Exercise Caution When Teaching Phonics Using Visuals
A... Apple! B... Boy! C... CAT!
When we teach letters and letter sounds, we all love to use all types of colorful visuals and objects during the teaching process. Having colorful art and images to look at while teaching makes it a lot more fun and engaging than plain black letters on white paper. While using colorful visuals to teach phonics and reading is fine and dandy, I have to caution parents and teachers to be careful about how they go about teaching using the visuals. I'm going to explain why...
Have you ever seen a child where if you show the letter A to the child, the child would automatically shout out "APPLE!", or if you show the letter B, the child then shouts out "BOY", or "BAT", or "BUS". This may seem very cute and endearing - and it really is - but in terms of developing reading skills, this causes more harm than good for that child. Why? Because associating objects with a particular alphabet letter does absolutely nothing to help that child learn to read, and can cause some difficulties if and when the child begins with some proper phonics instructions - simply because the child has a firm association within his/her mind that A is APPLE, and it becomes more difficult to teach this same child that A is not APPLE, but A makes the /a/ "ah" sound, and is the starting sound of APPLE.
You may not think it's such a big deal, but working with young children and students, I see this quite often, and it can lead to problems when we start phonics instructions. Basically, with this problem, we have to first undo whatever the parents have taught the child (that A is Apple), and slowly teach and help the child realize that letter A is NOT apple, but makes the /a/ sound.
I have had many parents with younger children, usually around 2 to 4 years of age, ask me for help because their little one refuses to acknowledge anything but APPLE for A, or BOY or BAT for B, etc.; however, A for APPLE is by far the most common. So, if you have been using visuals to teach your child the alphabet letters, STOP, and re-evaluate whether you are doing it correctly!
It is not a problem to teach letters and sounds using visuals, but it is a problem if you do it wrong, and I'll explain here how to properly teach letters using visuals. We'll use the letter A and the Apple image as example. If you were teaching the letter A, DO NOT teach it like so:
- "This is the letter A. A for apple!"
A is NOT for apple. When small children are continually exposed to this type of teaching, the only outcome is for them to associate A with Apple and nothing else. The proper way to teach the letter and sound while using the visual should go something like this:
- "This is the letter A, and it makes the /a/ "ah" sound. Can you say /a/?"
- Pointing to the apple, "What do we have here, is this an apple? Can you hear the /a/ sound in apple? Listen carefully, a-a-a-aaaaaaaple. Apple!"
- You can even take it a step further by asking your child to try to identify where he/she hears the /a/ sound in apple - at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end?
When we teach letters and sounds, be SPECIFIC and be EXPLICIT. The goal is to associate the proper sound with the letter and not an object or anything else.
You Can Teach a Child to Read Without Teaching Any Letter Names, but You Cannot Teach a Child to Read Without Teaching Letter Sounds
When I teach reading, I always teach letter name and sound together, with emphasis on the sounds. However, most people usually only teach the letter names to their children. So often, with the younger, new students I get, one of the first things the parents tell (brag to) me about is that their child knows all the alphabet letters. Yes, that's great, but...
Knowing letter names does little to nothing in helping children learn to read, unfortunately.
Knowing that "Bee You Tee" makes the word "BUT" does not help a child to decode and read the word "BUT"; however, knowing the sounds made by those letters - /b/ /u/ /t/ - allows a child, or anyone, to sound out the word and then connect the sounds to figure out what the word is.
This is why you can teach a child the 26 alphabet letter names, and it would not offer much to help that child learn to read. When teaching letters, you should always teach the letter name and sound together (with emphasis on the sound), and if you choose to only teach one or the other, for whatever reason, then at least teach the letter sounds, because it's the sounds that matter.
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