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Teacher Created Materials: The Phonics Connection, part 1

by Gio Panizzon


At the age of five, I had to relocate to a new school right in the middle of the school year. All of a sudden, everything was much more difficult, and it was evident that I was far behind my classmates, as I couldn’t read and I couldn’t spell.


I have since learned to do both of these, although I’m not bragging about my spelling. I’ve spent my career investigating why I, and children like me, have been challenged by reading and spelling. My experience as a kindergarten teacher and researcher has led me to two conclusions.


First, for many children the inability to learn phonics early creates significant academic hardship as they move through their schooling and, second, the degree to which educators can make the sound/symbol connection real to children significantly impacts the success they will have in learning phonics. The following three strategies go a long way toward making the sound/symbol relationship real.


Strategy One: Connecting the sound/symbol relationship to powerful words


To be blunt, sounds are surprisingly odd concepts, especially for the beginning reader. Skateboards are real, iPads are real, Elsa from Frozen is real—well, real enough. Now, isolate the short /e/ sound in the word echo. What in the world are we dealing with here? Certainly nothing very real. What to do? Do you have an Etsu, Ema, or Emon in your class? Make one of them your short e expert. Names and the personalities behind them are very real to young students. When a child finds attaching the short /e/ sound to the printed “e” challenging, send them in Emon’s direction. He’ll help with the sound, and the chances are excellent that from then on the short /e/ will be much less unfamiliar. When you run out of children’s names, toy animals are great substitutes. A stuffed zebra named Zippy makes the /z/ sound especially real.


The next two strategies are up now!


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