Imagine trying to write in a different foreign language every time you wrote something. Think how difficult that would be. That’s how I heard reading and spelling described to be by one dyslexic learner.
A key point you need to remember before a child can start to learn to read or spell is that they need to recognise what each letter or blend of letters stands for. For most people reading or spelling the word ‘shout’ is probably fairly easy as it can be broken into manageable frequently used letter blends: sh/ou/t.
Ensuring your child has a confident knowledge of these blends will set you off in the right direction. If necessary go right back to the beginning and practice/learn the sounds that each individual letter in the alphabet makes. (At the end of this section I shall give you some ideas of games to play to assist you with this).
Once the child is confident with each individual letter; start working on the simpler, most common blends. By working through them in a systematic order will give your child confidence as it will support them in reading and spelling a larger number of words rather than choosing blends at random. You will no doubt find that your child is already familiar/ confident with some of the blends and you can skip over them fairly rapidly. Others you will need to spend more time on. Before you start looking at these blends please do ensure your child is confident with spelling simple cvc (consonant, vowel, consonant words; cat, dog, hen, ten…) as rushing too quickly ahead now will have detrimental effects as you try to progress on. Trying to run before you can walk, nearly always ends in failure.
Where to start:
1. Once you are confident your child is familiar with every individual sound in the alphabet and can spell simple cvc words, move on to double letter blends where each letter in the pair has the same sound: -ll, -ss…
Show them how to blend the sound (let the letters run into each other) before introducing them to words. Although there are obviously more, these two blends alone will assist with spelling/reading words such as:
Bell, bill, fill, hill, ill, kill, mill, pill, till, will, well, tell, wall, tall, fall, doll.
Boss, loss, toss, kiss, miss
This has already introduced the child to many new words.
2. Next move on to groups of words where the sounds are made up of single consonants such as: cl, tr, br, dr,
cl tr br dr
3. The next closely related group is –ck. Two different letters that create the same sound: duck, truck, muck, pack, sack, lock, dock
4. The next group of words are those which start with two consonants that make different sounds: st, sp, tr, gr, pl, fr, sl, tw, gl, sn, sw, dr, fl, sk, cl. As you can imagine this opens up endless new opportunities for words. In the table below are just a few examples from the many available:
st sp tr gr pl fr sl tw
plug frog Slam
gl sn sw dr fl sk cl
Flop skip Clip
5. This then leads us on to words that end in two syllables that make a different sound. Again these open up endless possibilities: -st, -ck, -lt, -sk, -ft, -nt, -mp,
-st -ck -lt -sk -ft -nt -mp
6. Moving on we come to: sh, th and ch. Start with words that start with these sounds first, then look at words which end with these blends
7. Having mastered the above 3 blends, look at wh.
8. The next set of words is the ing words and this introduces many words which by now will be fairly easy to read: ring, sing, bring, fling, king, bling…
They will also notice that many of the doing words (verbs) end in ing: singing, bringing, talking, snowing, jumping and walking. Again the list is endless.
Here you will also need to point out that many of these doing words (verbs) double the last consonant when the ing is added: running, swimming, stopping, skipping and slipping.
Most of the time the rule:
Double the last letter when adding “ing”
will work, and is a great guide to go by.
9. Next come the vowel blends: ee, ea, oo.
“ee” and “ea” are tricky as they have the same sound, so start with ee and then move on to ea rather than trying to tackle both at once.
10. “-ar”, “-or” and “-er” are the next set of words to focus on. This set of blends includes words such as:
ar or er
11. The “magic –e”.
This really is a tricky concept to understand that the e at the end of the word, is affecting the sound of the vowel with in the word. Normally, the rule is when a three letter word has an e at the end of it, the vowel name is used instead of the vowel sound (a becomes ay).
An example of this would be: hop +e = hope.
Again please do wait before introducing this concept to your child as it is an important one to grasp and rushing in too soon will just cause frustration and undo all your good work up to this point.
12. Finally we are left with the silent letters, augh (laugh) and ough (cough), ph when it sounds like f and the soft letters such as g in gentle.
How do we teach these sounds?
As the child learns these blends, point out to them how a word can be broken down into individual blends making it more manageable. Always, support them if required. Remember to build their confidence: as the theory of self-fulfilling prophesy suggests: if you believe you are able to do something you are more likely to succeed. Equally if you do not have this confidence in having the ability to succeed, the likelihood of success if dramatically reduced.
Below I have outlined some of the more popular games I have used in my lessons. Obviously you may want to tweak them to suit your child’s own individual needs. But hopefully they will give you food for thought:
Create two playing boards. On each one put a word belonging with that particular blend in each square. You then have two options:
1) Create a set of cards with the same words on as the ones you used on the playing boards, or
2) Create a set of cards which have a picture pair for the words mentioned above. Eg the word sheep would be matched up to a picture of a sheep.
You then lay all the individual playing cards face down in front of you. You turn it in turns to turn one over. The person who has the corresponding playing card on their playing board covers that word on their board. You may need to help read the words for the child. You don’t need to be a great artist to create this game as it can be done through simply pasting images from Google if it is for your own usage.
Similar to above except, this time all the cards are cut up into individual playing cards. They are all laid face down in front of you. You need to turn over a corresponding pair (2 matching words or a matching word and picture). Don’t use too many words as the game becomes too complicated and too timely. This is a great game for helping with short term memory issues.
Again this is a similar idea to above. This time each word and picture is stuck to individual paper fish. Each fish has a paperclip slipped through it. Make a rod (I use short garden canes, with a piece of string attached to one end. At the other end of the piece of string I attach a small magnet which can be brought quite cheaply). Lay the fish out on the floor (I normally have them facing up, but this is entirely up to you) then take it in turns to “fish” out a corresponding pair of fish; matching word and picture or two matching words.
Write a selection of short riddles based around the blend you are learning. Ask the child to complete the riddle using the correct missing word. If you are doing this, it is always advisable to have the words written on the page so the child can copy them to assist with their spellings.
I’ve put a question mark next to this as some researchers argue that given a dyslexic child a jumble of letters and asking them to find specific words is not to be recommended. However, I have found that most children enjoy doing word searches, and if you do it yourself and set it at a level your child will not find too difficult they can then participate in activities similar to every other child. Work with their abilities.
Make a phonics book:
Buy or make a cheap notebook. On each page put a letter blend at the top of the page as a heading. Each time a child learns a new word or blend, ask them to write the word down on the appropriate page. Maybe they could draw a picture next to it, or cut out a relevant picture from an old magazine. This can also be adapted to making posters.
I have chosen these six activities as children I have worked with have enjoyed them. And, like I have said previously, I am a firm believer that if a child is enjoying themselves, they are more likely to be relaxed and to be in a suitable frame of mind to learn.
I have put together handmade phonics packs which include each of these activities (apart from the phonics books) and are available to buy through my website if preferable to making them yourself.