Synthetic approach to teaching phonics

Case Study 1 Instructions


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After reading the case study below, compose a 250–300 word response using proper grammar, spelling, and mechanics.  Present your findings in one Word Document using in-text citations with your references cited at the end of the page.  Each alternative approach described must be found in the course textbook and referenced; identifying the page number or section number that discusses each approach within your paragraph.


Case Study:


You have a student who is struggling with your synthetic approach to teaching phonics.  Starting in Ch. 6 on page 153, Section 6-5, your textbook gives you several different Approaches and Guidelines for Teaching Phonics.  Explain 2 alternative approaches to phonics instruction that you could use to help this student instead of using only the Synthetic Approach.  You need to describe two specific approaches with examples.  Avoid discussing “Specific Teaching Strategies” described in Section 6-6.




Working with Consonant Sounds

You can help students avoid the distortion of consonant sounds that results from trying to isolate these sounds when decoding unfamiliar words. First have them isolate the vowel sound and produce it. Then have them blend the initial consonant or consonant cluster with that vowel sound. Finally, have them blend the remaining consonants at the end of the word with the chunk that has already been pronounced.

For example, if band is the unfamiliar word, the sound of the letter b is not easy to isolate without distortion. Therefore, the student would isolate the vowel sound (a) and pronounce it, then blend the initial consonant b with the a (say ba), and finally blend the consonant blend nd with the onset vowel chunk (ba) to produce the complete word band.

In this synthetic approach, children are sometimes asked to pronounce nonsense syllables because these syllables will appear later in written materials as word parts. Reading words in context does not generally occur until these steps have been repeatedly carried out and the children have developed a moderate stock of words.

Although blending ability is a key factor in the success of a synthetic phonics approach, many commercial materials for reading instruction give little attention to its development. Research indicates that children must master both segmentation of words into their component sounds and blending before they are able to apply phonics skills to the decoding of unknown words, and that the ability to segment is a prerequisite for successful blending. Research also indicates that a teacher cannot assume children will automatically transfer the skills that they have been taught to unknown words. Direct instruction for transfer is needed to ensure that it will occur (Johnson and Baumann, 1984). “Putting It into Practice: Segmenting and Blending Words” presents some activities that you can use to help children learn to segment words and blend sounds.

Putting It into Practice

Segmenting and Blending Words

You can use activities such as the following to help students learn and practice segmenting words into separate phonemes and blending phonemes into words.

Segmenting Words

  • Have students use letter tiles or small objects to represent the phonemes in a word. See the explanation of Elkonin boxes in Chapter 3.
  • Ask students to pronounce a word. Then ask them to repeat the same word without one of the sounds. Begin by having them delete the initial consonant sound, and conclude by having them delete the final consonant sound.
  • Using a large rubber band as a visual, stretch it as you slowly pronounce a particular word. Instruct students to pretend to stretch a rubber band when they pronounce words to identify the individual phonemes, or sounds.
  • Use magnetic letters, colored chalk, or markers to visually differentiate segments of words by syllables.

Blending Sounds into Words

  • Identify the phonemes in a blending riddle that provides a clue to the meaning. One example might be: “I am thinking of a small, furry animal that meows.” The sounds are /k/ /a/ /t/.
  • Assign each student a specific phoneme. Form teams of students to create words from the blending of their assigned sounds. The words can be shared orally or visually by spelling the words on the board or charts.
  • Construct a cloze passage from familiar material that has been read to students or that students have read. Delete every fifth word by covering it with a sticky note or select key words with particular sounds or patterns that you want to review. As students read the material, encourage them to “guess” the missing word, using clues that you provide. Start by providing the initial letter, and continue giving letters for them to use by blending their sounds until the word is identified.
  • Young children, particularly struggling readers, benefit from a kinesthetic approach to blending sounds. Write the word rat on the board and then show students how to make each sound of the word while tapping on your left arm with your right hand. Say /r/ while touching your left shoulder, say /ă/ while touching your left inner elbow, and say /t/ while touching your left wrist. Repeat this several times, increasing the speed so that the three touch-points eventually become more of a gliding motion with your right hand, mimicking the blending of the sounds with the flow of your right hand. Model this procedure while students mimic your actions.


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