Teaching phonics - the basics

Hearing differences in speech sounds - part 1

The first thing that children need to be able to do when tackling phonics is to hear and discriminate between the sounds. It is important that this is done before any explicit reference to how they are represented in print. The starting point is work on phonological awareness, that is, the ability to hear differences in speech sounds. Classroom activity related to phonological awareness will involve a lot of drama, movement, singing, clapping, listening and music:

  • Singing songs and nursery rhymes that accentuate sound patterns (for example, Hickory, Dickory Dock and Humpty Dumpty), which help children ‘tune’ in to speech sounds.
  • Sharing books with lots of opportunities to join in, especially with exciting noises such as those made by the dogs in Yip Yap Snap! (Fuge, 2001) or the traffic in Noisy Noises On the Road (Wells, 1988).
  • Playing skipping and clapping games, which encourage rhythmic movement accompanied by words.
  • Talking about the sounds we hear around us every day. Asking questions such as ‘What sound does the cow make?’, ‘Can you hear the bell ring?” and ‘Are you listening to the music?’, all of which introduce very young children to the vocabulary of sound and encourage them to talk about the quality of sounds. ‘That is a high sound.’ ‘That bell is ringing quickly.’ ‘That music makes me feel happy.’
  • Listening to sounds and identifying and differentiating between those they hear. As they become more experienced, children will become more adept at hearing subtle differences between sounds.