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What is Phonics?
Phonics is a linguistic tool used to help people learn how to speak and write any language that uses an alphabet. The method consists of distinguishing how sounds are heard and relating them to the general spelling patterns of a language. The goal of phonics is to help students learn the principle of a language’s alphabet through a logical and repeated relationship between spellings and sounds.
Phonics is often used in early grade school and language basics courses to assist learners in decoding the patterns of a language. With this skill, students are able to read, write, hear, and speak a language more effectively. They are also able to comprehend and decode new or challenging words more easily on their own.
Phonics is defined as a method of teaching beginners of a language by using the science of sound. Traditionally, it refers to any topic relating to sound. In a more functional sense, phonics is used as a literacy teaching method. By learning the phonetic value of a group of sounds or syllables, students can read and pronounce words more readily on their own.
Instead of teaching one letter and its sound at a time, phonics is the strategic grouping of letters to create common sounds throughout the language. These phonemes are used as building blocks to make new words. For example, in English, teachers may pair the letters -th together. Students will then be able to learn words such as with, thick, and thing because of the repeated sound relationship between the letters. Even though there may be 26 letters in the English alphabet, there are between 40 and 50 different phenomes.
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Elements of Phonics
Phonics can be taught in a number of different ways, but the goal of phonics remains the same. The most common way to teach phonics is by having students take an individual sound and blend it with the sound of another letter. This is called synthetic phonics. A basic example would be the word cat. Students would first learn the sound of each individual letter, then put the sounds together to form a word. This method does not always work the best, however, because of irregular sounds found in the English language.
Students can also learn the sound relationships of different letters through studying certain groupings of letters. These include:
- Onsets (first letters in a word or syllable, such as -s or -t)
- Rimes (following an onset, usually a vowel followed by consonants, such as -ake or -ole)
- Phonemes (basic sounds in the English language taught in a phonics-based system, such as -th or -sh)
The different methods of phonics-based teaching can help especially in areas where letters make irregular sounds, even if they are in a repeated pattern. This is done by teaching students sounds that they already know. For instance, was and has may both use -as as a common letter pair, but the words sound nothing alike because the a in was is pronounced irregularly.
Different countries practice different systems of delivering phonics education methods to their students. For example, in Scotland, teachers use analytical phonics to differentiate certain sounds. Teachers and students discuss the sound and how it differs from the sound another letter makes. Analogy phonics uses words that rhyme to help students learn certain sounds. For example, kick, lick, stick, and trick may be taught together to emphasize the repeated -ick phrase.
Phonics has been proven to improve the ability of students to read and comprehend the sound relationships within a language. Some common sound groupings and phonics examples are:
- -TH: One of the most common letter pairings in the English language, -th is used in the following words: think, with, that, thrill, thousand, length, strength, cloth
Example sentence: I think that after going the length of one thousand thrills, the strength within me is great.
- -CK: A fairly common letter pairing in words such as quick, thick, lock, stock, back, stack. It usually appears at the end of the word and makes a -k sound.
Example sentence: The thick stack of paper stocked in the back of the store was locked behind a quick password.
- -SH: Another often used letter pairing in the English language. It can be found in words including shed, shame, share, dish, fish, and crash.
Example sentence: The man wanted to share his famous fish dish with friends in the shed. When the plate crashed to the ground, he felt shame.
- -PH: An irregular sound pairing that is used in the English language. Though the letters sound different individually, -ph is combined to sound like -f. Photo, phase, phone, graph, and Joseph are words and names containing -ph.
Example sentence: Joseph created a graph with photos to show the phases of phone development.
- -ACK: Sometimes, three-letter combinations are taught because they are used commonly. The grouping of -ack is used in words like back, track, rack, black, and acknowledge.