Friday, January 8, 2016

Teaching English Phonics to Adults

I have been a literacy tutor for adults, first as a volunteer, and then in private practice, for a total of over twelve years. I have learned more about what various adult students actually want, and what helped them the most.

First, there are many different levels of literacy. Some students may know quite a bit of sight words, others may know some sounding out skills, and some may be total beginners.

Whatever their level, I found hands on activities to be very helpful. The clients/students need something to help reinforce what they are learning.

As with any type of learner, whether child or adult, people can have different learning styles. Some may be more visual learners, others more auditory, etc. If you are tutoring your adult student one on one, you can tailor the lessons more to their individual learning style. However, I have found that it is a good idea to offer a variety of activities that can enhance a different type of focus.

Word Search and Crossword Puzzles can be Custom Made for Specific Letter Patterns

Searching for words in a mixed up group of letters can help with both letter and word recognition for words that are out of context. I used to shop around trying to find word search books that were more appropriate for adults. I did find some that were more suitable at a Teacher Resource store.

However, once I found out that I could make my own tailored puzzles to a specific letter pattern, and or specific words, it was so much more helpful and convenient.



My adult students liked doing the word search puzzles and also fill in the blanks. I had my students do these in between the one on one lessons - as homework. I made up sentences on my computer and printed them out for my students.

Learning for adults can also involve fun and games.

Every lesson doesn't have to be at a desk or table.

For adults, a fun game of darts can be turned into a spelling lesson. (For capable adults.)

For experienced dart players, they can aim for letters in the order of how a certain word is spelled.

For more of a beginner's game, you can have them say a word and spell it for whichever letter they hit. For instance, if their dart lands on the letter w, they could say water and then spell the word w - a - t - e - r.

If they hit the bulls eye they can choose any letter that they like.


The basketball spelling game.

Another game idea, is playing some basketball hoops. The student and the tutor can take turns making baskets. Whoever makes the basket can pick the letter or letter combination that the student will use in spelling a word. The student can then use that word in a sentence for a free turn.

What kind of fun games can you think of to incorporate spelling activities?

I had a student that loved charts. I placed various charts on a clip board, and we would walk around his place of training, and would have him look for and mark things off on the chart. He felt a sense of importance from doing this activity.

It helps to have the students use the words that they are learning, in sentences.

It helps them to make a stronger connection to that word, and to ultimately recognize and spell it.

Both phonics and sight words are important.

Phonics is using the known sounds that the individual letters represent in figuring out what the word is.

Sight words are simply taught as recognition words. For instance, for most students, their name is usually taught as a sight word, before any instruction of phonics is given. STOP on the stop sign is a great word to teach as a sight word without the student having to know what sound the letter s represents, etc.

Sight words can be a good place to start. It helps to build a sense of mastery, quickly. - Learning phonics helps the students decipher new words.

Make your own flashcards.

Older students are probably interested in different activities, than the younger student, i.e. driving, movies for the older crowd, novels, etc.

Using themes that your student is interested in, will aid in their learning. You and/or you and your student can make custom flash cards. Either can draw or cut out pictures from magazines for index cards.

You can also find custom flash cards at www.zazzle.com/CustomFlashCards*/. You can also submit design requests there. There are quantity discounts, even with different designs.

Reviewing letter patterns builds on understanding phonics.

The Phonics Guide is a reference book of various common letter patterns.

The patterns are listed in alphabetical order, and also include common rules on location in the word. For instance oi is used in the middle of the word whereas oy is used at the end of the word; as in choice and employ.



It's an easy way for students to look up a particular pattern and to find out and/or review what they have been learning. This book can also be used as a teaching guide for teachers and tutors.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Provide Fun Reading for Kids


My college age daughter was doing some research on literacy and found out that boys weren't doing as well in reading. The problem was that the reading materials that were presented to them in school was not all that interesting to them.

Yes, I know that reading materials in the schools may not be all that interesting to anyone. But the key is that we want to keep our kids learning; it will help to improve the literacy rates in the future if we do.

So find out what your kids are interested in reading, and provide them with some books that are appealing to them. If they aren't really interested in "books", check out comic books and/or song lyrics. Perhaps they'll want to sing along to their favorite artists.

Have them dictate a story to you, write their words down, and then read it back to them. If they are also writing, reverse the roles, and dictate a story to them, for them to read back to you. It can be a made up story, or and experience story, or about something that they would like to do.

Change things up a bit by having them write with a paint brush. Get some poster board or larger paper so that they can write l a r g e.

You don't have to do all of the above; the idea is to provide some fun reading activities that are outside of the school environment that is just for fun.

If you have any other ideas, please share.

Here are some interesting books for various ages.



Cheryl Paton

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Picture Dictionary for Adults


Both adult literacy students and English as a Second Language students can benefit from a picture dictionary for adults.

Pictures can help to jog the student's memory and can also give them a picture to help explain what they are talking about.

Picture dictionaries for adults usually include quite detailed scenes and images that reflect the adult life. There are images of jobs, shopping, driving, sports, etc.

When I was working with various ESL students, they could point to a picture to show me what it was they were wanting to know about. Some of my ESL students could easily decipher words and "read" but didn't know what all the words actually meant. The picture dictionary was a big help, and I didn't have to do a lot of charades.

The Oxford Picture Dictionary has a lot of scenes and situations that covers a wide range of activities that is relevant for the adult literacy student.



It also has forms that adults may have to fill out, such as school registration.

If you are a tutor, the scenes can also be used for conversation starters, writing activities, spelling activities, and more. This book is pretty comprehensive and has 285 pages.

If you want a picture dictionary that is smaller and lighter weight, then I recommend the The New Oxford Picture Dictionary (English-Spanish Edition). Although it also includes the Spanish translation, it can be used by English speaking adult students too. It is not as comprehensive as the above dictionary, but still includes a lot of pictures and scenes to help with your adult literacy students.



Cheryl Paton

Thursday, June 25, 2015

General Phonics Rules by Literacy Tutor


I was a literacy tutor for adults for twelve plus years and I'll be sharing some tips for both literacy tutors and for literacy students. May you find something helpful and useful here.

Literacy and phonics go together. Although many words cannot be decoded using phonics alone, most words can.

Knowing common rules for letter sounds and common letter patterns is a good basis for sounding out new words.

Most letters only represent one sound. Some letters represent two or more sounds. For example, the letter X represents four sounds. Sometimes a letter is actually silent, or changes the sound it represents when it's combined with different letters.

A special note for students. You are a learner.

You have already learned many things up to this point in time. So what I want to remind you is that you can learn, you do learn, you are a learner already.

And if you can apply that knowledge to the idea that you're just learning something new, that will be a big help.


It's okay to start with little words.

Small words, such as cat, may be considered baby words by some people. However, by understanding that the letters CA in cat represent the same sound that starts the word Cathy can be a big help in sounding out the word Cathy.

Also knowing that the letter C, when immediately followed by the letter A in the same syllable, will represent the same sound that the letter K represents, is an extra plus.

Whereas the letter C immediately followed by the letter I in the same syllable, as in city, represents the same sound as the letter S does in the word silly.

Any size word is made up of common letter combinations. Multiple letter groups added together make bigger words, called multi-syllable words.

So understanding and recognizing smaller letter patterns can be helpful in decoding and sounding out larger multi-syllable words.

Some basics on vowels and syllables and when W and Y act like vowels:

There are five letters in the English language that are always vowels: A, E, I, O, and U. Vowels can be long, which means that they say their name; be short and represent a more breathy sound; or they can be paired with other vowels to represent a new sound.

The letters W and Y can also act like vowels depending on the word that they are in, and their location in the word. Y acts like a silent E in the word play; like a long E, as in the word silly; and as a long I, as in the word byte. W acts like a silent E, as in the word grow.

In the English language, the majority of syllables, at least 99.9% of them, have a vowel in them. One exception that I know of is the word rhythm, in which there are two syllables and only one vowel.

Other than the word rhythm, there will normally be at least one vowel in each syllable and up to three. Your jaw will drop with the voicing of each new syllable. (Place your hand under your chin and say a word. How many times did your jaw lower? That will tell you how many syllables are in that word.)

Some Basics on Consonants:

There are 19 letters that are always consonants, B, C, D, F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, V, X, and Z. There are 21 when counting the letters W and Y, which sometimes act like consonants and sometimes act like vowels.

Most consonants are usually known for a specific sound: B, D, F, H, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, T, V, and Z, with only a few exceptions.

Three consonants can also represent a hard or soft sound; they are C, G, and S. The C can be hard as in the word cat or soft as in the word city. The G can represent its hard sound as in the word go, or its' soft sound as in the word gel. The S can represent its hard sound as in the word seal, or its soft sound as in the word rise, in which the S sounds like the Z sound. See more below under General Spelling/Phonics Rules.

The X represents four sounds. X sometimes represents the Z sound as in xylophone, says its name as in x-ray, sounds like the K sound as in tuxedo, or the CKS sound as in fox.

B, K, and W are also sometimes silent is in the words climb, knew, and wrap.

Alphabet Sounds:

Here are the basic consonant and short vowel sounds. Please note that some of the consonant sounds here include a short vowel sound after the consonant sound. As best you can, leave the vowel sound off when making the consonant sound by itself. The vowel sound will change depending on the actual vowel that follows the consonant in a word. For example, the vowel sound in the word word cup sounds different than the one in cap. But they both start with the sound of /k/.



If you're interested in a phonics DVD that isn't as kid like, then you might like this DVD that features some Sesame Street characters as well as some celebrities.



I haven't watched this one myself, but it has gotten pretty good reviews and received 4.5 out of 5 stars overall.

I do think that it is easier to learn phonics when you have something or someone to listen to as the various sounds are given.

If you are a tutor, or a literacy student who already knows quite a bit of the basics, then I recommend The Phonics Guide: A Guide to Reading and Spelling Patterns, to use as a refer to book. Any letter and or pattern can be looked up alphabetically, and examples and rules are given for each one.



Read more letter specific Phonics Rules here.

Cheryl Paton










General Spelling and Phonics Rules


First off, all the rules are 'usually' true. There can be exceptions. They also apply to small words and/or individual syllables. Remember that small words and/or syllables are put together to make larger, multi-syllable words.

Short Vowels - A single vowel followed by a single consonant is usually short, as in bag.

Silent E or Long Vowels - A single vowel followed by a single consonant and the vowel E, is usually long, as in cake.

Two vowels together - When two vowels are between two consonants, the first vowel is usually long and the second vowel silent, as in boat.

Silent B - The letter B is silent when it is at the end of the word and following the letter m, as in crumb, pronounced crum with a short U. Note that the sound for B is heard in the word crumble, and that the letter B actually starts the syllable BLE at the end of the word.

Hard C Sound - C represent the same sound that the letter K does, sound when it is followed by the vowels A, O, or U, as in cat, cob, and cut.

Soft C Sound - C represents the same sound that the Hard S does when it is followed by the vowels E, I, or Y, as in cent, city, and cyan.

Hard G Sound - G represents its hard sound when it is followed by the vowels A, O, or U, as in gap, got, and gum. It can sometimes represent its hard sound when it is followed by E or I, as in get and give.

Soft G Sound - G usually represents its soft sound (sounds like a J) when it is followed by E, I, and Y, as in gem, gibe, and gym.

Silent K - The letter K is silent when it is paired with and precedes the letter N in a word or syllable, as in knee.

Hard S - S represents its hard sound when it is at the beginning of a word and not followed by H, as in seal.

Soft S - S usually represents its soft sound, sounds like the Z in haze, when it comes at the end of a word or syllable and when it comes between two vowels, as in has and praise. Some common exceptions to S on the end of the word are bus and this.

Silent W - The letter W is silent when it is paired with and precedes the letter R, is in write.

W is a crossover letter. - W can also act like a silent e when it follows a vowel as in grow.

X represents four sounds. - X says its name in the word x-ray. The sound of X sounds like a Z in the beginning of other words, as in xylophone. The sound of X at the end of most syllables and words sounds like the sound of CKS, as in fox. Now say the word docks. X also represents the sound of K as in the word tuxedo, pronounced tuk-see-doe, with a short u, long e, and long o.

Y is a crossover letter. - Y is a consonant when it is at the beginning of a word or syllable, as in yellow; but acts like a vowel when it's in the middle or at the end of a word or syllable as in symbol and ably.

Here is a video that goes over the various sounds that different letters represent. It goes over the letters that represent single sounds, as well as letters that represent multiple sounds. There are also lessons to help practice.



Sometimes a letter pattern will also represent different sounds. Such as EA. The E in the word lead is long; it says it name and the A is silent. The E in the word bread is short; bread rhymes with bed.

This is not to overwhelm you, but just to let you know that sometimes you also might need to use context clues to help you decipher a new word until you become familiar with that particular word.

For a book that goes over various spelling patterns and also has lesson plans, then I recommend The Spelling Teacher's Lesson a Day book. It features lessons on homophones (words that sound alike), silent letters, contractions, prefixes, and more. It can be used by teachers in classrooms, for homeschooling, for ESL students, tutors, and parents. It has 256 pages.



The Phonics Guide: A Guide to Reading and Spelling Patterns lists various common letter patterns, along with common spelling rules, alphabetically. It is more of a reference book to help reinforce the student's learning, and can also be used as a guide for what to cover for tutors. It has 104 pages.



Take it a step at a time.
Letters and letter patterns make up words.
The letters include vowels and consonants.
Vowels can be long, say their name, or short.
Phonics are the sounds that the letters represent.
Longer words are made up of syllables.
Understanding phonics helps the reader to decipher both short and long words.

Read more General Phonics Rules here.

Cheryl Paton



Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Reference book for teaching phonics to adults


Teaching phonics to adults is different, in most cases, than teaching phonics to children. Adults, for the most part, already have a wide vocabulary and know how to say what they want. Some may also have a great recognition of sight words.

From my own experience of working with adult literacy students, adults who need and want to improve their literacy skills, usually also need to improve their decoding skills.

Helping them to recognize letter patterns can help them decode words by letter pattern recognition.

That is where The Phonics Guide: A Guide to Reading and Spelling Patterns, comes in to play.

Various common spelling patterns and letter combinations are listed alphabetically, enabling the student to more easily find a specific letter pattern, blend, etc.



They will see examples of common letter patterns along with some illustrations to help them remember the sound that a particular pattern represents. It's a great resource for students to use in between lessons.

Having a phonics reference book at their hands gives them tools to look up and/or review material in between lessons. It gives them another step in becoming more independent readers and learners.

Tutors find this book useful as well, as they have examples at their fingertips to help explain the current letter pattern that they are working on.

Cheryl Paton








Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Literacy activity, build a puzzle with instructions

Many people need to read instructions to do a particular job, to fill out an application, to build a toy for their child, etc.

Following instructions is a different type of reading than reading a story, a novel, a biography, the newspaper, etc. It requires people to think about what they are doing and to also probably follow a certain order or procedure.

One way to help your student(s) become accustomed to this type of reading is through actually building something that has written instructions to follow.

Something that you can do with them is to have them build a 3d puzzle. Not all 3d puzzles come with written instructions, so do check it out first to see if it would be an appropriate choice for your student's goals.

An example would be either this Trail Bike or Motorbike Kit. They have real nuts and bolts, so adults would probably enjoy making it. These kits also come with the needed tools.



They include both written instructions and illustrations.

If your student isn't into metal and gears, they may enjoy working with paper.

Origami can be a fun craft to get in to; this kit explains and illustrates various folding techniques.



It is a good starter book for origami and has a concise way of giving instructions. The terms are also used repetitively which helps with learning and retention.

These are just a couple of examples. Find out what type of 3d puzzle your student might be interested in building. Do your research and make sure the selected item includes written instructions to follow. Then let the fun of learning and reading for a designated purpose begin.

Cheryl Paton