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How are phoneme-grapheme relationships introduced in Sound Waves Spelling Foundation?

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How are phoneme-grapheme relationships introduced in Sound Waves Spelling Foundation?

Sound Waves Spelling 23/6/21

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In Sound Waves Spelling Foundation, phoneme-grapheme relationships are introduced in a very specific order. This minimises confusion for students and ensures they are up and running quickly with reading and spelling.

This order is based on the four principles:

  • Teach phoneme-grapheme relationships in an order that allows children to immediately begin reading and spelling lots of words.
  • Teach simple phoneme-grapheme relationships before more complex relationships. For example, teach single letter graphemes like a for /a/ as in apple before teaching digraphs such as ai, ay and a_e for /ai/ as in snail.
  • Separate graphemes that look similar. For example, do not introduce b and d in close proximity.
  • Separate phonemes that sound similar. For example, do not teach /f/ and /v/ in close proximity.

Sound Waves Spelling Foundation takes a two-phase approach to teaching phonemes and graphemes. Phase 1: Exploring Sounds is a purely oral phase focussed on phonemes, no graphemes are formally introduced. Phase 2: Discovering Graphemes introduces phoneme-grapheme relationships in a carefully controlled manner.

In weeks 1–3 of Discovering Graphemes, students are taught six graphemes:

m for /m/ as in moon
a for /a/ as in apple
t for /t/ as in tiger
s for /s/ as in seal
i for /i/ as in igloo
d for /d/ as in duck

After learning these graphemes, students can read and spell multiple CVC words including: am, at, it, did, dam, mad, mat, sad, sat, sit, dad, Tam, Sam, Tim and Sim.

In weeks 4–6 of Discovering Graphemes, students are taught another six graphemes:

f for /f/ as in fish
n for /n/ as in net
p for /p/ as in pig
o for /o/ as in orange
r for /r/ as in robot
g for /g/ as in girl

After learning these graphemes, students can read and spell many additional CVC words including: if, an, in, fat, fit, fan, fin, tin, man, nan, map, dip, pan, pin, pad, nip, nit, nap, tip, pat, sap, pit, tap, sip, on, not, dot, pop, pod, pot, mop, pop, nod, top, rot, rat, rod, rad, rip, rap, ram, rid, ran, tag, sag, got, gas, dog, pig, gap, fog, fig, dig, rag, Tan, Nat, Lim, Nam, Dan, Pip, Pam, Dom, Tom, Tod, Don, Raf and Ron.

So after only six weeks of teaching students are able to read and spell a large bank of words. When reading, students are able to decode words rather than guessing them from pictures or context. When writing, students can use learned graphemes to represent phonemes in words they are attempting to spell. This facilitates positive and successful early reading and spelling experiences, and ensures students develop appropriate strategies for reading and spelling.

To see the entire scope of phoneme-grapheme relationships taught in Sound Waves Spelling Foundation view the Scope and Sequence document. The sequence is not only based on the essential principles for introducing phoneme-grapheme relationships, it is also fully supported by a suite of Sound Waves Spelling resources. These resources are easy to use, allow for explicit teaching and engage students.

Why do systematic synthetic phonics programs have different sequences?

High-quality systematic synthetic phonics programs carefully sequence the teaching of phoneme-grapheme relationships. The programs all use a slightly different order to get started. Sound Waves Spelling introduces the graphemes m, a, t, s, i, d first. Another common starting order is s, a, t, p, i, n.

These two sequences only differ slightly as four of the six graphemes are the same. This difference does not impact students’ learning. Both sequences adhere to the essential principles for the initial introduction of phoneme-grapheme relationships. Both result in students being able to read and spell about 20 CVC words. In addition to this, both sequences are more productive and appropriate than using the first six letters of the alphabet, which results in children being able to read just 10 CVC words.

Keep in mind it is not just the first six phoneme-grapheme relationships that matter in a synthetic phonics teaching sequence. Although some programs share the common starting point of s, a, t, p, i, n, the sequence of teaching all the remaining phoneme-grapheme relationships varies widely across programs. It’s important to evaluate an entire program beyond just the first six sounds.

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