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Sound It Out

Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Teaching phonics: Great idea, poor examples

January 11, 2007

Almost every week Anna (my four year old) brings home a "sound wheel" from preschool. Her class studies a letter a week (which I will blog about later ... I'm not big on letter-a-week) and they use these letter wheels as part of their work. Sort of like this, but not exactly.

The kids paint a cover and attach a circular piece of tag board to the back. The circular piece has four picture/word examples for the letter they're studying. After the "wheel" is attached, Anna spins the wheel to view (read?) one of the four picture/word examples showing through two small windows. Sounds good, right? Here's the problem: the sound examples are TERRIBLE! (Note: Her teacher didn't create these herself, they're from a publisher).

For example: When studying the letter T, the four exemplars are: truck, tiger, turtle, tree. See what I mean? Two /r/ blend words, and two that contain at least one prominent sound that is NOT the one being studied! It's nuts! What about using clean 't' sounding words like top, tub, towel, and ten? Here's a second example, for the letter G — exemplars are glove, grapes, giraffe, and guitar. Two blends (/gl/ and /gr/) and a mix of hard and soft /g/. Argh!

You should know that I'm okay with Anna learning about sounds and letters in preschool, although not everyone is (she's desperate to read and write like her big sister). I just want to know that the examples she's getting present good, clean examples of the sounds. Am I right?


Yes- you are right on target. I love it when the word "eye" is used to teach the sound of e (!!) and when knee and knight are used for working on /k/. What is really sad is that the teachers don't have enough knowledge to pick up on this insanity.

I dream of a day when preschoolers will be "spelling-out" speech sounds, not "sounding-out" AaBbCc's...

Good call, Joanne. I especially like your phrase "clean examples." Perhaps we should generate a recommended list of words to use for the sounds. Then, of course, there's the matter of the order in which to introduce them....

How can this be? Who actually comes up with the exemplars?I bet the programs are touted as being research based as well. Another good idea- gone bad.

I, too, agree. I use Beginning to Read, Write & Listen and I have always complained about using blends with d and t i.e. dragon - k's think it is the j sound and train-k's can't hear the t sound.

I agree with you, that the examples given are horrble. I experience the same thing with the Open Court Reading Series (SRA). The give those types of examples in the oral blending lessons. I personally feel that kindergarten students have enough trouble with the letter sounds and they do not need any additional skills added at the beginning stage.

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