A Word Reservoir

Have you ever tried to teach the word ‘said’?

A word reservoir is what I like call the groups of words that are listed, not according to dictionary order, but phonogram or phoneme order. The lists are comprehensive, so that the phonograms can be taught or reviewed at any grade level and complexity. My experience is that the lower grades put a great deal of effort into teaching the various sounds in the English language but as a child goes up the grade levels they are taught less and less and some children forget them which tends to handicap their reading and writing.

There are two reasons for forgetting the basic sounds taught in lower grades. The first reason is because word knowledge increases and phonogram knowledge is no longer needed. This is what we want, but it does not happen with all children.  

The second reason is that a significant number of children require continual reinforcement of phonetic techniques, but as they progress through the grades, this does not happen. These children consequently forget the phonograms and how to use them and follow the guessing pathway. Most of the children who fall into this category have learning and memory issues. They will have trouble with spelling all of their school careers and maybe their lives.  They will join the crowds that have reading and writing difficulties.

In English, every letter has a sound. Sometimes, a letter will have several sounds for example the letter ‘a’ can be ‘a’ as in cat, ‘a-e’ as in cake, ‘ar’ as in class, ‘or’ as in small, ‘o’ as in quantity and ‘e’ as in many. To make things a little bit more difficult, some sounds can be spelled with more than one letter such as, ‘ou’ as in round. Complicating the situation further, you can have many spellings of the same sound as in the sound ‘ee’ as in beach, tree, be and fiend.

Recently, I read an article in a principal's magazine, where they were lauding a phonics test for children in their schools. This may be a step forward. Unfortunately, it is just a beginning. If a child is going to learn to spell them not only need to know that sounds, but the words that use them. So, if we teach the ‘ee’ sound we also need to teach the words that use it. The proliferation of dictionaries shows that we can only go part way in the task. There are times when we will always have to check our spelling and will always be adding to our understanding of, and increasing our ability to use words.

Have you ever tried to teach the word ‘said’?

You ask the question ‘can you spell for me the word ‘said’?

The answer will be ‘sed’.

So, you ask, ‘what is the first sound’?

Your answer will usually be correct ‘s’.

So, you ask ‘what is the last sound?’

Your answer will usually be correct ‘d’.

Now can you write for me the middle sound?

Your answer will be ‘e’.

My answer would be, ‘you have the correct sound but that is not how we write it. How do we write the ‘e’ sound in ‘said’? Strangely, we use the letters that say ‘ai’ as in ‘rain’ or ‘train’.

It takes time for the ‘e’ to disappear, but eventually the teacher will notice. “Well done, you can spell ‘said’.

‘Yes! The special education teacher taught me that.”

Said is phonetic. It is how we write the ‘e’ sound that unique to ‘said’.

All words are phonetic but there are several ways to write some of the phonograms. We need to know which words go with each particular way of writing the sounds we use.

The word reservoir enables you to associate sounds to words over a range of word complexities and grade levels. If we can associate the teaching with word patterns it gives a valuable visual clue.