Over on Twitter @ChrisHallsEd says:
The only reason phonics doesn’t currently help a year 5 child to spell photosynthesis is that year 5 teachers aren’t equipped to use syllables, sounds (phonemes) and symbols (graphemes) to teach spelling. A very common attitude is that phonics is for key stage 1 only and after that we revert to spelling by letter names. There are differences between phonics for 4/5/6 year olds and phonics for chidren who’ve already got the basics of reading. There are even bigger differences between phonics for 4/5/6 year olds and adults – even if those adults are just starting out with reading.
However, phonics per se shouldn’t be relegated to the early primary years. I’ve spent the past few months working on Post-16 phonics for FE and the response to how it can transform spelling has been overwhelmingly positive. Whether your students are in mid primary, secondary or further education, the same principles for spelling apply – even as their vocabulary needs get more complex.
To specifically address the tweet, here’s a good old post about spelling photosynthesis.
Spelling photosynthesis without code knowledge is asking students to recall and draw a visually complicated string of letters. According to (a spelling site that no longer exists), the following is an analysis of misspellings of photosynthesis “collected from over 14,913,252 spell check sessions on www.spellchecker.net from Jan 2010 – Jul 2012.” I should also note that without phonics, even after being exposed to the word frequently in a classroom, some of the young people I’ve worked with would spell it something like photosfys – but that’s a guess so let’s stick to the information at hand.
So here’s the analysis:
68% Errors linked to pronunciation of sounds & syllables
photosythesis (29%) photosynthsis (15%)
photosnythesis (4%) photosythenises (2%)
32 % Unstressed vowels requiring memory and a clear spelling voice
photosynthisis (8%) photosynthasis (8%)
photosenthasis (4%) photosyntheisis (4%)
photosyntheses (4%) photosynthesise (4%)
So how do you make sure every student can spell photosynthesis without memorising and regurgitating strings of letter names?
First make up puzzle pieces with one sound (not letter) per tile – one for each student. Put out paper rectangles or small sticky notes and get them each to write the following – out of order – then gather the pieces into a pile.
Once everyone has a puzzle in their hand, ask,
How many syllables in photosynthesis?
“5” (having tapped them out on the table)
Say them clearly.
pho to syn the sis “foe toe sin thee sis”
“thee” is the spelling voice for saying something so the unstressed syllable gets the correct letter or letters attached to it.
Now put your puzzle pieces on the table.
How many syllables?
Build pho – Say the sounds as you bring the pieces down. You might need to point out the <ph> spelling of /f/.
You should hear a chorus of “ph” “oe” as they bring the pieces down.
Then “t” “oe”.
More confident spellers will just get on with it. Less confident spellers may want to work sound by sound with you talking through each syllable.
Next – everyone writes out the word, syllable by syllable, saying the sounds. The more confident will say and write whole syllables fluently without looking at the puzzle. The less confident may copy and say each sound.
Finally – note which syllable might be tricky to remember.
photosyn? – remember the y for the “i” sound
the (say thee)sis
If they can say each syllable clearly and find a spelling voice for each unstressed vowel, they have a much better chance of avoiding those mistakes listed above.You might want to bundle it with other useful words that include the notion and spelling of “synthesis”.
Next class try it without the puzzle pieces but use the same script. When it comes to the exam, you want them thinking pho to sin – no syn – the sis – I can do that!
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