Barbara Murray on How to Promote Your Child's Literacy Skills Through Sound Stories

June 25th, 2020
I taught in primary schools for more than 20 years. Teaching was my passion. In my early teaching years I taught traditional phonics skills to lower year levels. Phonics card, board and whole class games were a big hit and played a vital part in teaching beginning students to read and write quickly, easily and with continuing success. I was fascinated by this success.

Phonics was traditionally taught in the first 3 or 4 years of primary school and then discontinued further up the primary school levels. However, when I moved into middle and upper primary year levels, I discovered that phonics was needed to maintain the skills of decoding words to read and encoding words to write.

Middle and upper primary school spelling lists forced my phonics approach to change because the words were more complex. Without realising it, I developed a phonemic awareness program combined with synthetic phonics to cater for all primary school year levels that is now acknowledged internationally as the current, most successful approach to teaching basic literacy skills.

To successfully segment all words into sounds and blend sounds to form any words, students need awareness of all 43 sounds. The original traditional phonics used synthetic phonics techniques of segmenting and blending sounds but taught only about 25 sounds to students in lower year levels where words to be read or written contained only a few sounds.

My program developed awareness of all 43 sounds of Australian English. I made charts for all 43 sounds showing different ways we can use the alphabet code to represent the sounds in words, to hang around the classroom. I made card and board games for the students to play to help them commit this information to their long term memory. This information lead to much more competent reading and writing skills.

Today the Australian National Curriculum urges all Australian primary schools to include a Phonemic Approach with Synthetic Phonics in their literacy program. Documented evidence shows that teaching students these concepts can result in very effective reading and spelling by students.

Phonemic Awareness involves a knowledge of all 43 sounds [phonemes] and the ability to identify them in the words we speak. This is the first, extremely vital step in learning to read and write. It is an oral step. Students needs loads of practice at listening for the sounds and identifying them in simple 2 and 3 sound words.

This step does not involve reading or writing. Once students have mastered this oral step with competency, they can combine this information with Synthetic Phonics skills for successful reading and writing.

Terri Watson and I wrote the Sound Waves phonemic approach with synthetic phonics literacy skills program for all primary school class levels when we realised what I had been doing with my classes had become recognised as the current, most effective literacy skills teaching approach for primary school students.

Sound Waves consists of student and teacher books and an online program loaded with games and videos to make teaching these literacy skills fun. However, I identified one missing element and that was engaging, illustrated stories to introduce the 43 sounds to beginning readers and writers. 

Thus writing and publishing my set of 43 beautifully illustrated and engaging stories became my personal project. The stories include as many words with pictorial representations for the focus sounds as possible, for parents and teachers to use to introduce all 43 sounds. Sarah Hardy, provided all the beautiful illustrations which are the central teaching aspect of the stories. 

At the front of each book there are Guidelines to help parents and teachers utilise the stories successfully. Each book contains stories introducing either half the consonant sounds or half the vowel sounds. The stories are meant to be read one at a time and not from cover to cover in one sitting.

I started introducing the 43 sounds to my grandchildren from birth using the Sound Waves chants which are on YouTube as Sound Waves Chant. I used to say the chants while nursing them to sleep, going for walks etc. It is easy to teach the 43 sounds in a chant like a nursery rhyme. At this young age they are developing the vital awareness of the 43 sounds and storing that awareness away in their long term memory ready for the next step around the age of 5, of Synthetic Phonics segmenting and blending sounds to write and read words.

I strongly recommend a Phonemic Approach with Synthetic Phonics for teaching literacy skills to beginning readers and writers. These skills are for lifelong use. I constantly use my knowledge of the sounds, the way we use the alphabet code to represent the spoken sounds in written English and blending and segmenting skills when I read and write anything.

Making learning fun and interesting can be highly utilised when teaching these amazing, lifelong skills to students. How fantastic is that!

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