Most of the parents who want to teach phonics at home are doubtful with the teaching methods regarding pronunciation and vocabulary. We have realized that a key factor in helping them was to start with consonant blends.
A consonant blend (also called a consonant cluster) is a group of two or three consonants in words that makes a distinct consonant sound, such as bl, br, cl, cr, dr, fl, fr, gl, gr, pl, pr, qu, sc, sk, sl, sm, sn, sp, st, sw, tr, and tw, We can group these into “l” and “r” blends, which are the most frequent and convenient to categorize.
A digraph is a single sound, or phoneme, that is represented by two letters. A trigraph is a phoneme that consists of three letters.
Consonant digraphs include ch, ck, gh, kn, mb, ng, ph, sh, th, wh, and wr. Some of these create a new sound, as in ch, sh, and th. Some, however, are just different spellings for already familiar sounds. Some consonants have “silent partners”: for example gh is a different spelling for “f” and mb is “m” while wr is still the “r” sound.
Sometimes reframing the concept in familiar terms lowers the affective filter encouraging self-scaffolding. Our goal is to encourage students to use the language they’re learning, and making the language fun to use is a great way to do that. Blends are fairly straightforward because they keep their phonemic structure. But sometimes helping kids to vocalize these blends can be daunting. Teaching decoding helps them recognize and form new words.
But, there are so many blends and digraphs in English. Where to begin? Ah, the one reliable go-to connection for teaching—food. This is something familiar, something children can relate to, and something they can practice using since they come in contact with these items every day.
Start with a list of foods that children like—chicken, pizza, cookies, ice cream—any food item will do just fine. After we have several selections, I break the class up into groups. Each group will handle one food item. I ask each group to write down: 1) how to make their food item and the ingredients needed; 2) a list of utensils needed to make their item. This part is done phonetically first; however students originally spell the words is fine, as we will rewrite this same lesson with the correct spelling. I often ask the groups to share reading the final copy out loud.
Let’s use chicken as an example. We will need: chicken, water to wash the chicken, a knife, a pot or pan, butter or olive oil, salt, pepper, a stove or grill and a tray for presenting.
In this first example, we see ch, ck, gr, kn, lt, pr, sh, st, and tr. It helps that students see and recognize that most blends and digraphs can come at the beginning or the end of a word but still keep the same sound.
Another example is ice cream. We will need: cream, sugar, flavoring and fresh fruit. We will need to whip or stir the cream, sometimes by hand and sometimes with an electric mixer. Our favorite part is tasting the ice cream.
In this case, we have cr, fl, fr, wh, st, tr, and ctr. Once students get going, it’s easy for them to start rhyming and inventing new ways to use consonant combinations, not unlike the rhyme exercises in elementary school.
I usually model the exercise on the board first to let students see what they are to do. Though this may seem like an elementary exercise, it is something my adult students enjoy and learn a great deal from for several reasons: there is the pronunciation, the spelling, new vocabulary, the confidence of speaking, and the ability to become more independent and creative with a new language.
As we do this activity, each student is making a chart. The blend or digraph goes at the top, and the word using that combination goes below it. After writing numerous examples and repetition, the students generally can pronounce the word and know the meaning. Some of your students will master these skills faster than others. I find it prudent to have those students who can master the blended sounds help others, especially if they share the same native language.
But how can we teach students to begin mastering the art of pronunciation autonomously?
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