Synthetic Phonics is a method of teaching reading which intensively teaches first the letter sounds and then builds up to blending the letter sounds together to achieve full pronunciation of the printed word.
The name 'Synthetic Phonics' comes from the concept of 'synthesising', which means 'putting together' or 'blending'. What is synthesised/put together/blended in reading are the sounds prompted by the letters on the page. (rrf.org.uk, newsletter 54)
According to the Clackmannanshire 7 year longitudinal study, '[Synthetic phonics] is a very accelerated form of phonics that does not begin by establishing an initial sight vocabulary. With this approach, before children are introduced to books, they are taught letter sounds. After the first few of these have been taught they are shown how these sounds can be blended together to build up words (Feitelson, 1988). For example, when taught the letter sounds /t/ /p/ /a/ and /s/, the children can build up the words 'tap,' 'pat, 'pats', 'taps', 'sat', etc. The children are not told the pronunciation of the new word either before it is constructed with magnetic letters or indeed afterwards; the children sound each letter in turn and synthesise the sounds together in order to generate the pronunciation of the word. Thus the children construct the pronunciation for themselves. Most of the letter sound correspondences, including the consonant and vowel digraphs, can be taught in the space of a few months at the start of their first year at school. This means that children can read many of the unfamiliar words they meet in text for themselves, without the assistance of the teacher'.
Common terminology used within the Synthetic Phonics method includes :
- blend (vb.): to draw individual sounds together to pronounce a word, e.g. s-n-a-p, blended together, reads snap
- phoneme: the smallest single identifiable sound, e.g. the letters ‘sh’ represent just one sound, but ‘sp’ represents two (/s/ and /p/)
- grapheme: a letter or a group of letters representing one sound, e.g. sh, ch, igh, ough (as in ‘though’)
- (vowel) digraph: two letters making one sound, e.g. sh, ch, th, ph. Vowel digraphs comprise two vowels which, together, make one sound, e.g. ai, oo, ow
(Rose Review - see external links)
What it is
- Synthetic phonics involves the teaching of letter/s-sound correspondences to automaticity, rapidly and systematically (approx 6 sounds per week) and models how the alphabetic code works by sounding out and blending all-through-the-word for reading and segmenting the individual sounds all-through-the-word for spelling. Sounds and letters are taught in all positions of the words, but the emphasis is on all-through-the-word blending and segmenting from week one.
- Synthetic phonics develops phonemic awareness along with the corresponding letter shapes.
- Synthetic phonics teaches phonics at the level of the individual phoneme from the outset; NOT syllables and NOT onset and rime.
- Synthetic phonics involves the children rehearsing the writing of letter shapes alongside learning the letter/s-sound correspondences preferably with the tripod pencil grip. Dictation is a frequent teaching technique from letter level to word spelling, including nonsense words and eventually extending to text level.
- Synthetic phonics teachers put accuracy before fluency. Fluency will come with time, but the emphasis on thorough letter/s-sound correspondence knowledge and synthesising enables the reader to become more accurate, fluent and to access the meaning of the text at the level of the reader's oral comprehension more readily.
- Synthetic phonics involves the teaching of the transparent alphabet before progressing onto the opaque alphabet. In other words, children are taught steps which are straightforward and 'work' before being taught the complications and variations of pronunciation and spelling of the full alphabetic code.
- Synthetic phonics introduces irregular words and more tricky words slowly and systematically after a thorough introduction of the transparent alphabet code (learning the 42 letter/s-sound correspondences to automaticity and how to blend for reading and segment for spelling). Phonics application still works at least in part in such words.
- Synthetic phonics involves a heavy emphasis on hearing the sounds all-through-the-word for spelling and not an emphasis on 'look, cover, write, check'. This latter, visual form of spelling plays a larger part with unusual spellings and spelling variations although a phonemic procedure is always emphasised in spelling generally.
- Synthetic phonics teachers read a full range of literature with the children and ensure that all children have a full range of experience of activities associated with literacy such as role play, drama, poetry, but the children are not expected to 'read' text which is beyond them.
What it is NOT
- Synthetic phonics does not teach whole words as shapes (initial sight vocabulary) prior to learning the alphabetic code.
- Synthetic phonics does not teach letter names until the children know their letter/s-sound correspondences thoroughly and how to blend for reading and segment for spelling. Often when letter names are introduced it is through singing an alphabet song.
- Synthetic phonics DOES NOT involve guessing at words from context, picture and initial letter clues. Children read print (at letter level, word level, digraphs, word level, text level) which corresponds with the level of knowledge and skills taught to date. This means they rehearse what they have been specifically taught and do not need to guess (which can cause damaging habits to the extent of dyslexic symptoms and behavioural problems). This text level print is often referred to as phonically decodable text. Repetitive books are not necessary and children can rapidly access books described as 'real' because of the effectiveness of the synthetic phonics teaching approach.
What a typical Synthetic Phonics programme consists of
- learning letter sounds (as distinct from the letter names);
- For example, /mm/ not muh, /ss/ not suh, /ff/ not fuh. The letter names can be taught later but should not be taught in the early stages.
- learning the 44 sounds and their corresponding letters/letter groups;
- The English Alphabet Code 'Key' : 44 phonemes with their common 'sound pattern' representations:
- Vowels (19):
- /a/ mat
- /ae/ ape, baby, rain, tray, they, eight
- /air/ square, bear
- /ar/ jar, fast
- /e/ peg, bread
- /ee/ sweet, me, beach, key, pony
- /i/ pig, wanted
- /ie/ kite, wild, light, fly
- /o/ log, want
- /oe/ bone, cold, boat, snow
- /oi/ coin, boy,
- /oo/ book, would, put
- /ow/ down, house
- /or/ fork, ball, sauce, law,
- /u/ plug, glove
- /ur/ burn, teacher, work, first
- /ue/ blue, moon, screw, tune
- /uh/ (schwa) button, computer, hidden, doctor
- /w/ wet, wheel,
- Vowels (19):
- Consonants (25):
- /b/ boy, rabbit
- /ks/gz/ box exist
- /c/k/ cat /key, duck, school
- /ch/ chip, watch
- /d/ dog, ladder
- /f/ fish, coffee, photo, tough
- /g/ gate, egg, ghost
- /h/ hat, whole
- /j/ jet, giant, cage, bridge
- /l/ lip, bell, sample
- /m/ man, hammer, comb
- /n/ nut, dinner, knee, gnat
- /ng/ ring, sink
- /p/ pan, happy
- /kw/ queen
- /r/ rat, cherry, write
- /s/ sun, dress, house, city, mice
- /sh/ ship, mission, station, chef
- /t/ tap, letter, debt
- /th/ thrush
- /th/ that
- /v/ vet, sleeve
- /y/ yes
- /z/ zip, fizz, sneeze, is, cheese
- /zh/ treasure
- Consonants (25):
- learning to read words using sound blending;
- reading stories featuring the words the students have learned to sound out;
- demonstration excersises to show they comprehend the stories;
- Clackmannanshire 7 year longitudinal study: Rhona Johnson, Department of Psychology, University of Hull and Joyce Watson, School of Psychology, University of St Andrews.
- Clackmannanshire 7 year longitudinal study:
- Reading Reform Foundation:
- Synthetic Phonics:
- House of Commons Education and Skills Select Committee report 'Teaching Children to Read' (April 2005):
- Rose Reports 2006:
- Ten free phonics resources from Teacher Books:
- The Sounds of English
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