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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

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Cherry

says:

Thank You for these free activities, a big help indeed. God bless.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Cherry. I’m happy these will be a help to you.

Rosella Balingit

says:

Hi , I am a SPED Masters Student in the Philippines , and I am interested to use your materials for my study. How can I contact you? Thank you

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Yes, please contact us, Rosella. Our email is support@allaboutlearningpress.com.

Genevieve

says:

We just started AAR level 1, and we’re enjoying it so much! My six-year-old has been struggling to master the basic letter sounds for a long time… One day he’ll have a sound down and the next day he won’t. Would you just recommend a ton of repetition with different games? Or is there anything else we should be doing? He’s really good at blending, but often forgets one of the phonograms in a word, which has really held us up from getting rolling with reading.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Genevieve,
I’m sorry your son is struggling with the letter sounds. I do have a couple of recommendations.

First, you are probably already doing this, but just to be sure, review the phonogram sounds daily, 5 days a week. Students that struggle with memory need frequent reviewing to keep knowledge in their memories. You can use the games here, review with the phonogram cards, and also review using the letter tiles. Keep reviewing even after he seems to get it down until at least a full week passes, and he still knows them after a Monday. Then, any time he hesitates or is unsure about a phonogram while sounding out a word, put the phonogram back into daily review for at least another week. Check out our How to Make Reading and Spelling “Stick” blog post.

Second, only work on three or four new phonograms at a time. Do not move past lesson 1 until he has those four phonograms down well. Not necessarily perfectly, but well enough that adding four more in lesson 2 doesn’t cause a problem. Our Pre-reading level works on letter sounds, so going over three or four per lesson in All About Reading level 1 is typically review for students. If you find your child finds it difficult to master four letter sounds per lesson, you may need to stop All About Reading level 1 until he learns the first sound of each letter. Check out our How the “Funnel Concept” Affects Learning blog post.

We have a free Help Your Child’s Memory ebook that I think you may find helpful.

If you are already implementing these, or if you try them for a couple of weeks and don’t notice improvement, please let me know.

Pegi Merriman

says:

Thank you for these amazing phonogram games! I have found so many lessons to reinforce with these. “Swat!” and “Jungle Bingo” are favorites!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Pegi! Thank you for letting us know that you’re enjoying these games.

Rebekah Elefante

says:

Thank you for this! We are just starting out with phonograms and this will help her a lot in learning.

Rebecca

says:

Great tips

Adrienne

says:

Good day. There is no gh in this set. If you were to write the word laugh, it would look like this: l/au/gh, but you don’t have a gh. Is there a reaon for this?
I see someone else also asked about missing phonograms. I saw your response, but we teach the -gh sound in grade 3.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Good question, Andrienne.

All About Reading and All About Spelling do teach words that use GH, but they approach those words a bit differently. The majority of words that use GH use it in one of the phonograms we do include, IGH, EIGH, OUGH, and AUGH. (AUGH is an advanced phonogram not included in these 72 basic phonograms that are used to spell 97% of English words, but All About Reading teaches it in level 4 and All About Spelling teaches it in level 6. It says /aw/ as in taught.)

There are very few words that use GH other than those four phonograms. The hard g sound occurs at the beginning of a syllable in only a few words. Here is the complete list: ghost, spaghetti, burgh, sorghum, ghetto, ghastly, gherkin, ghoul. GH saying /f/ after AU occurs in just one word, laugh. It is sometimes best to teach such singular incidences of phonogram sounds as rule-breakers rather than another phonogram to be learned and very rarely used.

I hope this explains the lack of GH in this blog post. Please let me know if you have further questions.

daisy

says:

thank you so much this is very helpful for my teaching job

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Daisy! I’m glad this is helpful for you. Let me know if you are looking for something specific or have questions.

Becky McRae

says:

I’m a former special education teacher who is having to re-learn new and different approaches to teach my own children. I’m hoping this material will aide me in that endeavor.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I hope our blog is helpful for you, Becky. However, if you have questions, please just ask!

Christina

says:

This sounds amazing!! Over a kids life time how many of the programs would have to be purchased? It seems like not all the phonics sounds are included in all packages is that correct?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Christina,
For the All About Reading program, there is a Pre-reading level to work on the Reading Readiness Skills and then levels 1 through 4 to take students from just beginning to sound out words to having the phonics and word attack skills necessary to sound out high school level words (though younger students may not know the meaning of all higher-level words yet). Word attack skills include things like dividing words into syllables, making analogies to other words, sounding out the word with the accent on different word parts, recognizing affixes, etc. The 72 basic phonograms and then a few advanced phonograms are taught over the course of All About Reading levels 1 through 4.

All About Spelling uses 7 levels to teach the basic phonograms and a few advanced ones.

Let me know if you have additional questions.

Stephanie

says:

My eldest kiddo recently took off with reading, but I think his phonogram recognition could use some work – he won’t stop to decode a word since he knows so many of them by sight. We’ve read sooooooo much since he was a baby that he’s heard many, many difficult words over the course of his short life. Great for reading fluency, but only up to a certain level! I plan on doubling down on phonograms over the next few months in our reading practice. The games will be great!

Michelle Goldbach-Johnson

says:

As a kinder teacher these cards were so helpful in teaching phonograms! Now that I have my own child I can’t wait to explore with her. Lovely blog to review since I’ve been out of practice for a bit.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this will be helpful for you as you get back in practice with teaching phonograms, Michelle.

Terra

says:

My daughter has gained so much confidence in reading just because she is learning her phonograms! It makes me so happy!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful to hear, Terra!

Heather Castillo

says:

Thank you for the tips. We love ALL about reading.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Heather! Glad to hear that All About Reading is working out so well for you.

Elizabeth H.

says:

Those games look really fun!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Glad you like the look of them, Elizabeth!

Amber

says:

My 10yr old has difficulty remembering the many sounds of some of the phonograms. These games are cute but look too be for the younger students. Any suggestions on how to reinforce for older students? Thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I understand, Amber. Many students around your child’s age do enjoy these games, especially the Try Not to Moo one. However, here are additional review ideas that may appeal to older students:

– We have several free downloads you can use for spelling review–check out the popcorn party, pirate ship, drag race, and other spelling games. Each includes blank pieces that you can write phonograms on.

– Review phonograms while jumping on a trampoline, bouncing a ball, or playing catch. Yell out one letter for every jump, bounce, or toss!

– Incorporate tactile and kinesthetic ideas to make review more fun. Marie has lots of great ideas in this article. Things like writing on a whiteboard, using a dry or wet erase marker on a window or mirror, writing with gel pens on black paper, going outside with sidewalk chalk, creating a cool, special spelling notebook with artwork and stickers can also make spelling more fun.

– Use a favorite board game like Sorry. Each player reviews a Phonogram C before taking his or her turn. If you have a Trivial Pursuit game, you can substitute the various spelling cards (red, blue, yellow, green) for the types of categories in the game.

– Use rewards like a mini Hershey bar or other treats for so many phonograms answered correctly.

– Kaboom! Write the word BOOM on several blank Phonogram Cards. Mix up all your Phonogram Cards and scatter them face down in a pile on the table. Players take turns selecting and answering cards from the pile. If a player answers the phonogram correctly, he keeps the card. If he misses a card, put it back in the pile. If a player picks up a BOOM card, he has to return all his cards to the pile. Play continues until all the cards have been collected.

Snowball game. Practice phonograms with the snowball game, or use nerf darts instead. Tape Phonogram Cards to the wall for your student to “shoot” as he reads them.

– Flip the card: Answer a Phonogram Card and then try to throw it into a hat or box. Vary the distance if it’s too easy/hard.

-Hockey or Soccer: one mom told us, “I tape cards all around our fence and have the boys kick a ball towards them. Whichever card they hit, they have to answer. We have also adapted this for hockey and basketball. Anything to keep the boys moving!”

– Set up a points system and give your student a small prize when he reaches 100 points. For example, you might give your student a point for every correct word spelled during each lesson time. Or, combine the system with phonogram card review too, for more chances to earn points. (My daughter used to make up her own points system, just to try to beat a previous high point score.)

Note, some kids this age just want to “get it done” and not bother with activities, but others are really motivated by some kind of activity or reward. Hopefully, this gives you some ideas though! Please let me know if you have additional questions.

Danielle

says:

The phonogram games were a great help and fun.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Glad you have enjoyed the games, Danielle.

Keely Lanier

says:

Love this curriculum and look forward to teaching my children the next levels!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear the curriculum is working out so well for you, Keely!

Ashley

says:

We have used AAS for years and love the program!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Ashley!

Judith Martinez

says:

This is really helpful! The phonics curriculum I used with my oldest kids didn’t explain this at all. I think it will help my younger kids a lot.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful, Judith!

Chauncey Newberry

says:

Really appreciate all of the addition help here.

Julie

says:

Thanks!

Jenny

says:

so critical for all learners!

Mary

says:

We will finish up level one with my daughter this year, 12yo, and I am praying this is the help she needs to become a more confident reader, speller, etc

Miranda J

says:

Excited to try this for my struggling daughter!

Kristi Belt

says:

Thank you for such wonderful material!! All About Spelling allowed me to take my 4th grader from a fearful, anxious speller to a confident speller and writer in just a few months!! We are in the middle of Level 3 and he’s THRIVING!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Oh, this is wonderful to hear, Kristi! I love that your child is becoming a confident speller and writer, and in such a short time!

Angela

says:

Teaching long vowel sounds was always the hardest. Thank you for the great games!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Angela! I’m glad these games are helpful.

Anela Tello

says:

Excited to try this program!!

Anela Tello

says:

Excited to try this new curriculum!

Joanne Cotton

says:

Love the added explanation on the blog’