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Part 2 – Finding gaps in phonic knowledge and skills

Suggestions are made for identifying where the gaps are in a child’s phonic knowledge.

Part 2: Finding gaps in phonic knowledge and skills

Letter sounds

The first thing to do is to find out where the gaps are in a child’s letter-sound knowledge. Start with the letter sounds in Step 1. One option is to muddle up the letter-sound cards and go through them one at a time, asking the child to say the sound [demonstration]. Make one pile for the sounds that are known and a separate one for those that are not known and record the findings. Or you could use a letter-sound sheet (found in the Resources section on the home page or by scrolling down to the bottom of the screen in the section Identifying Problems, Part 2) and ask the child to say each sound and make a record of the unknown letter sounds.

Although some older children muddle up the letter names and letter sounds (a problem that will need to be addressed in intervention sessions), generally speaking, most cope well with these single letter sounds. Usually, the serious gaps start to show with the digraphs in Steps 2 and 3. Make a record of any letter sounds that are not known and – if there are not too many of these – go on to assess the child’s knowledge of the alternative spellings [demonstration]. However, if many of the letter sounds in Steps 2 and 3 are still not known, it is better to concentrate on teaching these, rather than worry about the alternative spellings.

Blending

The next thing to find out is how well the child is able to work out unknown words. For this assessment it is necessary to have a set of words that are unlikely to be familiar to the child, but that can be decoded [demonstration]. This usually ensures that the child has not already memorised them and has to blend and decode the words in order to read them. Start with short words (such as lag, duct and flush) and progress to longer ones (such as fertile, perfume and saunter). Suitable words can be found in the Resources section on the home page (or by scrolling down to the bottom of the screen in the section Identifying Problems, Part 2).

Then analyse your findings:

  • Was the child able to blend short words?
  • Was the child successful at blending longer words?
  • Was the child confident and fluent in blending?
  • Did he or she do it automatically?

Of course, when assessing the child’s skill of blending it is best to use words which only use letter sounds that you are sure the child knows. You cannot expect accurate blending if the letter sounds are not known.

Record your results. You can then move on to finding out how good the child is at hearing the sounds in words (segmenting).

Segmenting

Explain to the child that there are sounds in words and that you would like him or her to tell you the sounds. Give an example, such as dog /d-o-g/, and maybe a word with an initial consonant blend, such as sleep /s-l-ee-p/. Then call out a few simple words that are not so familiar and ask the child to tell you the sounds, such as nib /n-i-b/ (3 sounds); shadow /sh-a-d-ow/ (4 sounds); and crust /c-r-u-s-t/ (5 sounds). The children do not have to count the sounds; they just have to say the sounds they can hear, going from the beginning to the end of the word.

Follow this with some dictation. Start by dictating the letter sounds that the child was able to recognise when (s)he did the letter-sound assessment (as shown earlier). This will show whether the child can write these letter sounds as well as read them. Then dictate 6 words, such as jot, fax, shift, moat, orbit and (a little bit harder) moody. Mentally analyse your findings and then record them:

  • Could the child identify any sounds in the words?
  • Could the child identify all the sounds in short words?
  • Was the child confident and fluent at doing this?
  • Could the child identify all the sounds in longer words?
  • Was the child able to write, from dictation, the known letter sounds with correct formation?
  • Was the child able to write regular words from dictation? Were the words phonically sensible?

The reading and spelling of tricky words

Go through the tricky words that are introduced in Steps 3, 4 and 5. Make a note of the words that cannot be read or spelt and gradually teach them during the intervention sessions.

The aim of these assessments is to identify where the problems are. Only then can a plan of action be developed.

Problems in one aspect of phonic knowledge and skills

It can happen that a child is able to blend and segment words, but has a poor knowledge of the letter sounds. Such children are usually the easiest to help. Often the child knows the letter sounds of the alphabet but has little or no knowledge of the digraphs and vowels. It helps when you say:

No wonder you are struggling with your reading. You have not been taught – or you have not learnt – enough letter sounds. You only know a bit of the code. Look at your assessment results: The letter sounds without a tick are the ones you do not know. When you do know these letter sounds, you will be able to read hundreds of words and when you know these other ones [indicating the alternative spellings], you will be able to read virtually anything: that is thousands and thousands of words. Now, I wonder how quickly you think you can learn these.

Then, as fast as possible, ensure that the unknown letter sounds are taught and that the child blends, segments and writes as many words as possible that use those letter sounds, as well as the letter sounds that are already known. Regular dictation of the letter sounds will help to put them into the children’s long-term memory. The letter sounds need to be known so well that they are never forgotten. The teaching principles are just the same as in Steps 1 to 5.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Letter-Sound Knowledge - Steps 1 - 3

    Print the first sheet and ask the child to say the sounds for the letters, recording any that are not known. Some letters represent more than one sound, which the child should also know. The second and third sheets provide guidance for these alternative sounds.

  • Letter-Sound Knowledge - Steps 1 - 3 - print letters

    Print the first sheet and ask the child to say the sounds for the letters, recording any that are not known. Some letters represent more than one sound, which the child should also know. The second and third sheets provide guidance for these alternative sounds.

  • Letter-Sound Knowledge - Steps 4 - 5

    Print the first sheet and ask the child to say the sounds for the letters, recording any that are not known. Some letters represent more than one sound, which the child should also know. The second and third sheets provide guidance for these alternative sounds.

  • Letter-Sound Knowledge - Steps 4 - 5 - print letters

    Print the first sheet and ask the child to say the sounds for the letters, recording any that are not known. Some letters represent more than one sound, which the child should also know. The second and third sheets provide guidance for these alternative sounds.

  • Tricky Words - Steps 3 - 6

    Print this sheet and ask the children to read the tricky words, recording any that are not known. Use dictation to find out how well they can spell them.

  • Tricky Words - Steps 3 - 6 - print letters

    Print this sheet and ask the children to read the tricky words, recording any that are not known. Use dictation to find out how well they can spell them.

  • Suitable words for testing the skill of blending

    These words are not frequently read by young children, so they are suitable for testing how well a child can blend unknown words. The words start with letter sounds the children learnt initially and progress to the more unusual letter sounds in Step 5.

  • Letter-Sound Knowledge - Steps 1 - 3

    Print the first sheet and ask the child to say the sounds for the letters, recording any that are not known. Some letters represent more than one sound, which the child should also know. The second and third sheets provide guidance for these alternative sounds.

  • Letter-Sound Knowledge - Steps 1 - 3 - print letters

    Print the first sheet and ask the child to say the sounds for the letters, recording any that are not known. Some letters represent more than one sound, which the child should also know. The second and third sheets provide guidance for these alternative sounds.

  • Letter-Sound Knowledge - Steps 4 - 5

    Print the first sheet and ask the child to say the sounds for the letters, recording any that are not known. Some letters represent more than one sound, which the child should also know. The second and third sheets provide guidance for these alternative sounds.

  • Letter-Sound Knowledge - Steps 4 - 5 - print letters

    Print the first sheet and ask the child to say the sounds for the letters, recording any that are not known. Some letters represent more than one sound, which the child should also know. The second and third sheets provide guidance for these alternative sounds.

  • Tricky Words - Steps 3 - 6

    Print this sheet and ask the children to read the tricky words, recording any that are not known. Use dictation to find out how well they can spell them.

  • Tricky Words - Steps 3 - 6 - print letters

    Print this sheet and ask the children to read the tricky words, recording any that are not known. Use dictation to find out how well they can spell them.

  • Suitable words for testing the skill of blending

    These words are not frequently read by young children, so they are suitable for testing how well a child can blend unknown words. The words start with letter sounds the children learnt initially and progress to the more unusual letter sounds in Step 5.