Lucy Summers (pictured) offers some tips on how to make phonics a lot more fun.
Even the word - phonics - suggests dread and doom, yet it is the classic teaching aid for reading. "What begins with 'c'," I used to ask five-year-olds in the traditional manner. Then I realised the children had no notion of what the sound "c" was. They may have had some understanding of the letter name, but as to the initial sound of a word, they did not know what to listen for.
The initial sound at the beginning of a word is an abstract concept. It does not really relate to anything concrete, like a bark to a dog, yet it was almost expected that children came into the reception class with this acute skill in place. I began to play with sounds to make them conspicuous. As I said each name during the register I omitted the first sound. Lucy would become "ucy". As you can imagine, there was a great deal of hilarity. Lucy recognised her name, but knew it sounded different.
This allowed me to explore the notion of a "special sound". We talked about how the sound was different, and some children were already catching on and saying there's a "l" sound at the beginning of Lucy. As the children became more aware of the special sound, I related it to other things and got children to say what they thought the special sound was.
"What special sound do you need for 'tiger'?" I say.
"B!" someone shouts.
I try not to be negative. "Is it a 'biger'?" I ask.
The children laugh. Even the child who makes the error is not worried because it's fun.
What is interesting is that children pick up the concept early on. You know the child has caught on as they begin to go round the room saying: "If you take the 'b' off bike, it will be 'ike'."
I decided to try this style of teaching phonics as a whole, relating it to topic work rather than individual letters. For example, if I was doing a topic on clothes I would no longer take "j" for jumper and find out what else began with "j", but think of different clothes and work on the relevant sounds.
I found that all children gained from this, and there were three levels. First, there were the children who were already aware of the first letters and who could independently fill out a worksheet which had pictures and the word minus the first letter.
Second, there were some children who could hear the first letter but did not recognise the symbol. They were given support, either by an aid on the board or from an assisting teacher. (I had orally worked through the worksheet drawing the pictures on the board.) The third level of children, the less able or the new intake, were working in this way for the first time, and were at the "playing" stage with sounds. Their follow-up was mainly a matching activity - finding the letter on the board which I had drawn with them and relating it to the picture on the sheet.
Lucy Summers, a teacher for 10 years, lives in Waterlooville, Hampshire