Archive for November, 2012

Another Lesson Down

November 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Ella has learned the Lesson 11 phonograms and we are now working on Lesson 12 (shown below).

Lesson 12 Phonograms

Lesson 12 Phonograms

Ella hasn’t been reading much since we started focusing on the lessons.  That is not by plan, but is where we are.  I will ensure she starts reading more, especially once the Bob Books are returned to the library.  As of today, they are six days overdue!  Wish I could find out who has the books so I could contact them and request they be returned.

I just spent about an hour at  This site has many resources for learning the phonograms.  I highly recommend spending some time at this site.  I skimmed through the first few videos and look forward to going back to watch them more closely.

Reading Words with New Phonograms

November 24, 2012 1 comment

Just a quick post this morning to relate a successful strategy.  Yesterday I opened the lesson words spreadsheet that is included in the Learning to Read with Phonograms CD because I wanted Ella to read words from lesson 11.  I had forgotten that the list only goes through lesson 7 so we stayed in the spreadsheet and I created all the aw words I could think of and Ella read them.  It seems like this concentrated work on one phonogram in many words was instrumental in Ella learning that phonogram quickly.  I continued to quiz her on aw all day yesterday and then this morning she knows it cold.  Because she knows au says the same thing she has learned it as well!  I’ll try the same thing with ew and ui today.

Ella had a short stint on a number of months ago but due to lack of use I cancelled it.  Recently she started asking to use it again.  I blogged on Oct. 24th that I planned to go with instead, but Ella was dead set on ABCmouse.  I signed her up for the free month.  So far she has been using it every day so we will see what happens over time.  I think both sites are very good.

Still laughing…

November 23, 2012 1 comment

Ella is still laughing about the word but.  Checked again if she knows how to spell the one she sits on and she does.  Just finds reading the word funny.

Ella has learned the lesson 10 phonograms and we are now on lesson 11.  Hoping to have them learned within 3-4 days and proceed onward.  Historically, ew and ui have been the most difficult to learn so this one may take a little longer.

Lesson 11 Phonograms

Lesson 11 Phonograms

I left the program open on the computer yesterday and Ella started exploring.  She called me over after finding the section in one of the lessons where the sounding out of words takes place.  She seemed to like doing those so I took her back through all the lessons starting at lesson two.  Much to my surprise, she did great all the way through the alphabet letters and even some of the words that contain multiple-letter phonograms.  My surprise is based on the fact that there is really no time to think about the sounds because the phonograms keep coming.  I had turned down the sound so instead of modeling the process, she did the sounding out.  It is great to find different valuable uses of the program!

Ella read five books to Lauren today while Thanksgiving dinner was being prepared.

One problem that has crept up since Ella started reading is that we aren’t reading to Ella as much.  It is great that Ella is reading, but it remains important to read to her as well.  I will have to make a point of taking the time to read to Ella.

I came across this when we were going through all the lessons to sound out words and really believe it to be true.

What are the ten top ways to improve reading ability?

  1. Read
  2. Read
  3. Read
  4. Read
  5. Read
  6. Read
  7. Read
  8. Read
  9. Read
  10. Read

I came across this in a reading workshop early in my teaching career and have always remembered it.  Using the phonograms and the appropriate books, a child can start reading after learning only a few phonograms.  Then you just keep learning new phonograms and keep them reading and watch the improvement.

Refocusing on My Program

November 20, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve found the Bob Books and Reading Pathways such good resources that I’ve migrated away from using my own CD to teach Ella the phonograms.  I’m not happy about that at all.  As I’ve stated in the past, Lauren learned to read using phonograms without great need for structure.  Hayden needed structure, which was a primary driver behind my creating the 18 lessons on my CD.  Now, with Ella, I’m seeing a repeat of the lack of need for structure.  We have just been covering the multiple-letter phonograms as they come up in her reading.  This is OK, but less efficient than the structured lessons.

So, this morning I got out the CD and went over the lessons through ten with Ella.  She knows all those phonograms except:

th:  Doesn’t know the first sound.  Seems to focus on the 2nd sound because of the word the.
and ou:  These are the last two phonograms in lesson 10 and weren’t included in the WinFlash deck I created a few weeks ago.

Ella knows all the er sounds (er, ir, ur, wor, ear) when she sees them, which is great, but doesn’t yet know which one is which based on the sentence “her first nurse works early.”  This is really only important for testing purposes, but we will continue to work on it.

Below is a screen shot of the phonograms learned by lesson 10:

Phonograms Learned through Lesson 10

Phonograms Learned through Lesson 10

Since the library doesn’t have the next Bob Books we need I looked at Level C Set 1 just to see how much more challenging they are.  This is another reason we are concentrating on the lessons again.  If Ella goes in knowing the phonograms, she can read the words.  Like I mentioned earlier, this is the more efficient way to learn to read.  Just takes more focus, darn it!  Level C Set 1 won’t be a challenge, if she knows the appropriate phonograms, other than the increasing amount of text on each page.  The books are also getting longer and for beginning readers that can be intimidating.

Level B Set 2 is due back to the library tomorrow so I’ll monitor it closely.  The library is closed for Thanksgiving and the day after so I hope we can get them for the break.

Have a good Thanksgiving!

The b/d Issue Rears Its Extremely Ugly Head Again (or was that me?)

November 17, 2012 Leave a comment

On my reading CD I provide a list of words that can be created after phonogram lessons 2-7. Today I had Ella start reading through those words. She was doing great, but then started having a few problems with b and d as regular readers have heard about before.  Because it started again out of the blue, I grew frustrated and perturbed.  I thought I could force Ella to understand the difference by repeatedly and angrily pointing out that “the bat comes first on b and the ball comes first on d.” This only served to upset Ella and make her struggle even more, to the point that she cringed when a b or d came up in a word (yeah, I know I’m an idiot!).  She finally just gave up and said she didn’t know the difference so we quit working on the words.

Later, when we were reading a Bob Book, Ella was doing a great job with the b and the d.  I’d like to think it was because of my forceful “teaching” earlier in the day.  A better explanation is that she was doing better because she was seeing words in context of the story.  Not sure this is the case, but my instincts tell me this is true.

If you decide to teach your child to read, this little story can serve as a warning that while it is awesome to teach your child to read, the frustrations can be intense.  One thing I’ve always believed is that I can get on my children pretty hard when I know they can do something but they don’t yet believe they can.  This works only if they can do it and if I follow up by telling them at the first opportunity how great they are doing.  When one does this, though, there is a fine line that should not be crossed.  I crossed it today.

After this experience, Ella brought up the story she remembered me telling about how hard big brother Hayden had fought learning to read.  I think she was looking for reassurance that she is doing well.  I obliged by contrasting how well she is doing with how Hayden did.  I am telling her the truth because Hayden was a challenge!  I do want to point out that Hayden is now a sophomore in high school and has consistently scored in the mid-to-high 90th percentile on his standardized reading tests.  I’m pretty sure it is the phonograms.

Ella has finished Bob Books Level B Set 1.  We are anxious to start Level B Set 2, but that set is checked out from the library.  It is due back in under a week so I will wait rather than order from Amazon again.  We will spend some time reading Green Eggs and Ham, Starfall books, Reading Pathways and other of the many resources available on the web.

Another Plug for Blog “Beginning Reading Help”

November 16, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve been delving into Michelle Breum’s blog Beginning Reading Help again, which I’ve linked to in my sidebar.  Michelle has a great deal of experience with teaching reading and has a goldmine of resources in her blog.  I highly recommend it for both the resources and the topics she covers in her blog.  I will not be adding many resource links, other than my favorite ones from Michelle’s site (like Reading Pathways, for instance).

Another reason I like Michelle’s blog is her belief that parents can teach their children to read.  My CD is one way to do it, but there are many different ways to teach reading.  The most important component is a parent who is willing to take the time and make it happen. 

Long Post, Sorry

November 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Ella learned the word but this week. She got a huge kick out of it the first time she sounded it out and giggled every time she read it. I took some time to explain the difference between but and butt, but that hasn’t seemed to make much difference. Only today, about four days after she first sounded it out, did Ella not laugh when she came across but.

This reminds me of the 1st grade years. Every year, when we first came across but as a class, there was much laughter if some read it out loud. More like tittering, I suppose, since they knew they shouldn’t be laughing. The first few years, I would try to stop the tittering and counsel my students about being more serious. That was useless so I gave in and let them enjoy the but/butt experience.

Ella is self-correcting now when she makes mistakes. So the b/d issue is much less troublesome. She normally gets it right, but self-corrects in most cases when she doesn’t. Ella has created some habits as a result of this, though. For instance, she always makes the g sound for j before quickly making the correct sound.
There have been a few words Ella sounds out and inexplicably adds an extra sound. For instance, Tup as Tump. This happened over and over and over for about five minutes as we struggled to correct it. After experimenting with a few things, we finally discovered that if she would sound out the first two sounds and then add the third sound, Ella could get past adding that extra sound. If you have read the Reading Pathways posts you will recognize that strategy as a part of the pyramid reading.

For whatever reason, Ella sounded out the word and every time she came across it. I encouraged her to quit sounding it out a few times over the days, but she continued to sound it out. I knew she could memorize it with a little effort because she did that very quickly with the word was as well as with other words. Finally, I got tired of listening to her sound out such a common word and got on her pretty hard about memorizing and. Lo and behold, she had it memorized very quickly.

I’m all for focusing on positive reinforcement, but this was an example of using consequences. In this case, I threatened no more candy unless she quit sounding out and in the story we were reading. Ella got very upset, but like I stated above, she was able to quickly memorize the word. Note: I’m only using candy as a motivator because of Halloween. Can you tell I feel a little guilty since this is at least the second time I’ve felt the need to explain myself on candy use?

An important strategy with the phonograms is the “say it like, read it like” strategy. I’ll use the most common one we’ve come across to explain. The word said contains the multiple-letter phonogram ai. I advised Ella to sound the word out like this

s – ai (long a) – d

Then we talked about how we don’t say “said” (using the long a sound in the word), we say “said” (using the short e sound). From then on, Ella would sound it out initially with the long a sound and then go through the entire “We don’t say ‘said’, we say ‘said’” process. Just like with and, I had to break that habit. At least with this one, I didn’t have to threaten anything. I just told her it was wasting time and that she really did know the word.

The word of is another example of a word where it is sounded out one way but said a different way. I coded this one with the letter v above the f, which I’d never done before, but have found to be very effective. I only coded it for a few stories, but Ella is able to remember that there was a v above the f and sounds it out correctly.

Sorry about the length of this post, but it has been a few days and there has been a lot going one.

More Frustrations!

November 11, 2012 Leave a comment

Ella is doing many wonderful things and I’m proud of her for how well she is reading.  But this process can be very frustrating.  Ella read three books today, all of them new and a bit challenging for her so this is awesome for sure.

But today I’m going to share a couple of frustrations.

First, the n/u sound confusion has taken over for the d/b confusion. On multiple words with the letter n she used the u sound.  We talk about how the u has an opening at the top vs. the n having the hump.  This is very frustrating, but I’m sure she will work her way through it with practice.

Today Ella came to the word Ned and sounded it out like this:

N – e – d and then said ed.

She did this three times in a row even after we discussed including the n sound and my modeling of it.  Most times, if I have her sound out the first two sounds (N – e) and then combine those and add the last sound, she is fine.  Didn’t work today.

I’ve mentioned in the past how Ella will look at the picture and then guess words without trying any sounds.  Pictures are important but must be used in combination with the words she is trying to sound out.  One of today’s stories included a hen.  She initially thought it was a chicken so we discussed how a hen is a subset of chickens, just like a girl is a subset of humans (the best subset, of course).  I’ve suspected Ella of making mistakes just to frustrate me, but today she really did it.  For that entire story, every time she came to the word hen she would say chicken very quickly and then say hen. This wasn’t so much a frustration as it was funny.

Another frustration came when Ella was sounding out the word no.  I had put the wrong letter above o (3 instead of 2) so we spent some time discussing the sounds of o after she had already got the sound of n (correctly this time).  Then we got o figured out and came back to sound out the word.  She promptly made the u sound for n.  I expressed my frustration and she laughed heartily.

Ella read two books this morning because I told her she needed to do some reading since we hadn’t read the day before.   She was very accepting of this and we read two books.  No motivation strategy was used.  Then, when we were done, she said she wanted some of her Halloween candy.  I advised her that in order to get some candy she would have to read another book.  She hustled right over and read the third book.  Not the best motivation strategy, I know, but she will be eating her Halloween candy anyway so if I can leverage it to get more reading done, I’ll do it.

It is Getting Easier!!!!

November 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Ella continues to pick up strategies and make my life easier.  The last few books she read shows that she understands the need to make the first sound of a word.  I’ve written about this before and related the story about a first-grader’s struggles with a word and my having to force him to make the first sound.  He invariably got the word once the first sound was made.

That was one of the frustrations I’ve had with Ella.  But no more!  She is now reading one word and then promptly starting the next one.  She reads books so much more quickly now and makes it very pleasant to listen to her.

The Angry Birds motivational strategy continues to be golden.  Yesterday Ella read the last five books from the first set of Bob Books after requesting that I buy her Angry Birds Seasons.  She zoomed through them with few problems.  Today she read the first four books of the second set and then this evening she read one more book after I agreed to play Angry Birds with her.

I tried a new strategy today to help Ella with multiple-letter phonograms and to help her know which sound of a phonogram to use.  I scanned the Bob Books on to the computer and then went through each page and underlined the multiple-letter phonograms so she knows the letters work together to form a sound. Here is an example:


I also put numbers above both single-letter and multiple-letter phonograms if the sound was not the first sound.


After a couple of books, I didn’t continue to use the underlines or the numbers under the assumption that after a couple books Ella would learn the words and no longer need the help.  As I mentioned before, Ella read five books today so I was able to see that my assumption was true.  I’m not sure the numbers helped Ella learn “was” quickly today, but it sure looks like it because she read it many times in the last two books and didn’t hesitate for a moment when she came to “was.”

At the library yesterday during craft/game time, Ella was able to put her phonograms skills to the test when playing a word game.  The game entailed finding the beginning letter to complete a word and she did great.  Once again, I was able to enjoy Ella’s excitement when the librarian told me how well Ella had done.

During that time I overheard a mother talking to another mother about how “some letters have like 17 different sounds.”  My impulse was to share the phonograms with her so she could have a better understanding of exactly what sounds go with each phonogram, but I’ve done that many times at the library. Very rarely, if ever, have any of the people actually gone beyond acting interested.  That used to make me question the phonograms, but I will never question the phonograms again now that Ella is reading so successfully.

I enjoy this blog because I can share my experiences with and value of the phonograms and not worry about whether I’m bothering people.  I’m just not a natural salesman, even though I believe in the phonograms as an excellent way for parents to teach their children how to read.  If readers don’t get the value of the phonograms, they can quit reading.  If readers do get it, they can e-mail me at or go to

Learning Ten More Phonograms

November 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Ella has been doing great so I’ve started her on the next ten phonograms.  I’ve been a little concerned about how she will do, but based on her remembering a few multiple-letter phonograms that we’ve come across in her Bob Books, I decided to press on.

I am using WinFlash to start her off on these phonograms.  This program continues to be an excellent resource.  I highly recommend the use of WinFlash to teach the phonograms.  Once you have it, you can use it for all types of learning for years to come.

Here is a list of the first ten multiple-letter phonograms I’m teaching Ella:

  • er
  • ir
  • ur
  • wor
  • ear

The phrase “Her first nurse works early” is used to help differentiate these five phonograms since they all say the same thing.

  • sh
  • th (she already knows this one because of how often “the” comes up in her books).
  • ee
  • ay
  • ai

Ella has already learned that “ay” is used at the end of English words while “ai” is not used at the end of English words because English words do not end with “i”.

Ella pulled out her Bob Books today and started reading them on her own.  I’ve also seen her reading print in environment.  For instance, on Halloween she read that she was eating Milk Duds and today she read Big Dogs on my sweater.  The Milk Duds reading reminded me of the environmental print I used in my first grade classroom.  Read an earlier post about environmental printer here.