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Why Teach the Phonograms and Spelling Rules?

Teaching Phonograms and Spelling RulesI recently received a message from a teacher who wanted to know: "Why should we teach the phonograms?"

Good question! I understand where this teacher is coming from. When I was in teaching college, majoring in elementary education, we were never taught the definition of "phonograms," much less why it is important to teach them to students. And I am sure there are many parents who are trying to figure out the best way to teach spelling to their own children, and who need to know the answer to this question.

First let's look at some common spelling problems.

You probably recognize these problems from working with students.

Challenge: Kids develop faulty methods for learning spelling, like memorizing words as strings of letters or memorizing word shapes. They soon become overwhelmed.

Challenge: Kids guess how words are spelled instead of being certain of their answers. This problem is compounded by methods that encourage invented spelling.

Challenge: Kids forget their spelling words by Monday. They're able to remember the words long enough to pass the spelling test...but by Monday, they've already forgotten what they've learned.

Challenge: The method of "copying the words ten times" doesn't work for many students. Too many spelling books out there cause failure by just presenting a list of words and expecting the student to learn them.

The problem? Most spelling programs ignore the logic and structure of spelling.

Our brains like to find logic and structure. When we are taught something that "makes sense" to our brains, we remember it much more readily. The basic phonograms and spelling rules provide the logic and structure that our brains crave.

1. We have 26 alphabet letters, and with those letters we form the basic combinations that we call phonograms.

a b c d e f g h
i j k l m n o p
qu r s t u v w x
y z ai ar au aw ay ch
ci ck dge ea ear ed ee ei
eigh er ew ey gn ie igh ir
kn ng nk oa oe oi oo or
ou ough our ow oy ph sh si
tch th ti ur wh wr    


Instead of having to memorize words as strings of unrelated letters, which results in frustration, children who are taught to spell using the phonograms see it as a doable task.

In the   All About Spelling program, these phonograms are taught and reviewed through Phonogram Cards (the student reads the sound on the card) and Sound Cards (the student writes the dictated sound). Several phonograms are taught at a time. Using letter tiles, the teacher demonstrates how the phonogram is used in words, and the student practices using the phonograms in spelling words, dictated phrases, and sentences.

2. There are consistent rules, such as:

The sound of /ch/ is
usually spelled tch after
a short vowel.
It is spelled ch after
everything else.
(match, lunch)

 

 

 

 

 

 

English words do not
end in u or v.
We add a silent e at the end of
the word to keep the u or v
from being the last letter.
(true, twelve)

 

 

 

 

 

 

C followed by an
e, i, or y says /s/.
(cent, city, cycle)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 In the All About Spelling program, rules and generalizations are taught through hands-on demonstrations with the letter tiles, and are reviewed until they are mastered.

3. Using the basic phonograms and spelling rules, we can spell most words in the English language. A study of 17,000 words showed that the vast majority followed the rules. Only 3% of the words were completely irregular (such as said and of).1  That leaves a very small percentage of words that the student must learn to spell through repetition and rote memorization.

Phonograms are the building blocks of almost every English word.

Why expect students to memorize the spelling of thousands of words, a task which is impossible for many children, when you can teach the basic phonograms and related spelling rules? Show students the logic and structure, work with how our brains are wired, and watch your students achieve success in spelling.


1 Hanna, P.R., Hanna, J.S., Hodges, R.E., & Rudorf, H. (1966). Phoneme-grapheme correspondences as cues to spelling improvement.  Washington, DC: United States Office of Education Cooperative Research.

Have a question about teaching the spelling rules and phonograms? ask-marie.png

 

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