So my favorite way to teach reading is to use phonograms.
But what the heck are phonograms??
You already know that the alphabet has 26 letters in it (hence the name of this website – 26 Letters)
But there aren’t actually 26 sounds in English … there’s closer to 45 (depending on your dialect)
And of those 45 sounds, they, of course, aren’t conveniently spelled consistently. Oh no. That would be too easy.
If you haven’t heard it yet, you’ve heard it from me: English is weird
English is a mash-up of German + Dutch + Old English + Latin + Greek + and several other languages thrown in their just for good measure. So with all of those different language families, not to mention writing systems, there’s no wonder our spelling system is a little crazy. But it’s also what makes English so fun.
So 26 letters = roughly 45 sounds. A phonogram is the letter combinations that symbolize the sound that is spoken.
So let’s start at the basics. The letter A is a phonogram. Just by itself. But, the letter A can say three distinct sounds depending on the word. /a/ – /A/ – /ah/
/a/ – apple – the A says the short A sound
/A/ – acorn – the A says the long A sound
/ah/ – water – the A says /ah/
Ok, so…. so what. Many reading programs show that vowels can say different sounds. But did you know four letters can work together to make just one sound? Take the phonogram [EIGH]
[EIGH] says /A/ like in the word EIGHT
The problem is that when you don’t teach phonograms, you confuse what’s a spelling convention vs. a sound vs. just two letters being said together. So this is why it’s so important to teach reading as a decoding of the sounds that we say into letters that we read. EIGH says one distinct sound, it just happens to be spelled with four letters. (And frankly, you don’t need to explicitly teach your beginning reader that quite yet.)
One letter can say one sound, or many sounds. Many letters can say one sound, or many sounds. When you teach reading using phonograms and break apart those sounds, you break open the reading code, and your child will be able to read ANYTHING.
If you teach reading visually or by blends and arbitrary rules (“I before E except for … literally almost everything”) your child will learn to read (I’ve told you before it’s unnaturally natural) but they won’t understand. They will, most likely, plateau. They will reach the point where they have memorized all of the words they can, but they won’t be able to sound out new words. They will struggle with spelling. And they’ll repeat inane chants that are simply inaccurate.
I don’t want that, you don’t want that.
Let’s summarize: phonograms are the cornerstones to reading. They help your child break the written code and be able to read well and be readers for life.
Not to be dramatic or anything 😉