When a reader comes to a word she doesn't recognize, there are three strategies she can use to identify the word:
(These are also the strategies we use to spell words when we write. Regarding spelling, Mason's approach was to focus on visual exposure to words in grades 1 through 3, and start dictation - spelling and grammar - in 4th. She wrote that teaching spelling involved training a child to take a mental photograph of a word, which I would think would be made easier after spending 1st through 3rd grade focused on reading, not split between reading and writing.)
In my post about Language Arts Goals for Preschool through 3rd grade, I wrote that one of our goals is instruction in phonics. But I should revise that to say "instruction in word identification."
Phonics instruction involves both phonemic awareness strategies and phonics concepts, skills, and generalizations. When a child knows what sounds letters make, she can learn to blend the sounds together, and she can segment a word into its beginning middle, and ending sounds.
Vowel combinations that need to be taught:
1)ai as in snail, pail, pain, wainscot
2)au has 2 sounds (laugh and caught)
3)aw as in saw, jaw, law
4)ea has 2 sounds (beach and bread)
5)ew has 2 sounds (sew and few)
6)ia as in dial
7)ie as in cookie
8)oa as in float
9)oi as in boil
10)oo has 2 sounds (book and moon)
11)ou has 2 sounds (mouse and through)
12)ow has 2 sounds (how and low)
13)oy as in boy
In regard to phonics generalizations, a child needs to learn that sometimes c says /k/ like cat, and sometimes c says /s/ like city.
Here is a short list of phonics generalizations:
1)2 sounds of c
2)2 sounds of g
3)CVC pattern (consonant-vowel-consonant)
4)Final e or CVCe pattern (Silent e makes the first vowel say its name)
5)CV pattern (In a one syllable consonant-vowel word like be or go, the vowel is long. There are exceptions, of course, like do and to, and the - depending on the way you pronounce it. I am teaching my daughter that the can be read as thee or thuh, because this is how it is taught in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, and because - well - it can.)
6)r-controlled vowels (like car, birthday, for, cheeseburger)
7)-igh words (high, knight, plight, fight, sight, right,) i is long and gh is silent
8)kn-and wr- (knee, write) In kn- and wr- words, the first letter is silent.
More on Language Arts later.
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