More on Implementation

Implementation Ideas for Visual Phonics Hand Shapes & Written Symbols

Word Walls.  Word Walls are organized by “letterness”, and it only takes a few words under the vowel letters or T before the “one letter, one sound” idea goes out the window. For example, under A, you could have words like “ant”, “a”, “are,  or “Aden” . . . all beginning with the letter A, but all with the sound of A being different. Under the T letter, you might have “too”, “the”, and “thank”. This variability of what letters can “say” can be confusing for children, since they think about how words sound much more often than what letter words begin with (that is an adult concept).

We can bring “sound” to Word Walls in a rather simple way, using the Visual Phonics written symbols. First, place the Visual Phonics symbols under each Alphabet letter (two symbols for vowels) at the top of each letter column. Since vowels can do more than two sounds in English, it might be necessary to mark all vowel sounds in the words listed under the vowel letters. This is a differentiation strategy! It helps kids sort out the code of English and provides the kids who think in sound a visible representation of the sounds so they can map sound-to-print more proficiently. Keep in mind that words under the consonants can also have more than one sound, especially if you add student names (for example, Charlene under the C, or Austin under the A). In these cases, you would place a Visual Phonics symbol under any word examples that were different from the primary sound the letter would make. Referring back to the example above, under the letter T you would add a symbol under “the” and “thank” to differentiate these words from the other words that do make the /t/ sound.

Make the addition of words to the Word Wall an active process by involving the students when a new word is added, talking about the letter the word begins with and then making the hand shape for the first sound that we hear when we say that word. You don’t need to “teach” the written symbol at this point – the exposure to the Visual Phonics written symbols should have taken place in your routine of review when the letters and the sounds they represent were taught or reviewed at the beginning of the year. If it is the first time a particular sound has shown up in your classroom, just mention that the symbol you are making will help them remember the sound the letter/letters make.

Routine of Review. This is one of the foundation pieces for successful outcomes with the Visual Phonics strategy. First of all, it is important to remember that brains love repetition, patterns, and rituals. The Routine of Review fits all of these!

A Routine of Review is a dynamic strategy, incorporating exposure to the letters of the alphabet, the hand shape for the sound the letter represents, and the written symbol that corresponds to the hand shapes. A card with the letter (Visual Phonics written symbol should be under or beside the letter) is shown and when the sound the letter represents is made, the teacher and the students make the hand shape as they say the sound. This daily routine serves two purposes – the introduction/teaching of letter-sound associations (the Alphabetic Principle) via multi-modal learning, and the review of all letters or selected letters + sounds. When teaching the letters + sounds in K, for example, a letter is presented at the rate of one letter every 1-2 days from the beginning of the school year (yes, yes, yes . . . the children can handle this pace of learning!). Every day a new letter/sound is added, all previous letters/sounds are reviewed . . . and both short & long vowels are taught.

Teaching the letters/sounds can be done in alphabetic order and after only a few days, word-building is possible.  The selection of which letters/sounds to review is determined by the needs of the students . . . it may be just short vowels because that is what the lesson for the day (or tomorrow) is. It might be all vowels or vowel digraphs or consonant digraphs . . . or any combination. Sometimes it is just a review of letters that are confused, such as B & D. The point of a daily review is to continue to bring opportunities to connect sound and print, and to strengthen, reinforce and maintain the critical skill of “voice-to-print” matching so that students will be able to “map” sound to print when decoding and encoding. It’s basic and simple, yet profound for struggling readers.

Sound Wall. This is another way to have a visual reference in the room, along with a Word Wall. So what is the difference? A Word Wall is organized by “letterness” and a Sound Wall is organized by “soundness”. These are different organizational strategies and are easily sorted out by students. The use of a sound wall displays words by how a certain part of the word “sounds” . . . most often it is organized by vowel sounds. For example, under the long A symbol (not the letter A, but the Visual Phonics symbol for the long sound of “A”) would be words that all make that sound . . . words like “made”, “rain”, “say”, “hey”, “weight”, “able”, “great”, “reindeer” and “vacation”.  You can do this for all vowel sounds, including the vowel digraphs . . . think of all of the words and the different spelling patterns for long “oo” – food, stew, due, do, flew, flu, crude, new, etc.

By having words organized by “sound” you tap into the way kids think of words . . . by their sound. Thinking of words by letters is more of an adult thinking style (although most kids eventually get used to this way of organizing). An additional benefit of using a Sound Wall is that students begin to see spelling patterns that come from a “sound” basis vs. a clump of letters to be remembered as a sequence.

Elkonin boxes. The use of Elkonin boxes is a great visual organizer for “letterness”, but can also be adapted to map sound to print. I saw a 1st grade teacher use Elkonin boxes in a very intuitive way. First of all, she “profiled” each box for letter height (b, d, f, h, k, l, t) & extension below the line (g, j, p, q, y) – great idea! Then she placed a Visual Phonics written symbol under the box or boxes for the sound the letters represented. For example, under “saw” there would be one VP symbol for “s” and one for “aw” . . . under “weigh” there would be one symbol under “w” and just one VP symbol under “eigh”.  Even though there is more than one letter for each of those vowel spelling patterns in the onset-rime format, there is only one sound.

The other use of Elkonin boxes is the “move & say” activity. This works really well when there is a 1:1 correspondence for each letter representing one sound, as in the word “fun” or “sand”. Letter tiles are moved up into each box according to where the letter occurs in the word . . after the student moves a letter tile into a box, they make the hand shape for the sound. When all tiles are in boxes and the word is complete, they say the whole word. Some teachers have the students blend the whole word with their hand shapes and then say the word again. Remember, after having a student blend sounds together into a word or after assembling a word with letter tiles, always have them say the whole word. It is critical after blending or segmenting a word that the word be restated in its “whole” form. 

Vocabulary. Some teachers write vocabulary words on the board in Visual Phonics symbols and have the students figure the words out . . . and then write them. This is a great way to bring encoding into the learning. This is an active way for students to engage in learning vocabulary. Another variation is to write the vocabulary words in Visual Phonics symbols in a column on one side of a paper and put the words in print on the other side and have the students match them up by drawing a line. This is also “active” but not as much as when the students actually write the words themselves because encoding is immediately involved. This is also a great activity for spelling practice. 

Riddles. Similar to the vocabulary activity, the teacher writes the answer to a riddle on the board. When the students figure out what the word is, the teacher gives them the riddle. Likewise, some teachers put the riddles on paper and put the answers next to the riddle in Visual Phonics symbols. Students then write the answer to the riddle in letters – another encoding opportunity!

Sound “Family” posters. This is similar to the idea of the Sound Wall. It is common to see “word family” posters up in K and 1st grade rooms, all having common “rimes”. A simple adaptation to bring sound to the vowels of the word families is to place a Visual Phonics symbol under the vowel at the top of the poster. If need be, you could also put the symbol under the vowels of all word examples.

Phonics activities. Phonics lessons do not need to be changed, but the addition of hand shapes whenever the sound of the vowel or consonant digraph helps to map sound to print. I saw this implementation in a 2nd grade classroom for a lesson involving the “ow” sound (as in “cow), with the spelling patterns of ou/ow.  The teacher put “ou” on one side of a line on the board and “ow” on the other side. All students had a white board and did the same. Then the teacher hand blended the sounds for a word that the students were asked to write on their white boards. She instructed them to write the word on the side that had the correct spelling pattern . . . if they weren’t sure, she told them to try the other side and then decide which one looked “right”. Once all students had it “right”, she asked one of the students to go to the board and write the word under the correct spelling pattern, and then the whole class blended the word using the Visual Phonics hand shapes. A great example of active learning by the students, mapping sound to print by encoding the word on their white boards, and then using the hand shapes for the whole word. This really made the phonics lesson more “active”, and offered the students a chance to decide if a word “looked right” . . . a skill that begins to develop for most students in 1st grade and is critical for automatic recognition.

© 2010  Dave Krupke  All Rights Reserved