Vowels and consonants are the sounds of the English language. There are 44 mostly agreed sounds in the English language. There are 20 vowels and 24 consonant sounds. Although this number can be a subject of debate.
Young Children and infants will start producing sounds that resemble vowels and consonants at about 16 to 30 weeks, although these are unlikely to be mimicry and there seems to be limited vocal control at this age.
It is not recommended to teach vowel and consonant sounds in isolation. Many phonics instruction methods introduce a mix of common vowel and consonant sounds enabling children to learn both the sounds of English and how to blend together simple words. One popular order of phonics is the S-A-T-I-P-N order.
Teaching literacy to young children can be challenging. Phonics got a bad reputation back in the 1980s with Hooked on Phonics. While phonics instruction cannot be the only instruction, phonemic awareness and phonics should be taught to emerging readers. This is not to say that the program had no place in literacy learning. Teaching phonics in schools has become about the whole word and language rather than simply chunking words based upon sounds. There is more than phonics at play.
You may be wondering what phonemic awareness is. Phonemic awareness is being able to hear and manipulate the smallest units of sound. Phonemes are these sounds. The awareness of these sounds is quite simply phonemic awareness. It is classified as a subset of phonological awareness.
The overarching term of phonological awareness is defined as, “A broad skill that includes identifying and manipulating units of oral language – parts such as words, syllables, and onsets and rimes.” This concept is about more than phonemes. In this case, the types of sound as is their placement.
The other component of this group is phonics. Phonics is the study of graphemes (letters) and sounds. This requires phonemic awareness, and the failure of past programs has been that they leave phonological and phonemic awareness out.
Teaching literacy begins with phonemic awareness. Several schools of thought exist on what should be taught first. One consensus is that similar-looking letters should not be taught at the same time. Likewise, similar sounds should be avoided at the same time. It is essential to understand the types of phonemes as well. Typically, they are taught by type.
Many resources suggest that the above combination be taught first. Several short words can be taught using this simple combination. Each letter has a different sound, and the graphemes look remarkably different. A and I are often taught as short vowel sounds, at first rather than long. Long sounds have many spellings and add confusion if introduced at this stage.
Reading and writing go hand in hand. When teaching these phonemes, it is equally important to teach the letter and formation of that letter. Many children lack handwriting skills when they begin reading, and by learning together, they have more connection between the symbolic letter and auditory sound. It is a more holistic approach to language instruction.
Another variation to teach early on is the above letters. Again, with these two vowels and this group of consonants, many words can be created. The first group is slightly more common, but either one should work.
The next group is often this set of letters. This is when the first blend is introduced. Again, the vowels are still only short sounds. Do not teach them independently from the past letters. A, I, and E are all used with combinations of the other letters. Teaching phonics should be more like scaffolding than independent concepts. Each set of letters should build on the last. Phonemes and graphemes are the building blocks of words.
Once you have taught the entire alphabet, you should begin to teach words based on the patterns of letters. The simplest ones to learn are the consonant vowel consonant pattern. These are words like cat, hat, dog, map, pam, pat, and other similar words. You should still be using short vowel sounds at this juncture.
This will also tell you whether or not children have grasped the phonemic awareness lessons taught so far. The good news is that if your students are struggling with this, you can return to the lessons on phonemic awareness and phonemes. It is not enough to learn the sounds of letters; the children must also connect them with the graphemes or written letters.
When your students have mastered the CVC pattern, you can move on to some more blends. They can begin to learn ccvc and cvcc patterns during this process.
While you may have used a few digraphs when teaching before, your students probably do not know what they are or why we need two letters to make a single sound. The vowel sounds should still be short sounds as well. When teaching these diagraphs, you should continue to follow the suggestions above of not teaching the two-letter sounds that look similar—it and ot.
Since your students have learned some basic digraphs and blends at this point, you can introduce them to more complex blends. The sh, th, wh, bl, and pr blends are commonly taught now. Since you still haven’t taught long vowel sounds, be sure that you do not introduce them during this time.
Double letters, three-letter blends, and unusual blended sounds can come next. These are ph words, voiced and unvoiced th, and double-letter words (ss), to name a few. Once vowel blends such as oo, ow, and oi are introduced, you can begin introducing long vowel sounds, and unique vowel sounds like the a in cart or the long a in pain.
Some words have one grapheme and two phonemes. The most common is the x in fox that has the ks sound rather than just one or the other. The qu in quick also combines as kw, and most words do not have a q without the u.
The more your students learn, the more they are capable of learning. All of these concepts will not happen in kindergarten or even first grade. Reading takes a few years to become fluent and expert readers. Vocabulary acquisition never ends, so your students should be comfortable with how to read words and what they mean.
Once your students have moved to these more complex sounds and letter combinations, they will start building reading fluency. It may seem that this process takes a long time, and in many ways, it does. However, this is a skill that will be with your students forever. It takes practice, but once your students begin understanding how to combine words that are longer and more complex, they will begin to decode the text more readily.
Decoding is what your students do when they are reading and understanding the text. Reading words that have no meaning does not help fluency or literacy. They may be able to read the words, but students also need to be capable of comprehending that text too. Decoding is the act of reading and comprehending together.
Explicit teaching is crucial to teaching phonics. Reading is not intuitive, as it is a learned skill. Learning this skill will allow students to learn nearly every other skill they will ever learn. Here are our 10 tips to keep phonics learning effective
The first question was whether you should teach vowels or consonants first. Reading is rarely consonant or vowel-only words. In fact, there are very few words with no vowels. There are many ways to group students and letters, but the most important thing is to teach with kindness, patience, and explicit instruction. Don’t be afraid to repeat lessons and to remember that everyone learns at different speeds. Pick a system, seek advice and don’t be afraid to change how you teach things.