StarSpell 3 Spelling Guide - Preparing for Phonics - Stage 2 of the Spelling Route

This Guide aims to demystify how spelling is learned. It shows smart ways to help learners, both using StarSpell and with activities away from the computer. All the practice in the Guide is based on actual classroom experience

Preparing for Phonics - Stage 2 of the Spelling Route

This is about working with learners at the second stage of the Spelling Route. The previous section, Discovering Words - Stage 1 of the Spelling Route, offers suggestions for Discovering Words and sounds which continue to be useful throughout the first two stages: Discovering Words and Preparing for Phonics. For older learners meeting spelling for the first time, see suggestions in Spelling support for older learners.

But now we'll focus more specifically on that particular and important strand that runs throughout these stages: the preparation for phonics.

First, let's be clear as to what we mean by "phonic readiness".

Learners have acquired phonic readiness when:

· They can hear that a spoken word is made up of a string of separate sounds: c-a-t: the ability to "hear" words in that way is a tricky skill.

· They are able to separate-out a word's sounds and juggle them around; this is an even trickier skill.

Ideally, we're aiming to have listeners who can work the magic of turning a cat into a mop. How? They can listen to the word cat, tell the magic trick that changes it into mat; say what must be swapped to make a mat into a map; and most difficult of all, say what's been lifted away and what's been popped in, to turn a map into a mop. Please note: this is all oral work.

Phonic readiness grows step by step

Phonic readiness, then, is at first very much to do with listening to words and sounds. Only as learners become used to that skill do they begin to be receptive to learning letter-sound matches.

A learner developing phonic readiness could usefully progress as follows:

1. Simply relishing the sounds of words; for instance, enjoying hearing and saying Rumpelstiltskin or didgeridoo, or loving to chant Humpetty dumpetty, bumpetty, bumpetty

2. Knowing what is meant by rhyme

3. Being able to recognise a rhyme; say when words don't rhyme; and being able to make a rhyme

4. Beginning to pay attention to the beginnings of words, (called onsets). Once learners can 'get' rhymes, they begin to pick out the bit of the word that comes before the rhyme. E.g. Humpty Dumpty. In time, they can think of words from hearing onsets, as: "Tell me something that begins with d; tell me something that begins with fr."

5. Being able to distinguish the separate sounds that comprise a rime: the remaining segment of a word following the onset (see below)

6. Being able to distinguish a vowel sound separate from its surrounding consonants; that is, being able to give the middle sound of a three-letter word made of a consonant-vowel-consonant e.g. cat (a CVC. Word)

Furthermore, once learners are comfortable with those fourth, fifth and sixth steps, they then begin to grasp the idea that sounds are represented by letters. In meeting this idea, they're actually meeting phonics: we can see Preparing for Phonics merging with Early Phonics. That is, alongside their continuing oral activities, pupils are usually able to get on with learning some simple letter-sound matches by the time they are able to distinguish the first phoneme of a word. They're at the cross-over time between phonic readiness and phonics.

About onsets

An onset is the initial consonant or consonants of a word e.g. t-ip; tr-ip.

About rimes

The rime is the remaining segment of the word following the onset, for instance, the og in fr‑og. A rime has no connection with 'rhyme.'

Note that StarSpell adopts the terms "Tops" and "Tails" for onsets and rimes. The idea of Tops and Tails is easy for pupils to grasp, simply dividing the word into a front end and a back end.

A warning

Of course, learning never develops in neat, segmented stages such as are tidily numbered 1 to 6 here.

The boundaries are fuzzy. Like the stages of the Spelling Route, these steps in phonic readiness form a continuum: a continuous set of states that blend into each other so seamlessly and gradually that it is hard to tell where one becomes the next.

And again, the steps will overlap.

We need to be flexible and fluid in the activities we place before our learners.

But at the same time it cannot be too strongly stressed: phonic readiness can't be skipped. It is the absolutely unavoidable and necessary starting point in the overall journey towards becoming a competent speller.

Preparing for Phonics: sequence of activities

Through Further Phonics - Stage 4 of the Spelling Route Stage 4 - Further Phonics, Stage 6 - Near-Correct and Learners needing extra support, this Guide offers a sequence of activities, a mix of StarSpell and away-from-computer work, to help develop skills and understandings discussed in this section. The sequence and the individual activities are offered purely as guidelines; adapt and modify according your learners' needs.

Much of the sequence deals with the steps of phonic readiness, together with making a start on the process of learning some letter-sound matches.

There is a later section that sets out ideas for off-computer activities. On computer, StarSpell's five modes offer a wealth of opportunity for the learning described here. There is also a detailed description of the Five Modes. Various teaching ideas for StarSpell group work using an interactive whiteboard are detailed in Teaching Sessions 1 to 4.

Summary of lists for Preparing for Phonics

Phonics Lists: Tops & Tails

Phonics Lists: Phase 2: Groups 1-4; Phase 3: Groups 1 & 2

StarSpell Lists: One letter for One Sound > Short vowels, using the StarPick Spelling Game