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Letters and Sounds - How do you teach it?????

Discussion in 'Primary' started by lilyput, Oct 4, 2008.

  1. Hi everyone

    I'm doing my masters and looking at how to teach the letters and sounds programme. Our LEA is demanding that we teach to whole class but this year I have a VERY wide variety of ability...some can read and some can only just speak. I intend to deliver the L & S in 3 groups according to ability and then assess after the initial action research period is over (about 6 - 7 weeks).

    I would be really grateful for any comments or opinions to add to my research.

    Many thanks.
  2. sunshinesarah

    sunshinesarah New commenter

    Hi i am an early years teacher starting at the beginning of the Letters and Sounds programme- Phase 1 aspect 1-environmental sounds. I teach this through small groups to allow all children the oppotunity to join in. Currently i am using mixed ability groups as a have a high percentage of EAL children with very linited English. Therefore, there are children within each group to model language.

    Hope this helps

  3. We have assessed and split the whole school into different ability groups ( we are only a small school so not as bad as it sounds!) and each group is taught the phase the need ( I am taking phase 5 and have children from yr1 to yr 5) Each group has 4 x20 minute sessions each week.

  4. <font face="Times New Roman" size="3">Thanks for the replies. That's very helpful. Just wondered...have any other LEAs given 'instructions' on whether or not to teach to whole class/differentiated groups?</font>
  5. It's extremely difficult for teachers to know how best to teach Letters and Sounds for several reasons - but I do think that I can help to some extent.

    Firstly, the advice in Letters and Sounds is very much focused around the notion of 'phases'. This is a great shame because with our profession's recent history, we have been put under a great deal of pressure to provide 'differentiated' work for children - and to account for this in our planning, delivery and resources.

    This emphasis of Local Authority Advisors on whole class teaching is not a bad idea because it is the SAME Alphabetic Code knowledge and the same skills of blending, segmenting and handwriting that all the children need to acquire.

    What teachers need to do, therefore, is to think about children's 'phases' in terms of what they can do as individuals at any given point - but that this is purely a transition situation and it should not preclude the teaching from being MODELLED at a higher level.

    As long as the teacher him or herself fully appreciates that the children are at different levels as they are being taught, then there is nothing wrong with teaching whole classes with the knowledge and principles of the alphabetic code.

    I suggest that there comes a point where no more than TWO main groups can be taught realistically.

    But this is because in my online phonics programme, after an initial pace of teaching about three new letter/s-sound correspondences per week in Reception classes, I then suggest that this slows down to about two new letter/s-sound correspondences per week.

    This does not mean that there are only three or two phonics lessons per week - there should ideally be around four a week routinely - but over time the teaching which started off as teaching reading AND spelling moves to becoming an expansion on teaching the SPELLING side of it.

    What I have done is provide enough different strands of resources (which are repetitive) but which allow for rehearsal and revision and consolidation.

    Here is how you can teach as a whole class:

    Establish the routine of revising old learning (for example, flash through a pack of flash cards of correspondences taught to date, or point to graphemes on a poster or point to magnetic tiles on a whiteboard).

    Introduce the new learning: Today we are going to look at this grapheme WHICH IS CODE FOR the sound /ee/. We have already learnt that the grapheme 'ee' is code for /ee/ and now we are going to look at the grapheme 'ea' which is also code for /ee/.

    Have resources such as the next flash card and/or a magnetic tile for the whiteboard and so on.

    Introduce some cumulative words which consist of correspondences already taught and which include the new focus grapheme. The children can blend the word on the board or card whilst the teacher tracks under the letters from left to right. Include short words for those at that 'phase' - include longer words for those at a later 'phase'.

    The whole point of this is that the children at the lower phase are witnessing the modelling of words being blended which are slightly longer or more complex.

    The trouble with Letters and Sounds is it RESTRICTS they length of words the teacher is provided for modelling. This is not necessary, does not provide for all abilities and is in danger of preventing children from more readily reaching their next 'phase'.

    In Phonics International, I provide a resource called the Sounds Book Activity Sheet which is the core resource of the programme. Information for each new step of The Alphabetic Code is provided on each sheet. This means that anyone can pick up that sheet and teach it or that parents become informed about the teaching by sending the completed work home.

    But the main point of these sheets is that the new grapheme is introduced at the top in large font, and then a cumulative word bank is provided for ALL the children to attempt to read.

    Now - this is where differentiation can be provided for very simply. Some children will only be able to sound out the letters. Some children will be able to blend the simple words on the top row. Some children will be able to blend the top row words but will find the occasional word they can blend which is longer. All the children will be exposed to the words and a chat about 'vocabulary' will increase their vocabulary and rehearse speaking in sentences.

    Some children will be able to blend all the words and can do this quickly and move on to the next activity on the sheets which happens to be handwriting of the focus grapheme. If they finish that, they can start their pictures of words from the cumulative word bank.

    This allows the teacher and/or teaching assistant to support the weaker children.

    The part where the children have a spelling activity can also be differentiated collectively. The teacher if necessary can give the simpler words to all the class but give the higher phase group longer words in between the simpler words. Or give half the class one word to spell and the other half of the class a slightly more challenging word to spell.

    The teacher and assistant supervises the children editing their own spellings by sounding them out back again - how often do we ask children to 'check their spellings' but we haven't really given them the exact skills with which to check their own spellings.

    This is just one way of providing for whole classes.

    The trouble is, I wonder if the Local Authority advisors have actually thought-through how teachers can receive guidance in the form of Letters and Sounds which bangs on about children's 'phases' on the one hand - and it also has NO resources to support the teaching and the learning - and then the same teachers are told to teach all the children at the same time.

    Typical isn't it!

    So, teach all the children the same code - but know they will learn at their own level. Don't be afraid to model code beyond some of the children and don't be afraid to model the code which is, in effect, easier than some children need.

    It doesn't matter. We ARE class teachers. What matters is that EVERY school has an understanding of that code and THROUGHOUT the school, that code gets taught to every child.
  6. I wrote:

    "I suggest that there comes a point where no more than TWO main groups can be taught realistically.

    But this is because in my online phonics programme, after an initial pace of teaching about three new letter/s-sound correspondences per week in Reception classes, I then suggest that this slows down to about two new letter/s-sound correspondences per week."

    What I meant to add was that by teaching two new correspondences per week, it is possible to teach one group at one time and give the other group an independent (quiet, focused) activity - and then vice versa.

    Also, do teachers realise that the fast pace of five to six correspondences per week is associated with the initial 'simple code' phase where the Jolly Phonics programme led the way about pace - rather than the old 'letter per week'.

    To keep up at this pace is not possible because you need time to APPLY all the code knowledge to activities of blending, segmenting, handwriting, reading at word level then simple texts, writing at word level and sentence level - etc.

    So, a steady pace of two main spelling lessons for introducing new correspondences plus follow-up lessons for deeper activities is one way forward.

  7. Within year 2 we have sstreamed the classess into phase 2/3 phase 4 and phase 5 (we are 3 form entry). I can send you my interactive whiteboard files for phase 4 if you want. We teach it whole class. Leave your email and I can get back to you. x
  8. Thank you Debbie - your comments about the pace of later phases is really helpful to me. We are, like the earlier poster, a small school which has decided to try differentiated phonics groups across the school because we had so many children in KS2 with very weak phonic knowledge (doubtless the LEA disapprove, but we're trying it anyway, and so far, it feels very positive as we are able to have small groups by using TAs). I have a mix from year 1 to year 6, all on phase 5/6 (phase 5 for spelling). I was beginning to worry that I was not moving them fast enough, but felt that we needed more time to apply what we'd done so far, so I'm glad to see you saying the same thing.

    I do understand what you are saying about differentiation of phonics lessons, but still find it hard to imagine how I would do it effectively with my current class where I have several children at cvc (short vowels only) level and others reading at level 4, with everything else in between. Last year I tried to teach phonics to the whole class, with some success, but found it really frustrating that the weakest pupils got so confused by being exposed to the long vowel digraphs before they'd really got the hang of short vowels, that they are now having to start again with the short vowels. With them going into small groups for phonics, I can see them making real progress in their understanding and confidence.
  9. I'm a bit uncomfortable about you mixing Year ones with Year sixes even if you are a very small school.

    It could be that you need to use the same material for both extremes, however.

    Is there no way that you could modify your grouping to be a little bit more sensitive to the children.

    For example, I have put some Year Two children on work which is revising what we do in Reception but you cannot tell from the materials we use.

    I have also used the same 'unit' of material with Year 5/6 children but would not feel right with as big an age gap as Year 6 with Year 1.

    I know that the school 'Monteagle' showed the bigger kids with the younger ones - but this is not what we synthetic phonics proponents really advocate.

    I would probably stretch to mixing three year age gaps together at the very most.

    I'm sorry if this comment dismays you but I do worry that the Monteagle school approach on Channel 4s 'Last Chance Kids' seriously misled the country as to 'best practice'.

    Homogenous grouping is a good concept when it is delivered with some sensitivity.

  10. Thanks to all who replied.

    Some really interesting points from everyone, especially those made by Debbie. We do listening activities every day, but I am contemplating teaching a short 5 minute phonic session everyday to the whole class when I revisit those sounds already taught and then introduce a new sound. I will then consider pulling out the SEN children I have to do a much more hands-on/practical activity. I think I will keep a watchful eye on those children who have just started to blend and see how it goes. Many thanks for all the help everyone.
  11. RJR_38

    RJR_38 New commenter

    I know what Debbie means about the age grouping aspect. We have just started grouping children for phonics (although we follow Read Write Inc so I can't help with the Letters & Sounds element). We have grouped the children from FS to Y3 and I have seen that some of the Y3 children felt a bit awkward to begin with. We hope that within 2-3 years we will be able to decrease the range to FS-Y2 as childrens phonic skills improve. I'm really not sure how it would work with children further up the school mixing with younger ones but if it works for you then keep it up!
  12. I am looking for people to trial the Phonics International resources of the full programme and the Early Years Starter Package if anyone is interested.

    There will be no charge for access to the full programme and the only deal is that whoever trials it will stay in touch and feedback to me.

    I am also available to advise anyone at any time about synthetic phonics teaching which includes spelling whether or not they use my programme.
  13. Hello I was wondering if I could have a look at your wb files for letters and sounds. I have just moved into KS1 from KS2 and we have to teach letters and sounds but there are absolutely no resources - very frustrating so I was hoping your files would give me some inspiration. x

  14. queenlit

    queenlit New commenter

  15. thanks just had a look and it looks really useful - hopefully it will save me some prep time. At the moment I am spending ages making flip charts!
    Thanks again x
  16. If there are more than 1 class in a year group, could you split the classes up? Get each class teacher to teach a phase? We have a LSA who helps out with a small group also. Even so, that is only 3 phases we can cover.

    I like the idea of cross phases...we are 'discussing' it at school at present but no action!!! Frustrating when you have all the phases in your classroom and another year group with a lot of support seem to be able to split 5 ways!!!

    You can only do your best.... If you find a solution..let us know!
  17. cal22

    cal22 New commenter


    I am teaching in a busy Reception year and we currently teach Read Write Inc phonics to the children. However this year as Foundation Leader I decided to continue with the Letters and Sounds Phase 1 alongside the RWI. My dilema is how many children should be taught in a group? We are teaching 15 children in a group for phonics and letters and Sounds. Is this too many?
  18. I teach year 1 as a whole class but have noticed how some are getting stuck on the harder digraphs and losing track. I might have to have a go seeing who I can split up and how I could then teach.

    I love your ideas and website Debbie! I wish I could articulate my ideas as good as you do [​IMG]
  19. Try looking at the Read Write Inc programme written by Ruth Miskin and published by Oxford University Press The Phonics handbook gives wonderful ideas on how to teach Phonics - in fact how to teach! It is the best method of teaching phonics that I have ever used and I have been teaching a long time! You don't need to adopt the full programme and the strategies used in it are simply quality first teaching at its best. The programme was written by Ruth Miskin who was on the working party that put together Letters and Sounds. Good luck!


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