Teaching Phonics - Introduction
This page been retired and is for reference only although many language schools still adhere to this methodology. Please instead engage your students with the wonderful Jolly Phonics Program
As native speakers, we have a thorough knowledge of our own phonic system, and as children this not only allowed us to read and write words we already knew, but to make informed guesses as to the spelling or pronunciation of words we hadn't met before. This rule is true even now, and is invaluable to us as speakers, readers and writers of English.
We may not have been taught phonics explicitly in school, but we were able to 'intuit' them simply as a result of being surrounded by our language. In our lessons, however, the students are only exposed to English for an hour a week, meaning that to simply acquire a solid is far more difficult - almost impossible. Without these rules, the only knowledge that our students have to draw on is in Japanese, leading to the kind of mistakes that we see every day.
In the curriculum, the children are largely taught to learn whole chunks of language, and noun phrases, and are rarely if ever required to read any of the language presented to them. However, once they start YLE, they are suddenly expected to read rather than recognise, write rather than copy, and to attempt to learn and use words that they haven't encountered in full sentences, which they haven't been prepared for. As such, it would seem that the earlier that we start teaching our students how to recognise the 'building blocks' of English, and the rules that accompany them, the better they will do once they reach the point where they're expected to be more independent learners.
Teaching Phonics - Why Teach Phonics Every Lesson?
Simply put, phonics is easy to learn, but completely alien for most of our students. It's often contrary to what they know as speakers of Japanese, it's full of strange sounds like 'eff', 'ess', 'vee' and to make matters worse, they only see it for 50 minutes a month, 40 times a year. I am a terrible student of Japanese, but simple common sense dictates that I'd do better spending five minutes a day learning and reviewing Japanese on my way to work, than sit down on the 1st day of the month and study for an hour.
Moreover, whilst I can use my Japanese pretty much whenever I choose, the children can't usually speak English except with me! As the key to learning phonics is reinforcement, including a 10-minute phonic focus into a regular lesson from 3 years old level will give kids a much better chance of succeeding once they reach the YLE curriculum.
Teaching Phonics - How Should We Teach Phonics
The following is a common progression that's effective for learners who don't use the Roman Alphabet in their native language (paraphrased from Paul, D.; Teaching English To Children In Asia, Longman, 2003). If there's a YLE student that's completely new to English, the first 5 points will give them a quick 'boost', however the items on the list build on each other, so it's best to make sure they're covered properly so that students aren't asked to read/write something that they don't know to tackle.
2. Consonants (starting with simple, easily pronounced consonants and moving to more complex ones like 'v' 'f' and 'r')
3. Vowel-Consonant Combinations (2-letter, phonically regular combinations)
4. Consonant-vowel-consonant Combinations (3-letter, phonically regular combinations)
5. Longer phonically regular words (melon, banana, introduce 2+letter consonants e.g. frog, apple)
6. Special Combinations (Dipthongs - ay, ow, ou etc., Digraphs - ch, sh, wh etc.)
7. Dipthong-consonant combinations (for example ee->ree->tree)
8. Special rules ('magic 'e'', the trailing a in panda, Canada, banana etc.)
Teaching the single-letter phonics is essentially a matter of attaching a phonically regular 'anchor word' to the target phonic, first teaching the anchor word, then demonstrating how the anchor word relates to the phonic sound. The letter names are often confusing, in that the A-ay sound is totally different from the 'a-apple' sound that we're looking for - children often know the letter names but these often hinder rather than help learning.
Personally I don't like to focus on letter names, but it's perfectly feasible to teach the phonic A(ay)a(a.)apple, which shows the different sound but doesn't focus on the letter name. Once the students are comfortable with the anchor word, it's important to gradually shift the focus to the phonic sound, and try to isolate it from just the one anchor word - moving students to identify other words they know which start with the same phonic helps this process, for example B, b, book, banana, baseball.