Teaching Phonics: 7 Effective Approaches

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Teaching Phonics: 7 Effective Montessori Approaches

Knowing how to read and write are not only essential life skills, but they can also extend a child’s knowledge and broaden his or her imagination. It is no wonder that teachers and parents place such importance on teaching children reading and writing skills.

Use Phonics to Teach Reading and Writing

While there are many methods on teaching a child how to read and write, one of the most effective ways is the phonics method. In phonics, the focus is on phonemic awareness or the ability to hear, identify and manipulate the sound of each letter. The child learns that each letter of the alphabet has a distinct sound and he or she must master them in order to start reading. Once the child is familiar with the sound of each letter, then letter combinations can be made, forming words. This is why phonics instruction is an important component of early reading education.

How to Teach Phonics: 7 Effective Approaches

1. Teach sounds before the name of the letters

In the Montessori approach, letters are first introduced by their sounds instead of their names. Also, they are not introduced in order, but according to how useful they may be in allowing a child to make words with the letters.

You may divide the letters into six sets:

▷ First set: c m a t

▷ Second set: s r i p

▷ Third set: b f o g

▷ Fourth set: h j u l

▷ Fifth set: d w e n

▷ Sixth set: k q v x y z

When teaching the sounds, make sure to say the sounds clearly and lightly. C should be “c” and not “cuh”. T should be “t” and not “tuh”. This way, we don’t end up teaching the child that “cat” is not pronounced “catuh” when they start to put the sounds together.

The Wooden Alphabet Box below can be a great material to make this first step easier and to allow children to see and touch the letter while learning its sound.


How to Teach Phonics: 7 Effective Approaches

2. Use Lowercase Letters First

While many schools will start with introducing uppercase letters, the Montessori approach teaches the lowercase letters first. This is because most of the words that children encounter in books will be in lowercase. When the child has strong foundation of the lowercase letters and their corresponding sounds, then you may teach the uppercase letters.

3. Teach Short Vowels First

Just like lowercase letters, children are most exposed to words with short vowels in books and other texts. It is easier for them to learn the short vowels as their sounds are straightforward and easy to memorize.

In the beginning of your phonics lessons, try to introduce words with short vowels. This is especially important for teaching sandpaper letters and the small moveable alphabet.

4. Form Mixed-Age Groups

Dr. Montessori believed in mixed-age classrooms spanning around three years because this positively affects social development. For example, in a classroom with three to six year-olds, the older children naturally assume the role of guides or role models for the younger ones. The younger children often observe the older children, absorbing more much more information about lessons and proper social interactions than a teacher could ever teach.

With this in mind, older children with younger siblings can be taught phonics together. This is recommended if the younger child is at least three and a half to four years old, when they are more developmentally ready to learn reading and writing.

5. Use the Educational Sandpaper Letters

The sandpaper letters are rough and sandpaper-like letters printed on wooden boards. Dr. Montessori believed in a multi-sensorial approach, so children are encouraged to not only use their eyes to see the letters and their ears to hear their sounds, but also their hands to feel. They can trace the sandpaper letters as they pronounce each sound. This reinforces their learning, allowing them to absorb the information more effectively.

Teaching Phonics Sandpaper Letters Upper case

The Sandpaper Capital Case Letters are a great addition to your collection when teaching phonics

Another feature of the sandpaper letters are the different colors of vowels and consonants or capital case letters and lower case letters. Vowels are blue and consonants are pink while capital case letters are blue and lower case letters are pink. It is not necessary to teach the child why they are colored that way. Instead, they will slowly and naturally understand that words are usually a combination of pink-blue-pink or consonant-vowel-consonant.

Three-Period Lesson to Teach Phonics with Sandpaper Letters

In Montessori education, vocabulary and concepts are taught in three-period lessons. To explain simply, the three periods are:

  1. Naming – The sound is taught to the child.
  2. Recognizing –The child must be able to associate the sandpaper letter with the correct sound.
  3. Remembering—The child can say the sound when asked.

Follow these steps for using a three-period lesson to teach the sandpaper letters:

  1. Begin by selecting three to four letters that have very distinct sounds and forms. We don’t want to confuse them in the first lesson. You may use the first set of letters mentioned above (c, m, a, t).
  2. Take one sand paper letter and pronounce its sound as you trace it. You may do this several times. Make sure to pronounce and lightly and clearly as you can.
  3. Move the letter in front of the child and ask him to repeat the sound. Ask him to trace the letter like you just did. This is their first lesson in writing and it will prepare them to write with a pen and paper in the future. Be sure that the child is tracing properly and in the right direction. If necessary, you may take their hand and guide them through the tracing motions.
  4. Repeat the same process for the other three sand paper letters.
  5. When the child is familiar with the sounds, we can move on to the second period, “recognizing”. Put all four sandpaper letters around the table and ask the child if he can find “c”. When he points to the correct letter, praise him ask him to trace the letter and say its sound.  Do the same for the other letters.
  6. You may extend this activity by placing the sandpaper letters around the room and ask him to find the “a”. Remember that we are only saying the sounds of the letters and not their names.
  7. When he finds it, let him trace the letter and say the sound as well. Do this for the remaining letters.
  8. If you feel that the child is interested and has done well in the first and second periods of this lesson, then it’s time to move on to the third period. Place the sandpaper letters on the table then point to one letter. Ask the child, “What is this?” If the child says the sound correctly that means he has remembered the lesson. Now you can ask him about the other letters.
  9. You may extend the third period by putting all four sandpaper letters in a “mystery bag”. Ask the child to take one and say the correct sound. Do this until there are no more letters in the bag.

6. Play the I Spy Sound Game   

The “I spy” sound game works very well to reinforce what the child has learned during the sandpaper letter lessons. To do the sound game, follow the steps below:

  1. If the child has learned four sounds, then look for small objects around the house or classroom that begin with these letters. For example, if you have taught “c”, “m”, “a” and “t”, you may use a cat, a marker, an apple and tissue. These objects should be prepared before the game starts and should be placed in a box or a basket.
  2. Take each object out, laying them on the table. Say the name of each object so the child hears their beginning sounds.
  3. Say “I spy with my little eye something that begins with the sound “m”.
  4. The child should pick up and give you the marker. This shows that he has truly learned and memorized the sounds.
  5. Add more objects when you have taught more sounds.

7. Use the Small Moveable Alphabet

The small moveable alphabet are wooden cut-out letters usually placed in order in a wooden box thet you can also find without the box. They give an extra sensorial dimension to a child’s learning because they can actually feel the shapes instead of touching a flat piece of paper or card. Just like the sandpaper letters, vowels and consonants differ in color. The vowels are blue and consonants are red. The small moveable alphabets are primarily used to teach children how to spell and is one of the early forms of writing. This teaches them that putting letters together makes words.

Teaching Phonics Moveable Alphabet

Before moving on to the small moveable alphabet, make sure that the child has memorized the first set of letters (c, m, a, t) in the sandpaper letters lesson. Then, follow the steps below:

Three-Period Lesson to Teach Phonics with Small Moveable Alphabet:

  1. For the first period of the lesson, put a mat on the floor and place the opened small moveable alphabet box above it. Make sure there is space to spell words on the mat.
  2. Tell him that you are going to spell “mat”. Say, “m” as you take the letter and put it on the mat. Next, say “a” as you take that letter and put it beside m. Then, say “t” as you put it at the end of the word. Finally, say the whole word “mat” with emphasis on all three sounds. Make sure to say it slowly and clearly.
  3. Make different combinations such as “cat”, “at”, or “cam”, showing the child how to spell words with the moveable alphabet.
  4. Put all the letters back in their proper place in the box, showing the child that this is the right way off putting the letters away.
  5. For the second period of the lesson, you will be asking him to spell words. You may use the same words as in the first period of the lesson. Say, “Please spell mat. M-a-t, mat”. Make sure each sound is clear. You may keep saying the sound while the child searches for the letter. Once the child has spelled it correctly, praise him and move on to another word.
  6. Once the child has spelled the words, it is now time for the third part of the lesson, remembering. Point to the first word he spelled and say, “Can you read this? What does it say?” Point to each letter as he says each sound. Then draw your finger across the whole word. He should be able to read “mat”. Do this for all the words.
  7. When he has read all the words, ask him to put away the letters in their proper place.

Early Childhood is the Best Time to Teach Phonics

Dr. Maria Montessori believed that the most important period of a child’s life is during early childhood. At this time, children have absorbent minds, ready to learn and understand as much as they can.  They also have sensitive periods, when their interests are focused on developing a particular skill or knowledge area. 

Children’s Absorbent Mind

From birth to around six years old, children have what Dr. Montessori called “absorbent minds”.  Their minds are like sponges because this period of intense mental activity allows them to easily absorb information from their environment.

Dr. Montessori said that the period of the absorbent mind has two phases: the unconscious and the conscious.

Unconscious Phase - When children are 0-3 years old, they unconsciously absorb from their surroundings in order to create themselves.  Their amazing ability to absorb information allows them to learn how to walk, talk and even feed themselves in just a few years.

Conscious Phase - Starting at around the age of 3, children transition from a state of unconscious absorbent minds to a state of conscious absorbent mind. They begin to consciously make sense of information that they learned before. This is the period when they start to concentrate on choosing their own direction.

Children’s Sensitive Period

From the ages of 0-3, children’s sensitive periods focus on gross and fine motor development as well as movement coordination such as running or balancing.

At around 3.5 to 4.5 years old, children begin to be interested in writing. They are starting to hold pencils properly and may like tracing letters or writing them on his own.

At around 4.5 to 5.5 years old, their sensitive period may focus on reading. This is the best time to start your phonics lessons.

1 comment

  • Thank you for this article really inspiring

    Irene Barbaza on

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