Teaching phonics - the basics

Be clear whether you are teaching onset-rime or CVC words

Many practitioners have ‘picked up’ terms such as ‘onset and rime’ and ‘CVC words’ but haven’t necessarily thought about how the two relate to each other. When practitioners are teaching using onset and rime, the teaching activity should involve isolating all the consonants at the beginning of a syllable up to the first vowel. This is the onset. The first vowel and any remaining vowels and consonants are the rime. For example cl/ock are the onset and rime for clock, w/ig-w/am are the onsets and rimes for the two-syllable word ‘wigwam’.

Teaching activities using onset and rime involve children in listening to these sounds. Having identified these sounds, teachers then often ask children to analyse the visual patterns of the letters and use this information to work out new words. For example, the rime ‘ock’ helps children work out dock, lock, sock and so on. Hearing onset and rime and seeing letter patterns are not inevitably bound together, however.

When practitioners teach CVC words, they are often teaching children to hear and identify all the individual phonemes in the word, in sequence. The tasks tend to involve activities such as blending individual phonemes to make a whole word or separating a whole word into its constituent sounds.

It is not a bad idea to use the technical terms with children, as long as this doesn’t confuse them. The important thing to remember is that the activities associated with onset-rime and with CVC words require different kinds of thinking about the sounds and the relationship between sounds and letters; both are valid and important for different reasons.