I have always been of the mindset that it’s important to use formal names for things with children. They’re capable of learning them and it can continue to strengthen their vocabulary skills in other ways. In most aspects of my day, I stay true to this philosophy. I use “schema” with my students; I explicitly teach comprehension strategies and expect students to use their formal names. I teach content vocabulary and expect students to use them correctly.
The one time I diverge from this way of thinking is with phonics. It’s so incredibly difficult for kids to learn the different phonetic combinations thrown at them in texts and in isolation. Not to mention, English is incredibly complicated and has several different sounds for the same combination of letters, and rules about rules not working. It’s incredibly difficult for students to master them all, not to mention their formal names. Plus, how many adults know the difference between a digraph or a diphthong? I can tell you from my experience only teachers and other educational roles know these terms, and even then, there are many, many who do not know them or confuse them. While there are some things I continue to teach my students explicitly (open and closed syllables for example), I focus my time and energy on students learning the letter-sound combinations and applying them independently in both reading and writing.
One of the ways I try and help students master letter-sound combinations are through catchy word chunks terms that help them learn and remember them. I learned these when I was student teaching in first grade and have used them ever since (currently 13 years later!), though I’ve changed a few of them a bit over the years. I’ve used these word chunks terms more intentionally with my intervention students who need something else to hold on to in learning phonics. But, I’ve also used these word chunks terms during my whole class phonics instruction in both first and second grades. For many of these we box the chunk and draw something to help us remember it. You can download the phonics reference sheet by clicking on the image below.
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