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How to teach my child phonics

What if my child can’t read?

Key topics: phonics, reading, writing, spelling, cued articulation, phonemic awareness, warning signs, skill level, education, multi-modal, reading instruction, sight words, words families, Jo-Anne Lee

“A child’s level of reading achievement is determined early in their school experience….by third grade, the level of reading ability that children have attained is likely to remain relatively stable; it is difficult to escape a pattern of failure that has lasted through a large part of [primary] school.” (Greenfield et al., 2005 p233)

This is just one of the many research studies supporting the importance of robust, specific, early literacy education and the direct correlation to a child’s success in literacy skills, from the outset. So, as parent’s, how do we create the pathway to literacy success in children’s early years?

The two main early skills to teach include

1: Phonics – the hearing of sounds (sound) and identifying the letter (grapheme) that represents the sound.

2: Phonemic awareness – the ability to hear the sound and manipulate the sound in spoken words.

WARNING: We must always come from the letter sound not the written letter. Why? Because there are 44 sounds in the English language and only 26 letters.

We have many sounds represented by more than one letter (s as in snail, c as in circle) and many letters with more than one sound (g as in giraffe/g as in grasshopper); to add to this we have combined letters (digraphs and trigraphs – ph/sh/ch/igh) that make one sound). It is essential that we do not teach one letter, one sound relationship and most certainly we must always teach that the one sound can look like this – f/ph/gh/ff. I recommend starting with the most common combinations first.

However, teaching phonics alone is not enough to be successful. Reading instruction must taught in a meaningful, contextual, multi-modal way. Once these are achieved, we can work towards phonological awareness which is inclusive of phonemic awareness, with the extended ability to work with sounds at the word, syllable and phoneme level.

Step 1: Our Classroom

Let me step you through our classroom program to show you how this is done and you can replicate this in your home. We focus on one sound per week. 

The sound is used in alliteration with characters such as Lola Ladybug, Maddie mouse and Brayden bull. 

Cued articulation is introduced (Link to Youtube) which uses hand movements to represent a sound. This helps children with connecting to where and how sounds are produced. We practice these in a mirror so that we can visualise our mouth.

We read stories from Little Miss Lola; The first day of school which uses alliteration and visual connection to the letter sound.  

The words on the page are highlighted to show where these letters are in the story. Children love being ‘book detectives’ finding the items, upper and lower case letters. Children explore flash cards matching characters (Maddie mouse) with their item (mango), matching upper and lower case and memory games. https://www.abctovce.com.au/shop/little-miss-lola 

Next, we identify a range of objects beginning with that sound. Children hold them, say the word and focus on the shape their mouths make and the hearing the sound. 

Finally, we make arts and crafts, to again, re-inforce the connection between the sound, the letter and the context. https://abc-to-vce.squarespace.com/shop

At the end of the session, I ask parents to consistently identify the sound and the letters in their daily activities, such as items when grocery shopping, walking in the park, looking through books and accentuating the lip movements for the sound. 

Our entire program is available online. Please take a free trial of our online classroom at https://www.beginbrilliantly.com.au/courses/free-trial

Step 2: Phonemic awareness

Developing phonemic awareness with the focus sound is a simple as talking about what you lips do for the sound and where do you see my lips do this? At the beginning, middle or end? Let’s take the ‘n’ (letter n) sound. 

nap – n/a/p and –  a/n/d        can  – c/a/n/

Teach the most common sounds first – s,a,t,p,i,n. Once children have a grasp of these sounds they can begin to push them together and pull them apart in the development of reading and spelling.

Step 3: Word Families

Word families are a great way to introduce rhyming words by changing the first letter of each word.

bat cat rat sat bit kit mit sit pit

Also focus on changing the end sounds but keeping the initial sound.

bed beg bet big bit bin

Then move onto changing the middle sound

pat pet pit pot

Step 4: Teach sight words

Sight words make up around 65% of all paragraphs. Whether you choose Oxford words, magic words or any other program, these words are essential to the success of reading and further literacy skills. Activities for sight words include play-doh making (insert pic), air writing, flash cards, memory or being a ‘book detective’ and finding the words in the book.


What are the warning signs and early literacy difficulty? These are just a few of the early warning signs; when identified early enough, the teacher is able to put in place activities to prevent further issues occurring.

Pre-school – 2nd grade

  • Unable to identify letter-sound correspondence
  • Unable to decode unfamiliar words
  • Doesn’t self correct
  • Skips words
  • Doesn’t recognise that the word they have said doesn’t make sense in the context
  • Avoids reading aloud
  • Poor reading-comprehension
  • Difficulty re-telling a story

If these issues are not addressed, they lead into more serious problems including

  • Difficulty providing explanations
  • Persisting with immature grammar – “we runned to the shop, she broked her leg”

If your child is experiencing any of the above difficulties, please contact us, we’d love to help. Remember, we don’t just want you to begin school, we want you to Begin Brilliantly! info@abctovce.com.au or hello@beginbrilliantly.com.au