How students learn phonics

Ask the Experts

September 27, 1998

Susan Rapp of the Village Reading Center responds to a question she often hears.

For the past six years I've taught reading to second-graders using a whole language approach. Now our school is emphasizing more phonics along with whole language in the primary grades. Isn't teaching phonics primarily teaching rules that the students must memorize?

In learning phonics, students learn both the connections between letters and sounds and the generalizations behind these connections. For example: For the short vowels, an important generalization is that when a word has one vowel followed by one consonant, the sound will be short, as in am, cat, him, sun. It is the sound you hear in the first part of ap-ple. This leads to the skill of hearing words in parts or syllables. Thus, the students do not need to memorize the rule; rather, they learn to generalize a pattern.

For example, CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) stands for a short vowel, as in mad, cut, pin, but when an "e" comes at the end of a "CVC" word, the first vowel becomes long, e.g., made, cute, pine.

The best way for students to master phonics is through review and repetition. As each new generalization is taught, keep reviewing the previously introduced ones. Phonics is best taught in a sequential manner, in short segments of time, and on a daily basis.

If you have a question or a suggestion, please write to: Ask the Experts, Reading by 9, Features Dept., The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278

Pub Date: 9/27/98

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