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Lessons Learned from Teaching Phonics Online

Last week, Ruth Ayres’ post encouraged writers to celebrate lists as a valuable writing craft.   Then I went to my writing group, and both educators included lists in their draft articles.  The ideas these authors listed in their pieces helped me as an educator and as a writer.  As I read their drafts, I realized that I admire lists in the work of other writers, but I am critical of my lists in my own writing.  Clearly, there is a mismatch here.  

So, to honor lists, I created a list of the small moves that help me teach decoding online.  I’ve used many of the strategies listed below with entering kindergarteners and well as middle-grade students. These small moves have helped make phonetic learning stick:

1. Have a Notebook

Ask students to have a notebook.  Any type will do. In this notebook, I have students create anchor charts, write steps they are learning, and record phonetic rules.  The more the children write down what they learned, the better the learning sticks.  Here are a few examples of child -created tools that students refer to again and again.  

Here is one student’s list of what to do when he comes to an unfamiliar part. It is a bit blurry because I take screen shots when they show me their work.
A kindergartener’s chart to remember the sounds of the vowels. It may look crazy to us, but it works for him.

2.  Use the Chatbox

Don’t underestimate the power of the chatbox.  Even with the youngest of learners, I ask their families to open the chat window.  I write words in the chat window with the specific phonics skill for the students to read. Students read what I write, and I get a quick sense of how they apply their phonetic knowledge when reading words in isolation.

I also use the chatbox when I want students to check the spelling of a word that I asked them to write. First, the students write the word in their notebook.  Then I write the correct spelling of the word in chat.  The next sentence out of my mouth is, “Check to see what is correct about what you wrote.”  When students begin with what is right, I find them much more open to giving themselves feedback about what to change. 

I typically don’t have students write in the chatbox because I want their notebooks to show their growth over time. When they finish, the students show me the last few pages in their notebook so I can see progress.  Once I see it clearly on the screen, I snap a photo so that I have some assessment data.

3. Record What They Learn

When students learn a new phonics skill or decoding strategy, they record what they learned in their notebook. Either through pictures or words, the students create some way to remember the concept.  I generally don’t tell them exactly how to record the idea.  I will guide them if needed but usually, the students have a helpful way to remember what they learned without much input from me.  Here is the way a soon-to-be first-grader tried to help him remember the sounds of sh and ch.

4. Build Words

Building words has also been successful online.  I ask the students to rip the paper to make four or five little squares.  Then they write specific letters on the squares.  As the students write the letters, they put their screens down so I can watch them write.  It is during these moments that I correct backward letters and make sure they have all the letters they need.  Now, I say a word and the students build it.  Then I have them manipulate the letters to build another word.  Since I can see their hands working, I see their automaticity with the skills through the screen.  Although this process is far from perfect, it gives me a window into when to move on and when to stay on a specific skill.

5. Teach Others

Once students have recorded a new concept in their notebook, I ask them to teach it to someone else.  It doesn’t matter whether they teach a member of their family, a pet, or even a stuffed animal.  All I care about is that they are articulating how sounds and letters work.

6. Explain Why  

I take a few words from the students’ independent reading book or a book we read together and play “Explain Why.”  Each student gets a word, and they explain why the word is pronounced in a specific way.  For example, if a student was trying to explain the word
“make,” he could say, “This word is “make” because it has a vowel, one consonant, and a silent e.  The silent e makes the “a” say the long a sound.  If the “e” weren’t at the end of the word, it would say “mak.” This game gets boring if we play for more than 2-3 minutes, but I find the verbal practice helps transfer the skills to authentic reading and writing.

Teaching decoding is only a tiny part of my conferring and small group lessons, but these few minutes help children internalize the skills they need.  After we complete one of the items from the list above, we spend the rest of the time reading and writing authentic texts.  These phonetic games break up the monotony that can happen with online learning, and they give me insight into my next teaching steps.  

How are you teaching phonics online?  Perhaps you can help me add to my teaching repertoire.  Please add to my list!

3 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from Teaching Phonics Online”

  1. These are great ideas for working with phonics on-line. I love how explain why makes the students process the reasoning for the sounds of a word. Yup, lists are invaluable!

  2. These are fantastic ideas. I especially like teaching others and using the chatbox–I know my own kids would have loved those.

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