Monday, 17 September 2012

Strategy #2: The spelling and reading top 10

Here is strategy number 2 of my top 10 strategies to help your child become a more confident reader and speller. I'm sorry, but some of you may find this one means you need to do a bit of homework yourself, but I know you're up for it!
Strategy #2: Understand and Introduce Syllables: Once your child has a basic knowledge of letters and the sounds those letters make, then they will start to read and form simple words. When this happens it is time to introduce syllables. Many parents find it difficult to help their children with this because they do not understand how syllables work.

It’s Ok, because you're probably children of the 70’s and 80’s who were subjected to the “Whole Language” approach to teaching spelling and reading. The “Whole Language” approach focused mainly on gaining meaning from literature rather than using phonics to decode and construct words. This means you essentially missed out on learning the spelling and grammar rules, however, you were expected to observe these rules in use and apply them. It’s a little bit like running onto a European handball court without any prior knowledge of the rules and being expected to work the game out as you go along and win a gold medal. Most of us were set up to fail. Thankfully, it has been recognised that playing without the rule book is just too difficult!

Things you need to know about syllables:
  1. Language has rhythm and a syllable is a beat or clap within a word.
  2. The number of syllables in a word is exactly the same as the number of vowel (sounds) in that word. (I’ll explain this in a minute!)
  3. Within every word you have vowels and consonants.
We can see the vowels below are A, E, I, O, U and we also include Y as it acts just like a vowel in English some of the time. All the rest of the letters are consonants.

Let’s look at dividing some words into syllables:

So, if you have any of the words below, which have one vowel and therefore one syllable/beat, you place a circle around it.

Any of the following words have two vowels and therefore two syllables or beats.

When a word has a double consonant, such as HOPPING you always divide the word in the centre of the doubled consonant as this will alert your child to the doubled letter in the word. This is for them to avoid writing HOPING instead of HOPPING.
Lastly, back to point number two above. Many words are spelt with a combination of vowels. You will notice that usually when two vowels are together we pronounce the first vowel sound. You may have heard your children saying "When two vowels go walking the first one does the talking." Such as:

Boat = long vowel sound "O" / Suit = long vowel sound "U" / Eat = long vowel sound E

Breaking words into syllables makes it easier for your child to identify the sounds within a word and also makes it easier for them to remember the components of the word because it's being chunked down into smaller pieces.

Here are some fun activities based on those from Neil Mackay's fantastic book called "Taking the hell out of homework." They will make remembering the weekly spelling list a little easier:
  1. "Clap and tap" the syllables with your foot or march them around the room; these are all great ways to make multisensory links that help your child internalise the word. Remember that language has rhythm - that's why poetry works.
  2. "Make and break" the word. This involves borrowing some letters from your scrabble set and asking your child to make the word, then break it into syllables.
  3. Write, the word onto a slip of paper, seperate the word into it's syllables and then tear it into it's syllables. Ask your child to reconstruct it the word a few times. 
  4. "See and write" the word. Ask your child to close their eyes and visualise or "see" the word they have just worked on. Ask them to write it on their eye lids or take a photo of it. Ask them to open their eyes and look at it again, then close their eyes and see it on their eye lids "Written in fire!" Then ask them to open their eyes and write the word on a piece of paper.

By repeating this process for a few minutes throughout the week your child should have more sucess with their weekly spelling words.

Remember, syllables help your child to pronounce words correctly and this will help them to make connections with those spelling words and eventually transfer them from their short term to their long term memory.

Until next time,


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