of literacy.

Spotting alternative graphemes

Many of us use The Snail and The Whale by Julia Donaldson. It offers a good story to retell and opportunities to think about travel, different perspectives and conservation. But it also allows us to embed learning about alternative graphemes for the long /a/ sound.

Ask them to work in pairs and spot as many words in the text as they can that use the different graphemes for long /a/. Make a class copy and pin it to the wall for reference.

The best part of this activity comes when you start investigating where different graphemes come within a word, e.g. ‘ay’ tends to come at the end of words, while ‘ai’ is more likely to come in the middle. Spotting graphemes in authentic texts and then noting the position of the graphemes within words really underlines how sounds and letters are constantly at work, and not just in the phonics lesson.

Dice games and buried treasure

Shark in the Park! by Nick Sharratt is another gorgeous text frequently used in Reception and KS1. It’s got lovely rhymes, which the children can try to predict, and repeated refrains for the whole class to join in with. It’s also a book that offers opportunities to practise working with the /ar/ grapheme.

As a class, start by collecting /ar/ words from the text. Then add to this list with some of the pupils’ suggestions. If you want to embed the phonics further, you could play the classroom favourite, ‘Full Circle’. Start with plastic letters or grapheme cards showing /sh/ /ar/ /k/ and ask the children to change one grapheme at a time to make new words.

A twist on this is to label up three dice: one with the initial sound on each face (/sh/ /b/ /l/ /d/ /p/ /m/); one with /ar/ on each face; and a third die with final sounds. Children can then roll the dice to build /ar/ words.

As a final thought for embedding phonics, why not play ‘Buried Treasure’ with the words children have found and generated during the previous activities? This way you can explore vocabulary by sorting the real words (treasure) from the nonsense words. Who’d have thought a boy with a telescope could give us so much phonics fun?

Different pronunciations

Dougal’s Deep Sea Diary is a popular choice for KS1 teachers looking to inspire learning about ‘under the sea’. It’s also a ‘go to text’ for looking at first-person recounts, and an essential story for promoting positive male role-models. The text is particularly good for embedding one of the most challenging aspects of phonics: that one grapheme can represent more than one sound. In this case /ea/ making both a long sound in sea, and a short sound in treasure. Collect words from the text that use the /ea/ grapheme then challenge the children to sort them into hoops according to their pronunciation.

Teaching phonics through the short, daily lesson really is the best way to introduce children to the complexity of sounds and letters in the English language. However, if we’re to help them see the sense in their phonic learning, finding ways to embed it in our everyday practice is essential.

High quality texts enable us to showcase how real writers use phonics to write engaging and enjoyable stories, and they create opportunities to revisit previous learning and to see it in purposeful contexts. What’s more, by using the same games and activities, we’re further cementing the link between what takes place in the phonics lesson and what takes place at other times of the day. All of which should mean that fewer children think of phonics as something they do before going out to play, and instead come to view it as a set of skills they apply when reading and writing.

Start with these stories

Five quality texts to help you embed phonics…

Some Dogs Do
by Jez Alborough has predictable rhymes that use the same graphemes, e.g. Ben, then; reply, fly; yowled, howled.

Don’t Put Your Finger in the Jelly, Nelly! by Nick Sharratt offers huge scope for generating words with rhyming strings, e.g. Nelly, jelly, welly, belly, telly…

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd offers the opportunity to look at how the same (and different) graphemes can be used to create rhyme. Maclary, dairy; Potts, spots; Morse, horse.

Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book by Julia Donaldson is wonderful for exploring the /oo/ sound. In fact, you can’t really go wrong with a Julia Donaldson text for embedding phonics.

Also consider books by Jeanne Willis. She has a wicked sense of humour and creates some of the most entertaining and clever rhyming texts around – think of Grill Pan Eddy, Misery Moo, and her toilet humour offering, Who’s in the Loo?.

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