How to help 5 year olds to read? Tell them there is no rule to pronunciation? Or explain them some basic rules and exceptions?

(56 Posts)
SouthLondonDaddy Wed 15-Apr-20 11:28:21

With the lockdown and the resulting home-schooling, we are looking for some guidance / tips / materials / books on how to help 5 year olds to read. It needn't be free material, we'd be happy to buy books on the topic.

We have bought a set of Usborne phonics books (fat cat on a mat, Ted in the shed, etc) which seem fairly similar to the books the school uses.

However, our child is always asking questions about why certain words are pronounced in a certain way. Ted red fat cat etc are pronounced how they are written, but how do you explain why beside or look or cake etc are pronounced the way they are?

Our questions are:

1) Do you just teach 5 year olds that there are no rules and they must memorise the pronunciation for each word? Or

2) Do you try to explain some basic rules? E.g. in words starting with "kn" the k is silent, etc? How certain words together make certain sounds? Etc

3) Is there an official approach in English schools? Are ther ebooks on it? Or does each school follow a different method?

We haven't found much on the topic. It seems that the school wasn't teaching specific rules but I have no idea if they would have taught them in the near future.

Does any one have any ideas / experience / recommendations?

To be clear, we are not looking for more fat cat and red ted and frog on a log books, but for guidance on whether to follow approach 1, 2 or something else.

I have found (not yet bought) this book: which seems to provide certain rules to teach kids how to pronounce; I worry the approach might be a bit too different from that of the school, which might be confusing for kids, but then I haven't really understood what approach the school follows, to be honest.


OP’s posts: |
LondonGirl83 Wed 15-Apr-20 12:08:17

Are you in the UK? If so, she should be learning synthetic phonics which explains pretty much everything you are asking about.

I'd recommend if you are going to try to teach her you learn more about phonics first. Jolly Phonics Cartoonito is a good DVD that goes through the initial basics covered in reception including various sound combinations.

Alphablocks is also good phonics DVD series.

On top of that, most schools teach high frequency words (the top 100) to early readers so they recognise them automatically. These include certain tricky / exception words.

None of the words you mentioned though are exception words. They are just words composed of double vowels or using the magic e which children typically don't cover until year 1.

SouthLondonDaddy Wed 15-Apr-20 12:23:45

Yes, we are in England (not sure if the system is different in Scotland).

The thing is, we honestly have zero idea how to explain pronunciation to our child and we have zero idea on what the school's method is and how it works.

For example:

How do you explain a child why the "a" in cat sounds so different from the "a" in cake?

Do you explain that the letters "ak" together are to be read in a very specific way (lake, cake, make, take, bake, etc)?

That would make sense, but, then, we need a book that explains these combinations and these sounds. The Usborne phonics readers books don't have any of that.

You recommended the Alphablocks DVDs. Do you know of any books (not DVDs) that would have these explanations?

All I have found so far are two American books:
Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons

The Reading Lesson


PS Before the lockdown, the school (a state primary) used to give kids a small book each week, similar to "fat cat on a mat" but probably easier, for the children to read at home. Most of the words on those books are pronounced as they are written.

OP’s posts: |
Feenie Wed 15-Apr-20 12:29:49

Debbie Hepplewhite - creator of Floppy's Phonics, Phonics International and No Nonsense Phonics - has made all her parents' books free during lockdown.

They include comprehensive notes to help parents with exactly the kind of questions you have raised and follow the same principles as all her other programmes:

SouthLondonDaddy Wed 15-Apr-20 12:36:59

That's excellent, thanks! Plus, since she's British, I imagine the material would be more similar to what they teach at school here than the two American books I had found on Amazon

OP’s posts: |
LondonGirl83 Wed 15-Apr-20 12:47:32

To answer your question: one is a short a and one is a long a sound. The long a is because it has a silent (magic) e at the end.

There are plenty of books that explain synthetic phonics. Buy Read, Write Inc, or Jolly Phonics books / systems on Amazon. There are phonics phase mats you can buy that explain how all this works as well (I've included a link below).

Just put phonics into amazon and lots will come up. You don't really need a book though. A sound mat is just as useful and explains the various combinations that make the various sounds in the English language. Phonics is progressive so learning about kn / ci / ce / ph/ etc comes after learning about the earlier sounds. I would try to continue teaching it systematically in order and only have her read books that correspond to the phonics that she has already learned as you progress. The reading schemes are banded for this reason so books correspond to the concepts mastered to date. Do you know what band she was on?

The DVDs are helpful as they also teach you the correct pronunciation of the sounds and are very educational. Its important to hear how you are supposed to say things in phonics so words can be blended and decoded properly.


Nicpem1982 Wed 15-Apr-20 13:03:21

We have found these quite helpful, as they explain the rules as you go through the phases


Feenie Wed 15-Apr-20 14:23:35

The long a is because it has a silent (magic) e at the end.

Not always - what about radio, baby, crazy.

You're talking about two different ways of spelling /ai/ there: <a> as in baby and split digraph <a_e> as in gaze.

The Debbie Hepplewhite books do indeed match the national curriculum and are designed to be a pick up and go resource for parents, making points like the above in helpful notes along the way. I'd highly recommend them.

Hippywannabe Wed 15-Apr-20 14:25:23

Read write inc is amazing. (Proud teacher of it here). I think Ruth Miskin has made videos of phonics lessons available on Youtube.

OdinJax Wed 15-Apr-20 15:23:32

I second @Hippywannabe Read Write inc is great, I also teach it ! The oxford owl website is also very good

Norestformrz Wed 15-Apr-20 16:00:44

*"How do you explain a child why the "a" in cat sounds so different from the "a" in cake?"*
Children are taught that in English the same symbol (letter or combination of letters) can represent different sounds and that the same sound can be spelled with different symbols (letters or combinations of letters) and that a sound can be spelled/represented by one, two, three or four letters.
In the word cat the sounds are /k//a//t/ in cake the sounds are /k//ae/k/ - spelled with the letters a-e
The spelling a can represent /a/ cat / ae/ acorn /o/ want and /e/ any

LondonGirl83 Wed 15-Apr-20 16:03:57

Feenie I was answering the specific question for the words mentioned by the OP. The long a in cake is because of a magic e.

There are obviously lots of phonetic rules around the long a sound including ae, ai, ay, a_e etc...

Feenie Wed 15-Apr-20 16:12:08

The long a in cake is because of a magic e.

Yes, it was the 'because of a magic e' that I made the distinction. We don't refer to a 'magic' e any more because it isn't. It isn't 'magic' in words like come, love, have, etc.

The /ai/ in cake is a split digraph - and yes, just one of around eight common ways of spelling /ai/ (alongside some very rare correspondences).

SouthLondonDaddy Wed 15-Apr-20 16:38:15

Thank you all for the suggestions. We will start with Debbie Hepplewhite's material, which should be close enough to what they teach at school.

Out of curiosity, did your schools provide any indications on this after the lockdown?

OP’s posts: |
LondonGirl83 Wed 15-Apr-20 16:44:11

Feenie you don't but some schools do!

I don't think we are actually disagreeing about anything by the way.

OP its really not as complicated as this thread may be making it seem. Essentially there are a number of sounds in the English language and many combinations of letters for some of those sounds. Phonics systematically teaches each of the sounds and progressively over time the various ways each sound can be written.

Feenie Wed 15-Apr-20 17:07:11

Magic e is a misconception, for the reasons i have explained, so I'm afraid I am very much disagreeing with you. It isn't in the spelling objectives for the NC (now 6 years old) or Letters and Sounds (now 15 years old) for that very reason. If schools are still teaching it, it shows a basic misunderstanding of those concepts.

Sorry, LondonGirl, but I couldn't not pick this up on a thread where someone is just starting out, especially.

Feenie Wed 15-Apr-20 17:09:58

We will start with Debbie Hepplewhite's material, which should be close enough to what they teach at school.

Excellent - if you're on Twitter, I'd recommend following her. She is always very active in helping parents like you and very quick to answer any queries.

Out of curiosity, did your schools provide any indications on this after the lockdown?

I emailed the links to these materials as soon as Debbie made them free and explained that they used the exact principles taught in school.

Chanel05 Wed 15-Apr-20 17:15:49

Look up letters and sounds and jolly phonics. Geraldine the Giraffe on YouTube.

A in cake is a split digraph a_e. The a makes the capital letter sound and the e is silent. We don't use the terminology of "magic e" in teaching any longer._

Norestformrz Wed 15-Apr-20 17:27:56

If schools are teaching magic e they really need to update their knowledge

Feenie Wed 15-Apr-20 17:30:09

A in cake is a split digraph a_e. The a makes the capital letter sound and the e is silent.

Not quite. The letters together spell the same sound when they are split.

e.g. <ae> as in sundae and then <a_e> as in cake.

This works for all those vowel sound spellings:

e.g. <ee> as in see and <e_e> as in theme
<ie> as in tie and then <i_e> as in time
<oe> as in toe and then <o_e> as in tone
<ue> as in due and then <u_e> as in due

Teaching both together helps children understand why the same happens when the digraph is 'split', rather than teaching a silent/magic e that is redundant.

Feenie Wed 15-Apr-20 17:31:08

Totally agree, mrz.

Feenie Wed 15-Apr-20 17:32:04

<ue> as in due and then <u_e> as in dune

Chanel05 Wed 15-Apr-20 17:32:31

@Feenie I am a year 1 teacher and have been for many years. She asked for specific advice on teaching split digraphs.

LondonGirl83 Wed 15-Apr-20 17:36:20

Feenie okay, I understand your point of view.

I think a split diagraph being called a magic e isn't that big of deal for young children as it adds and element of fun and doesn't change how you'd explain the difference between the pronunciation of bone and love but l'm happy to agree to disagree and leave it there.

Patchworksack Wed 15-Apr-20 17:37:30

Another recommendarion for read, write, inc although it makes sense to follow the scheme your school uses. RWI teaches sounds in 3 sets - set 1 is, the basic single letter sounds, set 2 and 3 introduce different vowel sounds and combinations of letters (digraphs, trigraphs, split digraphs). Thete are free daily phonics lessons on Youtube during school closures. They have 'red' words, which are the common exception words "it doesn't follow the rules, you just need to learn it" and they focus on building fluency once they can blend sounds. DD (5) is my third, and this is the third reading scheme school have used, but I'm impressed with this one.

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