Later this week we’re running our annual spelling workshop. One of the strategies we’ll be looking at is the age old advice of ‘sounding out’ a word to help spell it. While this is solid advice, the helpfulness of it goes a lot further if we provide and model for students some more explicit steps in the process. Here are some things we can point out to students about ‘sounding out’:
1. Every word is made up of syllables – chunks of sounds. When we ‘sound out a word’ we need to identify the number of syllables or ‘sound chunks’ that we need to spell it. For example, if I want to spell ‘En-vi-ron-ment,’ I need to spell four chunks of sound.
2. Once we know the number of syllables, we need to work out how to spell the vowel sound in the syllable. There are two types of letters in the alphabet:
a) Vowels: a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y
b) Consonants: all the other letters – b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z
Every syllable has a vowel sound: En-vi-ron-ment. This is because in English, we can’t pronounce words without the help of vowel sounds. Try saying this word: Kwzghs. Or this word: Blmczk. You can’t do it – you need to put ‘e’ sounds or ‘i’ sounds or other vowels sounds in there to make in pronounceable.
So, once you’ve figured out how many syllables there are in a word, you need to have a go spelling the vowels sounds in each syllable. Sometimes you use just one vowel to do this, like in ‘En-vi-ron-ment’, but other times you need to use two or more letters to spell a vowel sound like in ‘tree’ – the two ‘e’s’ make the one ‘e’ sound.
3. Have a go spelling the right number of ‘sound chucks’ with a vowel and then think about whether it looks right. If you don’t think it does, try a different way of spelling the syllable you think isn’t right.