We rely on advertising to keep the lights on.

Please consider adding us to your whitelist.



Advanced search

Does anyone know the 'proper' way to explain 'magic e' in phonics?

(118 Posts)
owlelf Sat 06-Oct-12 10:46:44

DS is in Y1. His School have adopted Read write inc this year (previously Jolly Phonics).

He has guided reaching once a week, and daily WRI sessions, but he doesn't read one to one with a teacher.

Apparently as he is doing well he doesn't get any one to one reading. I feel that this puts added pressure on me to guide him properly at home. I'm very happy to read with him each night, and we both really enjoy bedtime stories. But I do feel pressure to make sure I explain things to him in a way that is consistent with what he is taught in school- otherwise I will confuse him.

Anyway, I know that the term magic e is now outdated. He does struggle over the concept of an 'e' changing a letter sound to a letter name- and I'm not sure if there is a clever way to explain it? I would live to know how this is covered in the read write inc program.

Can anyone help?

mrz Sun 07-Oct-12 17:19:54

The surplus <-e> endings undermine the 'magic' or 'vowel-lengthening' role of <-e>

They don't lengthen masha!

Euphemia Sun 07-Oct-12 17:20:37

Sod this, I'm on half-term and I just don't want to waste my time here!

Mashabell Sun 07-Oct-12 17:27:03

Sorry about the misspelling of 'chav'.

So are you suggesting we shift to a regular phonemic spelling system?
I am suggesting we could take steps towards greater transaparency of the short - long vowel spellings by getting rid of totally useless dross like redundant <-e> endings.

It took centuries to mess up English spelling. So it's unrealistic to think it could be made totally phonemic in one go, but it could gradually be made much better, not with any drastic transformations, but with sensible, well-considered and discussed improvements.

massive lists of words are not helping.
How else can I possibly show how big a particular problem is?

mrz Sun 07-Oct-12 17:28:06


insancerre Sun 07-Oct-12 17:28:42

My brain is proper mashed now.
<<runs away very fast, looking nervously over shoulder in case they are following>>

Euphemia Sun 07-Oct-12 17:28:55


mrz Sun 07-Oct-12 17:33:14

masha thinks we should simplify our spelling system and spell the way she does and that will prevent riots, drought and global warming. I'm not convinced.

Mashabell Mon 08-Oct-12 08:03:05

It is universally known that learning to read and write English takes longer because of its many abuses of the alphabetic principle (of representing speech sounds in a regular manner).

Among those abuses is the use of surplus <-e> endings which serve no phonic function and undermine the vowel-lengthening function of <-e>, as in 'gone - cf. bone, stone, home'. The wrong vowel spellings don't help either (come, some).

I am suggesting that we could take steps towards greater transaparency of the short - long vowel spelling system by getting rid of totally useless dross like redundant <-e> endings to start with.

Are u saying that the redundant <-e>s never confuse children in any way?

Euphemia Mon 08-Oct-12 09:25:26

I honestly think we need to live with the spelling system we have. We have such standardisation nowadays as a result of print, dictionaries, the internet, etc. that spelling reform would have such huge ramifications as to be impractical.

Literacy is no longer the preserve of an élite, where some self-appointed worthy can decide to instigate a reform of spelling because he happens to favour the conventions of Greek over Latin, as has happened in the past.

We need to work with what we have, and phonics seems to be the best system for providing children with a strong foundation in reading.

Mashabell Mon 08-Oct-12 10:04:24

I agree that phonics seems to be the best system for providing children with a strong foundation in reading. Yet despite it, many children still find learning to read and write very difficult, with roughly 1 in 5 never managing to do so.

If we removed some of the dross and amended some of the spellings that are chiefly responsible for making learning to read and write English much more difficult and time-consuming than other alphabetically written languages, we would make the use of phonics far more effective and the teaching of reading and writing much less time-consuming.

The invention of computers and the advent of the internet make this far more feasible than it used to be, but it requires that people stop regarding English spelling as god-given, never to be meddled with, not even for the better.

It is a man-made system which has fallen deeper and deeper into disrepair over the past 600 years. Children, parents, teachers and the public purse pay a heavy price for this. They could be much reduced by repairing the most damaged parts of it.

It is only relatively recently that people have begun to analyse the inconsistencies of English spelling more closely (Hannah and Hannah in the 50s, the late E. Carney in the 90s, followed by me).

Euphemia Mon 08-Oct-12 12:42:24

There are many more barriers to literacy for the 1 in 5 than finding learning to read difficult.

mrz Mon 08-Oct-12 16:58:43

The problem is masha teachers aren't teaching phonics! (even some of those who believe they are). Until universities teach student teachers how to teach phonics rigorously things aren't going to change.

MadameCupcake Mon 08-Oct-12 17:28:30

I didn't know about these things when DS1 taught himself to read (phonectically built words) at age 3. I then taught him magic e then also just told him the words it didn't apply to as we came across them - there really aren't that many. He started school at NC 1a so it didn't really cause an issue at all - he never joined in the phonics lessons in YR and has never had a problem due to me teaching him this way.

I understand there is a proper way to teach this which I did not realise of course but I don't think it is anything to worry about and the school will teach them correctly hopefully anyway.

Elibean Mon 08-Oct-12 18:45:42

Hmm. I think Euphemia has a point - out of the 5-6 year olds in dd1's Y1 class, the few who are struggling to learn to read are nearly all children who are either not read with often at home, or who have other issues that make concentrating very hard for them, or both.

I don't think phonics teaching is responsible all the time, though clearly good phonics teaching makes a big difference to many.

Mashabell Mon 08-Oct-12 19:27:45

There are many more barriers to literacy for the 1 in 5 than finding learning to read difficult.

Yes. But their difficulties with learning to read and write exacerbate their problems. Parents make a huge difference. - With better spelling systems children can learn to read and write easily even without parental help.

MadameCupcake Mon 08-Oct-12 19:32:30

I think the phonics system is brilliant if taught well, DS1 is really lucky - they are brilliant at his school and there are many children that went to school unable to read and are achieving high level 2's/3's by the end of year 1.

DS2 has just started school and cannot read at all but yesterday managed to read it, is, and, on, as by blending the phonic sounds he has been learning.

Euphemia Mon 08-Oct-12 20:03:33

Maybe so, Masha, but you're living in cloud cuckoo land.

vesela Tue 09-Oct-12 10:20:40

I call it "an ay that goes round the letter". (ok, so it's round the consonant, but round the letter gets the idea over to DD).

When I was showing a_e to her in the word cake, for example, I'd join the a and e with a little loop that went under the k. When she writes words like that, she still sometimes joins the a and e, i and e etc. with a loop to remind herself.

Mashabell Tue 09-Oct-12 10:45:39

In early reading the concept can be taught with words like
bake, blame, brave, cake, came, cave, crane, date, late, lane...

But when it comes to spelling, the <a-e> patterns is used by 338 common words, but there are at least 107 exceptions:
break, great, eight, straight, main, wait....

vesela Tue 09-Oct-12 11:14:49

Wait and main aren't exceptions, though, they're just ai. Don't make things so difficult!

DD knows that sometimes it's a_t_e or a_k_e, sometimes it's ait, sometimes it's eat or eak. Occasionally it's something else. Big deal.

vesela Tue 09-Oct-12 11:24:04

by which I don't mean to suggest that it's a walk in the park. And I do think massive spelling reform would bring advantages. I worry not just about literacy in English-speaking countries, but that lots of people expected to learn English as an international language are going to be left behind.

That said, given the extreme unlikelihood of massive spelling reform I don't see what purpose you serve by continually making the situation out to be worse than it is.

vesela Tue 09-Oct-12 11:26:40

In other words, why don't you start threads called "We need spelling reform now" rather than coming on to every phonics thread and making your case for spelling reform there? You're writing about spelling reform, not about phonics teaching, so I don't see what your purpose is in coming on to threads like this.

Mashabell Tue 09-Oct-12 19:07:20

I don't see what your purpose is in coming on to threads like this.

To explain why phonics is not whole answer for learning to read English, and even less for learning to write. It's a good start, but after YR and Y1, it's simply memorise, memorise, memorise.

And 'wait' and 'main' are predictable for reading (although undermined by 'said'), but they are unpredictable for spelling. 'Main' a little less so, because '-ain' endings are much more common than '-ane', but u also have 'reins, reign, deign, feign, vein, champaign' and 'champagne.

For spelling, the <a-e> grapheme has at least 107 exceptions. To claim that u can learn to spell those by the phonic method is just shmonix.

mrz Tue 09-Oct-12 19:19:39

but you don't offer an alternative masha just loads of negativity about the nature of English and stupid lists of words.

Mashabell Wed 10-Oct-12 07:13:49

In practice, phonics advocates do the same thing after Y1 as other teachers: practise, practise, practise with little groups of words.

The lists which I post, to show what needs learning, tend to be ones which contain 'stupid' spellings. If it wasn't for the irregular spellings, nothing but phonics would be needed. Learning to read and write would be easy. There would be no need for endless repetitions of the same things again and again.

There would also be no endless debates about how best to teach children to read and write, or worried parents, or so many children struggling to cope.

So when a parent asks, 'Why is my child having trouble with x, y, z?'
I shall keep explaining what is tricky about those particular spellings. Because I believe that being aware what causes a learning difficulty helps with teaching it.

Removing that difficulty would be even better, IMO, but understanding the problem helps too.

The much revered phonics guru Diane McGuinness wrote in an article in 2002

“It’s difficult for us to imagine what it’s like to have a transparent (or nearly transparent) alphabet code, like those in Italy, Spain, Germany, Finland, Sweden, and Norway. Teaching a transparent alphabet is incredibly easy ... Learning this is so easy, that children start to read late (age 6 or older) and finish early, by the end of the school year. So easy, that no country with a transparent alphabet tests reading skill by decoding accuracy. Everybody can decode.”

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now