Phonics and Word Study

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1 Phonics and Word Study Learn About Overview Once students begin to grasp the concept that the sounds they hear are represented by letters, they are gaining access to phonemics and graphophonics. 1 The relationship between these two systems is known as the sound-symbol correspondence. According to Suzanne Peregoy and Owen Boyle, 2 students who are ready to begin phonics instruction should have a program that teaches sound-symbol correspondences they have not already acquired through meaningful reading and writing experiences. 3 Researchers have found that there is a phonics cueing process that occurs when English Language Learners are acquiring their second language. According to Kerper Mora, 4 this process is visual input, grapheme-phoneme-morpheme relationships, letter-word recognition, then oral reconstruction. The following is a graphic representation of this process. Visual Input Grapheme Phoneme Morpheme relationships Letter Word recognition Oral reconstruction When teaching phonics and word study, the most important step in this process is the grapheme-phoneme-morpheme relationship. A grapheme is a written or printed representation of a phoneme, such as b for /b/. A phoneme is a minimal sound unit of speech that, when contrasted with another phoneme, affects the meaning of words in a language. For example, /b/ in book contrasts with /t/ in took. A morpheme is a meaningful linguistic unit that cannot be divided into smaller meaningful elements, such as the word book, or that is a component of a word, as s in books. 5 The relationship between these three features of language is the backbone of reading because it ties reading text to oral language. 6 It is vital that students who are learning English as a second language be instructed explicitly and systematically in the use of the sound-symbol correspondence as it relates to making and reading words. This is also where confusion and linguistic interference can occur because of phonological and spelling pattern differences in students primary language and second language. 7 Copyright 2007 by Voyager Expanded Learning, L.P. 1

2 Cautions for Phonics Instruction In her article Helping the Nonnative English Speaker with Reading, Christine Sutton 8 gives three cautions about teaching phonics skills to English Language Learners: English is not a phonetically consistent language, particularly with respect to vowels. In the words women and fish, for example, the sounds represented by the first vowel of each word are identical. English is replete with examples of phonetic irregularities that confuse English Language Learners. It is sometimes difficult for English Language Learners to differentiate sound variations in English, especially if such distinctions do not exist in their native language. It is more difficult still for students to produce such sound differences in the early stages of language acquisition. Phonics drills, like any language drill, may focus on such a narrow aspect of the language process that the total message gets lost. Phonics instruction integrated with other approaches can help students decode print in context. Word Recognition and Oral Language When students are acquiring a second language, they are developing their oral language. This oral language develops most readily when it s done through the use of language in context. 9 When moving students from oral language development to reading development, it is important to remember that word recognition is best taught in a contextualized environment. Integrating print into students classroom environment provides a vehicle in which to contextualize these words. 10 Sutton 11 provides seven suggestions for integrating print into students classroom environments: Label items, locations, and activities in the room on bulletin boards and on display tables. Write instructions, schedules, calendar information, names, and work duties on the board and refer to them as the information is discussed orally. Use language experience activities to describe events in the classroom. These can be the basis for developing sentence strips and student books. 12 Include simple reading-writing activities for beginning-level students as reinforcement for language practiced orally. Include copying of language experience information, penmanship, dictation, labeling, vocabulary matching activities, word puzzles, and following simple instructions. Write familiar dialogues and stories, and have students practice reading them as creative dramatics, choral reading, role-playing activities, and interviews. 2

3 Have students identify words they would like to know in print. This key-word approach to the development of sight word vocabulary has been quite effective with English Language Learners. 13 Provide students with a place, such as a notebook or word cards, to keep track of important words. Students can use a combination of cues to remember meaning, such as an English word plus a picture for definition or English words and native language definitions or their equivalent. Link to Comprehension For any reader, phonics and word study skills are a direct link to comprehension. If students do not have a solid foundation in these skills, they will have problems comprehending text. A strong foundation in phonics and word study is even more important for English Language Learners. If possible, the foundation should be provided in their native language to help facilitate their learning to read and comprehend in their second language. When it is not possible to build this foundation in their first language, the teacher must provide them with contextualized, explicit, and systematic instruction in their second language and make connections to their first language when possible. 3

4 Learn to Apply Overview For students to be able to read for understanding, they must first develop four sets of skills: 14 Awareness and appreciation of the variety of purposes reading and writing serve in everyday life Understanding of relationships between print and oral language, including the alphabetic principle Knowledge of print conventions, such as left-to-right, top-to-bottom sequencing Ability to recognize a growing number of words on sight This list of skills demonstrates the need for instruction in each of the Five Big Ideas in Reading Instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics and word study, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Of these four sets of skills students must develop to begin to read in English, two of them focus on phonics and word study. Understanding the relationships between print and oral language is the main skill identified with phonics. The ability to recognize a growing number of sight words is one of the goals of word study. Students who are acquiring English must be systematically taught the skills in all four areas. Phonics Phonics instruction for native English speakers and English Language Learners is based on the same premise. When delivering phonics instruction to either group of students, the teacher is teaching them about the alphabetic principle. As mentioned in Phonics and Word Study, Learn to Apply, the two important aspects of phonics instruction are teaching specific letter-sound correspondences and teaching students to sound out words. The following are critical features of effective phonics instruction: 15 Work with letters and sounds begins in kindergarten. Letter-sound correspondences are taught in a systematic fashion. Instruction is differentiated to provide the appropriate amount of instructional support. Some students catch on to the code quickly. Others need much more work with letters and sounds to grasp the alphabetic principle. Students apply letter-sound knowledge in daily reading and writing. Instruction in English should begin with a systematic phonics program. This instruction must be research-based and should fit students needs. The teacher needs to be familiar with the sounds and symbols that might be the same in the primary language and second language, as well as the ones students will possibly find difficult. An excellent resource for these similarities and differences can be found online at 4

5 As with all students, an explicit and systematic plan of instruction for phonics and word study is important to ensure that students are learning all the skills they need to read with fluency and comprehension in their native language and in English. As the teacher begins to plan instruction, it is important that he or she remember that it is fruitless to teach phonics and word study isolated from meaningful texts. 16 To make the new information comprehensible and to have the ability to add it to their existing schemata, or conceptual systems for understanding, students must have something to relate new information to. When the teacher presents the skills he or she would like students to learn, it can be done explicitly through meaningful texts such as poems, songs, chants, and predictable texts. 17 Assessment The first step to designing an instructional plan that will be effective in teaching all areas of phonics to English-language learners is to assess students knowledge. The English Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS ) measures can be used to assess English Language Learners. These measures will provide a snapshot of what students know in English and help the teacher begin to design an effective phonics program. These measures are Letter Naming Fluency (LNF) and Nonsense Word Fluency (NWF). Both measures provide sound data to use when designing an instructional plan. It is important to remember that LNF is a risk indicator only for reporting purposes. Letter naming is an important skill in phonics instruction for English Language Learners and should not be ignored. However, the goal of phonics instruction for all students is lettersound correspondence, which is measured by NWF. Achieving the benchmark in NWF indicates a student has phonemic awareness, alphabetic knowledge, and knowledge of the alphabetic principle because all these areas of phonics must be used to decode and read unfamiliar words. Once an initial assessment to determine a starting point for instruction is complete, use assessment to measure what has been taught. Continue to teach new skills and reinforce skills that have already been taught. Sequencing As discussed in Phonics and Word Study, Learn to Apply, the deficits students have in the alphabetic principle determine the sequencing of instruction. This is the same for instruction in students primary language as well as their second language. When designing an explicit, systematic program for English Language Learners, refer to the following list from Phonics and Word Study, Learn to Apply. Remember to take into account letters and sounds students may have difficulty with because of their native language skills. It is important to consider the list and adapt it to meet specific needs. For example, if teaching students whose primary language is Korean, do not introduce /l/ and /r/ on the same day because they are difficult for students. 5

6 m/m/ t/t/ s/s/ f/f/ d/d/ r/r/ g/g/ KINDERGARTEN/FIRST GRADE l/l/ h/h/ c/k/ b/b/ n/n/ k/k/ v/v/ w/w/ j/j/ p/p/ y/y/ z/z/ q/kw/ x/ks/ As consonants are introduced, the vowels can be added. It is better to introduce two or three consonants, then a vowel. Letter Naming Instructional Strategies The instructional strategies discussed in Phonics and Word Study, Learn to Apply, are great for second language learners as well. When using any instructional strategies, the teacher should use modeling frequently and make the material comprehensible. When working in students second language, the teacher will have to provide more extensive scaffolding. Scaffolding is the amount of support that students require to achieve independence in a specific skill or set of skills. Scaffolding is often provided by using modeling during a lesson. Language-Experience Approach The language-experience approach is the most frequently recommended approach for English Language Learners. 18 It can be used to create a comprehensible context in which students can learn letter names. This approach is done by having students either dictate or help dictate a story about their lives or a personal experience. Once the story is written, the teacher targets letters students need to practice. The following are ways to use these stories to teach the names of letters: Use highlight tape to have students highlight a letter being focused on. Have students be letter detectives and find all of the target letters in the story. Underline all the target letters in the story. Because these are primarily teacher directed, students who are in their silent phase of language acquisition can still participate and begin to learn the names of letters even before they can say them. Picture Dictionaries Students create picture dictionaries as they study different letters. This gives students an item to connect to the letter cognitively. When introducing a letter, the teacher creates a page in the dictionary and gives students pictures that begin with the letter. The teacher 6

7 tells students the names of the pictures and has them glue the pictures on the correct page. Students can use the dictionaries to become more proficient with the letters by practicing the names of the letters and pictures. Applying the Alphabetic Principle to Letter Naming Once students have begun to learn just a few letters, it is time to apply the alphabetic principle to their letter naming skills. By learning a few consonants and a vowel, students can begin learning simple consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words. Alphabetic Principle Instructional Strategies When teaching English Language Learners to sound out words it should be done in an explicit and systematic progression. It is important that the teacher use consistent language each time a task is performed. The language should also be brief. The following instructional strategies, found in Phonics and Word Study, Learn to Apply, can be used with English Language Learners. Instructional Strategies Letter-Sound Correspondence Initial Presentation When presenting letter-sound correspondences, make the task explicit and use consistent and brief wording. Example (Point to the letter s.) This is s. The sound of this letter is /sss/. Tell me the sound of s. Cumulative Integration Follow these recommendations for integrating sounds and reviewing them. 7

8 When a student has identified the sound of a new letter on two successive trials, add that sound to the students repertoire of known sounds and use letter-sound recognition and blending activities. Integrate new sounds with known sounds in the following pattern: N K N K K N N K K K N N = new sound K = known sound When a student knows four to six letter-sound correspondences and can recognize them at the rate of 2 seconds per sound, begin using these letter sounds to form decodable short vowel-consonant (VC) and consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words. Instructional Strategies Sounding Out Modeling the Task Teaching students to sound out words should follow a systematic progression. Model and practice each sound. Example Display the word map. First, I ll sound it out. Move your finger under each letter as you say the letter sounds, extending those that can be extended, /mmmmmmaaaaaap/. Then, I ll say it fast. Move your finger quickly under the whole word as you say, map. Now you do it. Sound it out. Move your finger under each letter as students say the letter sounds with you, /mmmmmmaaaaaap/. Say it fast. Move your finger quickly under the whole word as students say the word with you, map. 8

9 Word Study Word study is a natural transition from learning the alphabetic principle in English. Once students have acquired some sounds and symbols of either their native language or English, they need to begin to put those letters and sounds together to make words. Students need word recognition skills to move from phonics to fluency. For students to be able to read fluently in any language, they must be able to read words without concentrating on decoding. When students are able to move their focus away from decoding, they are able to concentrate on comprehending what they are reading. It is important to deliver word study instruction within a meaningful context. Sequencing Instruction in word study should remain explicit and systematic. Within an explicit and systematic program, the teacher needs to make sure the words are used in a real context for students. The teacher should move through a set of skills in a predictable order. Students must move from letter-by-letter decoding to recognizing and using such larger orthographic units as letter combinations, spelling patterns, and syllables to read words. When teaching English Language Learners, the sequencing found in Phonics and Word Study, Learn to Apply, should be used. This begins with basic skills and moves to more complex skills as students fluency improves. It is important to teach these skills in an authentic, meaningful context, remembering that students are acquiring a second language so some concepts may need to be taught again. Instructional Strategies English Language Learners need to participate in instructional strategies that allow them to interact and manipulate words. The following instructional strategies need to be done in a meaningful context. One of the best ways to create a meaningful context for word learning is to use the language-experience approach. By selecting the words to use with these strategies from stories students have dictated, the teacher can personalize their word study experiences. Word Sorts This strategy is done in a similar way as discussed in Phonics and Word Study, Learn to Apply. This is an open-ended activity that can be adapted to each individual student. When students are in Level 1 of language development, the activity can also be done using pictures. There are two different types of word sorts, closed and open. Closed Sorts This type of sort causes students to look for a specific feature of a word. For example, have them sort words that follow a specific spelling pattern or a specific prefix. In this type of sort, students use deductive thinking. 19 9

10 Open Sorts This type of sort also can be called a discovery sort. Students sort the words by features that they create. These shared features could include the inflectional ending -ed they learned about in class. Upon sorting these words for the ending, they might make a discovery about words that have this ending, some of them have a double consonant. In this type of sort, students use inductive thinking. 20 Personal Word Books Students can create personal word lists that include new words they have been learning This is an excellent way for students to keep track of all the new words they learn and see their progress as they acquire a new language. Word Making As discussed in Phonics and Word Study, Learn to Apply, students are actively manipulating letters to form words when given clues about the words from the teacher. This strategy should be used with students who are in Level 2 and above in their language proficiency. Students should be able to use their knowledge of graphophonic and orthographic features of the language to make words for this strategy to be effective. Part by Part This strategy teaches students how to use word parts to read larger words, making the skill more concrete. To use this strategy with students, the teacher would have students make a word and then use small cards with the word part the teacher wants them to add. For example, when teaching prefixes and suffixes the word parts could be added to base words to create new words. Put the new words into an authentic context for students. This can be done using a language-experience story, acting out the words, or by adding the words to a personal word book. Word Walls Word walls can be used in a variety of ways to teach word study skills to second language learners. They can be used to display high-frequency words, vocabulary words, content specific words, and other words students are learning. They can also be used to display cognates, which are words that sound the same and have the same meaning in two different languages, and false cognates, which are words that sound the same in different languages but have different meanings. Students could also make their own smaller, more personalized word walls as their language proficiency develops. Reading Practice When acquiring a second language, students will need to see words in context. Reading practice at the correct level will help students encounter words in a number of contexts, and those words will become comprehensible to them. Students reading level should be determined before having them practice reading. Any assigned independent reading needs to be done on a student s independent level. A text is at a student s instructional level if the student knows or can decode easily 90 percent of the words. 21 The following chart will help when determining students reading level. 10

11 INDEPENDENT LEVEL INSTRUCTIONAL LEVEL FRUSTRATION LEVEL Relatively easy text Challenging but Difficult text Children know manageable text Children know or or can decode Children know or can can decode less easily 95 percent decode easily 90 than 90 percent of the words. percent of the words. of the words. When listening to a student read, the teacher has an opportunity to assess his or her instruction. Students errors or difficulties give insight into where they need more instructional support. Reading-Writing-Language Connection English Language Learners are constantly assimilating new information. They are acquiring oral language and incorporating it into their existing vocabulary for their second language. They are learning the connection of that language to the symbols the sounds represent, and they are taking visual input and making meaning with that input to be able to read words in a text. Continual assessment of these areas is vital to help students become literate. Having English Language Learners write provides insight into their language and reading development. The teacher is able to see how students are applying the phonics and word study skills and strategies they have been taught. Their language development will also be clear. Students tend to write how they speak. 22 By keeping a collection of their writing, the teacher is able to see students progress over a period of time. This is especially helpful as students progress through the emergent stage of language acquisition. During language acquisition, students typically go through a silent phase in which they are not speaking, but just absorbing the language in preparation for production of language. Students may just be producing picture writing, but the teacher will get an understanding of what students are comprehending if they are unable to communicate it through oral language. 11

12 Endnotes 1 Peregoy, S., & Boyle, W. (2005). Reading, writing and learning in ESL: A resource book for k 12 teachers (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson. 2 Peregoy, S., & Boyle, W. (2005). Reading, writing and learning in ESL: A resource book for k 12 teachers (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson. 3 Peregoy, S., & Boyle, W. (2005). Reading, writing and learning in ESL: A resource book for k 12 teachers (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson. 4 Mora, J. K. (2001). Effective instructional practices and assessment for literacy and biliteracy development. In S. R. Hurley & J. V. Tinajero (Eds.). (2001). Literacy assessment of second language learners. Boston: Allyn Bacon. 5 Harris, T. L. & Hodges, R. E. (Eds.). (2005). The literacy dictionary: The vocabulary of reading and writing. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. 6 Sutton, C. (1998). Helping the nonnative English speaker with reading. In M. F. Optiz (Ed.). (1998). Literacy instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse students: A collection of articles and commentaries. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. 7 Mora, J. K. (2001). Effective instructional practices and assessment for literacy and biliteracy development. In S. R. Hurley & J. V. Tinajero (Eds.). (2001). Literacy assessment of second language learners. Boston: Allyn Bacon. 8 Sutton, C. (1998). Helping the nonnative English speaker with reading. In M. F. Optiz (Ed.). (1998). Literacy instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse students. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. 9 Krashen, S. D., & Terrell, T. D. (1983). Language acquisition in the classroom. Oxford, UK: Pergamon Press; Krashen, S. D. (1981). Effective second language acquisition: Insights from research. In J. E. Alatis et al. (Eds.), Second language classroom: Directions for the 1980s. New York: Oxford University Press. 10 Sutton, C. (1998). Helping the nonnative English speaker with reading. In M. F. Optiz (Ed.). (1998). Literacy instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse students. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. 11 Sutton, C. (1998). Helping the nonnative English speaker with reading. In M. F. Optiz (Ed.). (1998). Literacy instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse students. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. 12 Feeley, J. T. (1983). Help for the reading teacher working with LEP children. The Reading Teacher, 36, Hudelson, S. (1984). Kan yu ret an rayt en ingles: Children become literate in English as a second language. TESOL Quarterly, 18, Peregoy, S., & Boyle, W. (2005). Reading, writing and learning in ESL: A resource book for k 12 teachers (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson. 15 Institute for the Development of Educational Achievement. (n.d.) Teaching the alphabetic principle: Critical features of alphabetic principle instruction. Retrieved October 17, 2006, from 16 National Research Council (Eds.). (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. 17 Peregoy, S., & Boyle, W. (2005). Reading, writing and learning in ESL: A resource book for k 12 teachers (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson. 18 Peregoy, S., & Boyle, W. Reading, writing and learning in ESL: A resource book for k 12 teachers (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson. 19 Pinnell, G.S., & Fountas, I.C. (1998). Word matters: teaching phonics and spelling in the reading /writing classroom, (p. 155). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. 20 Pinnell, G.S., & Fountas, I.C. (1998). Word matters: teaching phonics and spelling in the reading /writing classroom, (p. 155). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. 21 Definitions of independent level, instructional level, and frustration level text are modified from Armbruster, B. B., Lehr, F., & Osborn, J. (2001). Put reading first: The research building blocs for teaching children to read. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Institute for Literacy. 22 Peregoy, S., & Boyle, W. (2005). Reading, writing and learning in ESL: A resource book for k 12 teachers (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson. 12

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