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Literacy Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Using Ready to Read in teaching about sounds and words

Learning about sounds and words is essential to literacy learning. The ability to hear the different sounds within words is key to reading and writing successfully. Many students develop this ability easily, with little direct teaching, but some need specific and focused instruction.

Activities such as reading, writing, reciting, singing, and playing word games will develop students’ abilities to recognise rhymes (as part of their phonological awareness), to distinguish the sounds in words (phonemic awareness), and to relate sounds to letters (as part of their knowledge of phonics).

Developing phonics knowledge

The role of the teacher is to help the students to draw on their developing phonics knowledge when reading and writing. Teachers support students to develop:

  • knowledge that words are made up of sounds and that letters represent sounds
  • knowledge of letter–sound relationships
  • awareness of the strategies they can use when decoding and encoding
  • confidence to apply their understandings and knowledge to unfamiliar words.

There is no need to teach students every combination of letters and sounds. As students become more aware of the sounds and patterns of language, they are able to generalise and transfer their understandings to new situations.

Sound sense provides practical suggestions for supporting phonological awareness and incorporating phonics instruction into the wider literacy programme. It includes many suggestions for revisiting familiar texts to explore aspects of phonics that meet the identified needs of your students.

Developing a bank of high-frequency words

The words that students see frequently in their reading and will learn to instantly recognise are known as high-frequency words. Students in the first year of school need to quickly build up a stock of these words. Quick recognition of high-frequency words enables students to read more fluently and to concentrate on reading for meaning and critical thinking. Having a solid bank of high-frequency words also supports students in their writing, making it easier for them to get their ideas onto paper (or screen).

Students should not, however, be expected to be able to write all the words that they can read. The number of words a student can read (their reading vocabulary) grows much more rapidly than the number of words they can write (their writing vocabulary).

English language learners, in particular, need an intense focus on high frequency words to provide them with a strong platform for making progress in their reading. Where possible, have bilingual resources available for students who have a first language other than English.

For more information on supporting English language learners build vocabulary, see pages 41–43 of  The English Language Learning Progressions: Introduction.

Learning to spell

As students begin to acquire a store of automatically recognised words, you can introduce simple spelling activities and short lists of words for them to learn. Spelling words for students to learn should be words that they are likely to use often. These will include:

  • high-frequency words
  • words that have a similar pattern, such as a shared rime
  • words from the students’ writing that they can almost spell
  • words that are of high interest to the students.

Students become ready to learn some spelling rules and to recognise that there are some words in English that do not conform to the rules that they have learned. Some students will relish exploring the intricacies of English. Others may find its irregularities very confusing.

It is helpful to have a variety of dictionaries, class-generated word lists, alphabet-based word lists (ball, beach, boy …), and verb-family lists (help, helps, helping) available in the classroom. Lists and other reference materials are more effective if they have been generated in discussion with the students. This makes them topical, relevant, and needs based.

Background information

  • For information about phonological awareness, spelling, grammar, and vocabulary, see Sounds and Words.
  • For information about teaching vocabulary to English language learners, see The English Language Learning Progressions: Introduction pages 39–46.
  • For information about phonemic awareness, vocabulary, grammar, and examples of classroom contexts for learning these, see pages 70–79 of Learning through Talk: Oral Language in Years 1 to 3.

Updated on: 20 Nov 2014