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How to Teach Phonograms

mother teaching phonograms to child

Understanding phonograms is vital to your child’s success in reading and spelling—but the thought of teaching them may seem intimidating. Fear not! Phonograms are actually very simple to understand and easy to teach.

Let’s start with a quick definition.

What Are Phonograms?

A phonogram is a letter or combination of letters that represent a sound. For example:

  • CK is a phonogram that says /k/ as in clock.
  • S is a phonogram that says /s/ as in sat or /z/ as in has.
  • OY is a phonogram that says /oi/ as in boy.

The word phonogram comes from Greek and is literally translated as the “written symbol for a sound.”

definition and pronunciation of phonogram

Why Should You Teach Phonograms?

Simply put, phonograms make learning to read and spell much easier!

Take a look at the word past. If you pronounce the word slowly to hear the individual sounds, you will hear four different sounds: /p//ă//s//t/. For each sound, we can write down a phonogram. This 10-second video shows exactly how this is done.

That was an easy example, but the same principle also applies to multisyllable words. Here’s the word winter.

As you can see, your child doesn’t need to remember w-i-n-t-e-r as a random string of letters. Instead, he can just segment the word and represent each sound with a phonogram.

Listen to the Phonograms with Our Free App

Just click a button below to hear the correct pronunciation of the phonograms.

(If you are on a slow internet connection, there may be a slight delay. The downloaded version of the app will not experience this delay.)

You can download the free app on your computer, tablet, or phone here.

The button colors match the colors of our letter tiles to reinforce learning, and the phonograms are arranged in logical groupings, matching the labels provided with the letter tiles.

Phonograms Are Like Building Blocks

Phonograms are the building blocks of almost every English word. In fact, a study of 17,000 words showed that the vast majority of words follow the regular phonogram sounds. Only 3% of the words are completely irregular (such as said and of).1 This means that there are very few words that must be learned through repetition and rote memorization.

Since phonograms represent sounds, the number of letters in a word doesn’t necessarily correspond to the number of phonograms. Here are some examples:

graphic showing that phonograms correspond with sounds

How to Teach Phonograms

If you’ve been hanging around our blog for a while, you know by now that we teach everything very incrementally, step-by-step. It would overwhelm most kids to have to learn all the phonograms at once, so we teach just a few phonograms at a time. Once your child has mastered those, we introduce a few more.

Flashcards (known as Phonogram Cards) are an efficient way to teach and review the phonograms, and we include them right in the All About Reading and All About Spelling programs.

The front of the card shows the phonogram. This is the side you show your student.

front of DGE phonogram card

The back of the card has information for you, the teacher. It shows the sound of the phonogram, along with a key word.

back of DGE phonogram card

If you are using All About Reading or All About Spelling, these steps are included right in the lesson plans.

  1. Show the Phonogram Card.
  2. Demonstrate the sound.
  3. Have your student repeat the sound.
  4. After several repetitions, see if the student can say the sound without your prompting.

The goal is to flip through the flashcards and have your student say the phonograms without pausing to think.

Organizing Your Phonogram Review Cards

To stay organized, sort the Phonogram Cards behind three dividers:

  • “Review” divider: Cards that your child is currently learning go here.
  • “Mastered” divider: This is where you’ll put the Phonogram Cards that your child knows inside and out.
  • “Future Lessons” divider: This is the parking spot for cards that haven’t been presented yet.
All About Reading review box with dividers and cards

And this is important: after your child knows the phonograms, don’t forget to review! Quickly flip through a handful of cards at the beginning of every lesson to keep them fresh in your child’s mind.

Download These 4 Free Printable Games to Practice Phonograms

There’s no better way to review phonograms than by playing a game! Choose one of these games (or all four!) to make practice time go by more quickly.

preview of Try Not to Moo game

Try Not to Moo

Try Not to Moo is an effective and super silly new way to practice phonograms that makes review time extra me-moo-rable! Designed to be used in conjunction with All About Reading or All About Spelling, this activity can also be used independently.

Get instant access to Try Not to Moo!

Click to download Swatting Phonograms activity

Swatting Phonograms

If your phonograms review and practice sessions are falling a little flat, here’s a great hands-on activity that you can slip in whenever you have a few extra minutes. It’s so much fun your child might not even realize he’s practicing!

Check out our super fun (and kind of gross) Swatting Phonograms activity!

preview of Fun with Phonograms Game

Fun with Phonograms

Playing games is a great way to reinforce learning with children, and our easy-to-assemble printable game boards give you five different ways to have fun with phonograms! It’s as easy as 1-2-3—just download, print, and play!

Get instant access to Fun with Phonograms!

Phonogram Jungle Bingo Game

Phonogram Jungle Bingo

It’s easy to review phonograms when you have a great game to play! And who doesn’t love a good game of Bingo? Just print our jungle-themed bingo boards and grab your phonogram cards. You’re ready to go!

Download the PDF for Phonogram Jungle Bingo!

The Bottom Line for Teaching Phonograms

With phonograms, reading and spelling are much easier! Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • An understanding of phonograms is vital to your child’s success in reading and spelling.
  • Phonograms are simple to understand and easy to teach.
  • Tools like the Phonogram Cards, the Phonogram Sounds App, and simple games are a great way to help your child master the phonograms.
  • Review is essential!

Was this post on phonograms helpful to you? Let me know in the comments below! And then download our “20 Best Tips for Teaching Reading and Spelling” for even more great information!


20 Best Tips for Teaching Reading and Spelling
how to teach phonograms pinterest graphic

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Michelle Stichnoth

says:

Quick and easy to understand lesson on phonograms! Thank you!

Malinda-Ro Koehn

says:

i live in Australia and the pronunciation of the sounds is slightly different. Does the app have the ability to ‘hear’ an Australian sound version?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Malinda,
I’m sorry, no. None of our apps have the option to change the sounds to Australian pronunciation. I will forward this idea to our app development team to consider, however.

Vartika

says:

Hi
My daughter asked me why brain is not spelled as brane( cz of silent e makes the long vowel)why did we use ‘ai’ in word brain.?? when to use two vowel together in a spelling….

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Your daughter is really thinking about words, and that is very good, Vartika!

However, the answer to why brain is spelled with AI and not some other way has to do with the far off history of the word. This is a simplification, but the AI phonogram is more likely to have come to English from Old German whereas the A-consonant-E pattern is more likely to have come to English from Latin by way of Old French. Since Britain was invaded by a number of different people groups over the centuries, a number of different languages have influenced English. And some influence of English has been from countries Britain moved into as well, such as words from native American languages that are now a part of English like hurricane and shack.

All of this does add to the trickiness of English spelling, but it also helped to make English a language that can grow and adapt with time and location. It is a language that is poetic and precise. We can say, “We talked,” “We conversed,” “We chatted,” “We prattled,” or “We soliloquized,” and dozens of other words that more or less mean “talked” but have subtle differences in meaning that allow us to be very exact in what we mean while also giving us the option to use beautiful poetic words. English can be wonderful!

I hope this helps some. I would love to tell you there is a rule for when to use different spellings of the same sound, but most often there isn’t one. That is why All About Spelling separates the different spelling of each sound with many lessons in between, so students can master one spelling before the next one is introduced.

Travis

says:

Hi,
I’d like to get the box of phonograms review cards to help my wife learn phonograms to continue building her English skills. Can I purchase them through this website and if so, how?

Thank you,

Travis

Merry

says: Customer Service

Hi Travis,

For just the Phonogram Cards, use this link: https://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/phonogram-cards/

You can also use our free Phonogram Sounds app: https://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/phonogram-sounds-app/

Enjoy!

Helen

says:

Thanks allot for this, you have just shown me how best to help my kids with their reading and spelling challenges. I love it and God bless you.

Merry

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Helen!

Olymtmom

says:

Is there a phonogram rule for when to use “g” or “j”? My son is in AAS1 and while he can read the word “job”, when I asked him to spell it he wrote “gob” as “g” makes two sounds as in “goat” and “gem”. Thank you

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Oylmtmom,
Let your son know that G may say /j/ only when it comes before the letters E, I, or Y. It always says it’s hard /g/ sound before any other letter. That is why it is hard goat and soft gem.

Also let him know that soft G, when it says the /j/ sound, isn’t taught until the second half of level 2. Until then, he should always use J for the /j/ sound during All About Spelling time.

You don’t need to let him know now, but for your information, the rule is “G MAY say /j/ before E, I, or Y.” There are words with G before one of these letters where G says it’s hard sound, such as get and give.

If your son has more questions or needs further help, just let me know.

Dawn Herrick

says:

My daughter’s spelling is horrible and she is 13. I’m looking forward to using this program over the summer to help her improve.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Dawn,
If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look at our Using All About Spelling with Older Students blog post. You’ll find it helpful. Let me know if you need anything or have questions.

Brook

says:

This is great, I found the article very interesting. My 6 year old son loved playing with the all the sounds the letters make. I think he is a good reader for his age but he struggles with some of the phonograph sounds. It is helpful for him to hear the sounds in a clear way.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful for you and your son, Brook!

Michelle Manson

says:

Hi, this is actually the first time I am really learning what phonograms are. I have heard the word before but never really understood what it was. I totally agree with what you said about alot of word dont following the ” when two vowels go walking the 1st one does the talking ” because my some have come across different with word when this rule dont apply. I am so happy to learn about what phonograms are and how to teach my son these letter sounds. Thank you so very much 🥳

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m happy to hear this was so informative and helpful to you, Michelle! Let me know if you have any questions or need more information.

Charlotte

says:

Thank you for this really user friendly website.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Awww, you are so welcome, Charlotte! 😊

Natalie

says:

I really like the app, very informative

Puneet

says:

It’s seems good information and also explained in simple way . Thank you

Joni

says:

We are blessed by this curriculum… Im a mom from Philippines… May God bless you…

Nosipho V Yoder

says:

This Post was helpful. I really like the way you explain things.

Tanaya Williams

says:

This website is very helpful.

Naveen

says:

This is a great content

Sanjana parshuram shinde

says:

Very excellent Topic.

Moon

says:

The content is really helpful for me as I do not usually teach kids or beginner learners. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Moon. If you ever have any questions or need anything, let me know.

MICHELLE AYOUB

says:

Neat! downloaded the try not to Moo lol

Katie Pyle

says:

My children know their sounds but they have to break it down and think about it. Wanting it to come faster for them.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

We have a number of games and activities that can help make reviewing phonograms fun, Katie. If you scroll down a bit on our free Activities page you’ll see a number of Phonogram Review activities.

Let me know if you need anything else.

Amy Fiedler

says:

We stopped our phonics/spelling/reading lessons in November and have had a slow restart this month. These games will be great to review the handful of phonograms my daughter has trouble remembering!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Starting up school again with games is a great way to encourage enthusiasm for lessons, Amy! I hope you have lots of fun with this.

Tracey

says:

Absolutely love this curriculum and the apps! Thank you for posting this informative article. I need to utilize these ideas with several of my struggling students more often.

michèle brown

says:

I need this to help some of the kids I teach….these are basic building blocks.

Emillie

says:

Thank you so much for this. Our school switched reading programs and doesn’t seem to really touch on phonograms. I completely agree that they are like building blocks in reading.

cleo

says:

Great games

Jenfer Richards

says:

Good way to teach a child phonics. Glad they came out with something fun to help learn

Melissa

says:

These look great. I haven’t tried this program yet but my daughter has dyslexia so these might be really helpful. Thanks

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Melissa,
We have a number of dyslexia resources you may find helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or need anything.

Pamela

says:

Good information. Thank you.

Paige Harrison

says:

This seems like a terrific website and resource.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Paige! 😊

Avril Shelley

says:

I think this is worth trying

Valerie Conrad

says:

Sounds like a great app and fun for the children

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