Ways with phonics

Teach sound awareness:

Try linking patterns together with visuals:

A thread on digraphs and trigraphs:

Link the pattern eg from hair to chair, use colour:

Use mind maps:

Reinforce with picture books:

Use phonic frames:

Teach phonics in High Frequency Words, rather than ‘look say’.

Teach/discuss consonant blends:

Making the word into a picture can improve fluency, but remember to refer to phonics as well.

Link back/generalise the orthographic patterns:

Phonics provides the foundations for reading but there are many other elements and over-emphasis on phonics, in my opinion, can lead to poor comprehenders:

Schwa: what it is and how to avoid it.

The schwa is the most common (non) sound in our language.

I posted a 3 part video back in 2018 modelling ‘pure’ sounds:

The etymology of ‘schwa’:

From Michael Rosen, this is why the schwa makes it difficult to blend (reading) or spell (writing):

For children who are effortless decoders and encoders (around 10 in every class) it doesn’t really have an impact – for the rest it does!

The schwa is not just connected to phonics and the making of ‘pure’ sounds but lurks in many words, making spelling so difficult.

This is why the teaching of affixes as units is so important:there’s a schwa in ‘ment’ and many other suffixes:

See this extract from Joe Moran’s excellent ‘First You Write a Sentence’:

Start write: supporting your new dyslexic student

Dyslexia has been ringfenced by the scientific community as requiring specialist support.

This approach can make teachers feel powerless, however, teachers are experts and the classroom teacher has the most powerful influence on a student’s learning journey and outcomes.

Graduated Approach

What is dyslexia anyway?

Think beneath the behaviours and consider how dyslexia looks across the curriculum for each child. There are more similarities than differences, but it can manifest in nuanced ways depending on support at home, when and how diagnosis occurred and the teaching received.

I tried to illustrate the bigger picture here:

Dyslexia is a sensory difference, reading and writing are largely physical, procedural skills. It takes longer for dyslexics to acquire them and the current system does not allow for this. Actually, the more rote styles of instruction in these areas, now so disliked, benefit them.

There is a difference between these core skills and knowledge. They are very good at retaining facts and information, when given the semantics (they need meaning, they need to know ‘why’) they are:

Interconnected thinkers


Think outside the box, excellent critical thinkers.

Very imaginative with an ability to visualise.

The important thing is to support them with language because if they haven’t processed the language, they can’t retain the knowledge.

This is linked to working memory weaknesses which I wrote about here:

Working Memory

There are lots of ways to explore language and spelling, phonics becomes less helpful as language becomes more complex:

When delivering a teaching point, be rigorous with your teaching and don’t assume – especially around language.

eg plan for teaching relative clauses


I had a long think, how do I approach the presentation of concepts to my students?

I came up with these principles:


Build a relationship, trust is so important. Knowing they can come to you for support means everything.

Have high expectations

Give the student opportunities to practise key skills

Praise specific progress

Be present to subtle bullying within class.

See previous posts:

Supporting Dyslexia KS2

Spelling and metacognition

Top ten spelling tips

1. Contractions

2. Open and closed syllables

3. Learning a word as a picture

4. Voiced and unvoiced sounds

5. Link reading and spelling as words are deconstructed.

6. Cut words up to show the syllables.

7. Use magnetic letters, this example uses stop motion video. You can also take a word and mix up the letters so the student has to rearrange them.

8. Simultaneous Oral Spelling – using letters names aloud whilst spelling.

9. Make videos, use play doh – good for irregular High Frequency Words.

10. Teach affixes and link concepts:

Catch up and keep up: ed suffix

The suffix ‘ed used in a past tense, regular verb is a year one target (together with ‘ing’ for good reason)

The ed suffix is an important entry into the world of morphology and represents an important move away from a phonics-only approach as ‘ed is never spelled as it sounds.

Previous post on morphology:


From https://www.etymonline.com/word/-ed

Originally fully pronounced, as still in beloved (which, with blessed, accursed, and a few others retains the full pronunciation through liturgical readings). In Old English already the first and third person singular past tense form of some “weak” verbs was -te, a variant of -de (see -ed), often accompanied by a change in vowel sound (as in modern keep/kept, sleep/slept).

A tendency to shorten final consonants has left English with many past tense forms spelled in -ed but pronounced “-t” (looked, missed, etc.). In some older words both forms exist, with different shades of meaning, as in gilded/gilt, burned/burnt.

The past tense can be seen as spelled ‘d in historic texts.

Activities which help students to differentiate include word sorts:

I made up a narrative for my students and invented the character of ‘Ed’ who makes 3 sounds:

At the time fidget spinners were all the rage so I turned spelling practice into a game:

I also make videos with students, wherein Stikbot Ed turns verbs into the past tense.

My principles are always:

Tell students what they need to know.

Make it relatable.

Engage the imagination.

Provide practice opportunities.

Encourage independence through self-checking.

Finding balance: how to use yoga in the classroom

This is a great time to implement yoga in your classroom. It can be done in a bubble and no equipment is needed.

Younger children respond particularly well as humans are more likely to mimic (copy) than primates!

Sound release is especially beneficial- the sound of the Om chant is thought to stimulate the Vagus nerve bringing a pleasurable sensation:

Vagus nerve study

Children love to take part in Om chant at the end of the session.

I love to use picture books in a process of embodied literacy, we should not expect small children to sit still, so much more fun to move and take part in the story, helping them to experience it.

Here is a lesson plan using Harold and his Purple Crayon:

Yoga can be used at any age and in one school, I taught from Reception to year 6 in one day (a special wellbeing day).

Children can even experience the alphabet through yoga:

Here is a plan for the topic of India:

I often like to theme sessions, this one is balance:

And this one kindness, which involves heart opening postures, when we are stressed this can lead to defensive body posture – rounded shoulders and head carried forwards, this compresses the lungs and makes us feel worse:

Use positive self-talk and mantra:

Books can be used to incorporate movement and sound awareness in literacy:

Listening Walk YouTube

There are so many valuable lessons to be learned from the discipline and ethos of yoga:

Namaste: the good in me sees the good in you.

Lola samastha sukhino bhavanthu: may all beings be happy and free.

A sun salute:

Find my previous post here:

https://thinkpix.blog/2018/01/24/why-yoga-for-children/Yoga for children

Catch up and keep up: times tables

Some students really struggle with times table facts. TT Tock Stars just makes them stressed.

The symbol itself can cause some confusion as it’s close to the addition sign and is taught initially as repeated addition- further confusing some chdn. An image which integrates the symbol with its meaning can be helpful, ‘lots of’:

What else do they need?

Firstly, multiplication is commutative, therefore not every single fact needs to be learned. However, chdn need to know and understand this concept eg 8×6 = 6×8

This table shows the facts that need to be learned:

Only these facts need to be learned.

In addition, a sequential order is not always the best for learners. The 12x table is easy when you consider partitioning – it’s the 10 and the 2 times table put together. Why not teach it earlier in the sequence?

This is a proposed order:

1) 10x 2) 11x 3) 2x 4) 12x 5) 5x 6) 9x 7) 3x 8) 4x 9) 6x 10) 7x 11) 8x

The 2x table is not easy for all chdn and one way to teach it is to show them doubles using hands/fingers:

Another times table which many chdn pick up with ease and others struggle with, is the 5x

This visual method works well and emphasises partitioning:

Manipulatives like cuisenaire can help students to explore number bonds and these are key to understanding number relationships and building fluency – both in TT (times tables) and all areas of maths:

The Rekenrek is a great way to look at how times tables are constructed and here the beginning of the 8 TT is demonstrated.

The 9x table has an interesting pattern:

Many chdn will not learn times table facts by simply repeating them, try different methods to help the knowledge stick. Practise often using division and word problems where students have to think flexibly about number.

Supporting SEND

How can teachers and TAs be best supported to support SEND or ‘catch up’ learners?

In terms of improving the experience of learners who are behind in school, perhaps the real focus should be on initial teacher training, where the most impact can be made. The challenge to train all teachers to teach children with SEND is recognised internationally (Booth, Nes and Stromstad, 2003; Sharma, Forlin and Lore, 2008). The social model of SEND based on inclusion and the human right to be part of mainstream activities can work with the individual model, wherein additional provision is linked to individual characteristics. In their study Norwich and Nash (2011) used a Personalised Learning Framework to support trainee teachers in their work with SEND students. Aspects which were identified as critical to the success were :

Effective communication is a key theme, and what this suggests is that schools need to view SEND as a priority in order to make time for communication. A survey carried out by Norwich and Nash (2011) suggested that teachers require more practically based lectures covering aspects of SEND, the aspects that they would most likely experience in the classroom. Some other specific suggestions were practical guidance on the following areas:

How to accommodate these pupils • How to work with TAs • More work on differentiation • More about hands-on teaching of children with SEND • How to write an IEP.

From this, it can be understood that teachers actively want more support to enable them to meet the needs of children with SEND, which includes dyslexia, in the classroom. Teachers should not be placed in a position where they perceive they do not have the relevant skills to carry out their job to a satisfactory level. Considering the notion of how emotion impacts on the individual, how does this impact on their stress levels, self-esteem and ability to self-regulate? Teachers may perceive they do not have the required expertise, but do specialists differ in the way they teach children with SEN? It seems there is no clear-cut pedagogy or simple answer.

Lewis and Norwich (2004) suggest 3 elements:

curriculum, teacher knowledge and pedagogy.

The implication from their study was that the difference is in intensity of general teaching approaches, which can be thought of as personalised learning: ‘to know how to make effective personalised provision’ for those with SEN (as was set out in teachers’ New Qualified Teacher Standards Q19; TDA, 2007). The requirement was already part of the Standards, but it seems that teachers didn’t feel sufficiently equipped in terms of practical, hands-on advice and experience, according to Norwich and Nash (2011). It seems then, that the answer might be to provide more practical training around SEND for teachers. Underpinning this perhaps, is also a need for an ideological shift in perception; for teachers to believe that they can impact positively and that dyslexia and other SEND is not outside of their skills set. Neoliberal and accountability policies currently mean that emphasis is on attainment for the majority, yet there is much rhetoric around inclusion, aspirations and choice, but choice for whom?

What are teachers feeling and experiencing and how can they be better supported moving forwards?

It is clear that to better support dyslexia: Teachers need more practical guidance in firstly identifying and in particular supporting such learners during teacher training. • They need greater knowledge of dyslexia and grounding in theory, offered at the training stage which can provide teacher agency.• Schools need to have explicit conversations around dyslexia and address any ideological differences amongst staff before any additional training can have a whole school impact.• They need policies which identify and support ‘at risk’children early, as suggested by research. • They need to be given permission to innovate (connected to teacher agency) and to have high expectations for every individual. Dyslexic learners may need a variety of approaches, especially visual ones.

Teachers and TAs need to collaborate and build trust to ensure that skills are transferred, both in terms of learning strategies for the pupil and to ensure that pupils become responsible for their own learning in the classroom, facilitated by the teacher.• Parents and educators also need to collaborate, supporting each other and the learner, sharing knowledge and experiences. This is potentially something that can also be addressed in teacher training.

Morphology: word grammar

Affix biscuits – yummy!

The term morphology was taken from biology where it is used to represent the study of the form of plants and animals. Its first recorded use is in writings by Goethe (1796). It was first used in relation to linguistics by August Schleicher (1859) to refer to the study of the form of words (Salmon, 2000).

Morphology now refers to the systematic form-meaning relationship between words and the study of the internal structure of words.

Take the word ‘talk’, if you were to look it up in a dictionary you would not find separate entries for: talks, talked, talking – these words are derived from/ examples of, the same word. Talk is a lexeme and talks, talked and talking can be qualified as word forms.

When acquiring speech (a biologically primary function) children absorb and apply these patterns automatically. However, in order to write them correctly (a biologically secondary function), children benefit from being taught explicitly about how words are formed – their internal structure – as part of the orthography of our language.

Moreover, an understanding and application of morphology improves reading too: both decoding ability and fluency. Together with syllabification, the ability to quickly recognise and apply affixes is crucial as readers progress.

The internal structure of words: like building blocks.

In teaching morphology to learners with working memory and word identification weaknesses, they are enabled to chunk words rather than hold a string of sounds in mind to blend them – something which becomes impossible as words get longer.

This is also true of spelling where learners might struggle to encode a long word by breaking it up into a phoneme at a time.

Discovering prefixes

In the activity above, students are invited to experiment, making words from the prefixes and root words offered.

Words consisting of more than one morpheme are polymorphic. There can be free or bound morphemes. Bound morphemes carry meaning but do not make sense on their own eg in talk: s, ed, ing can be added. In general, prefixes change meaning and suffixes change word tense or class.

Morphological rules have two functions: to specify predictable properties of complex words listed in the lexicon and to indicate how new words can be made.

Phonological properties of a word may determine which affixes are suitable and morphological structure may impact on the phonological form of a word. Consider how the stress changes from cooperate to uncooperative.

The assembly of the various affixes is known as concatenation.

Awareness of morphology can begin in Year One with ‘ed’ a perfect opportunity to teach spelling beyond phonics:

The suffix ed makes three sounds:
/id/ /t/ /d/

Once affixes are understood as units, this knowledge can be generalised and applied. It also helps with the tricky schwa sound as found in ‘ment’, ‘ence’/‘ance’ and other suffixes.

Further Reading:


The Grammar of Words (2005); Booij, Geert, OUP

By heart: why we should memorise poetry.

From Mindful

Easter 2019, I took my rather large volume of Mary Oliver poems to Cornwall with the intention of committing one to memory.

I had been inspired by an article written by Nicholas Pearson, then publishing director of 4th Estate. I kept this article for years. He had memorised T.S Eliot’s The Waste Land (433 lines!!) for his 50th birthday:

‘The poem changed me…I do believe great poetry has the ability to enhance your relationship with the world…’ (Nicholas Pearson)

I have always loved poetry and wrote copious amounts of it at Primary School. In fact, there was a group of us – I would think of it, someone else would write it down and we would all perform it. At home, I wrote poems as apologies, poems to demonstrate love and to make sense of the world.

I was a quiet child, my thoughts and feelings too big for my vocabulary. I couldn’t find the words to say but poetry presented a different way to communicate.

My sister-in-law introduced me to Mary Oliver by sharing the recital of Wild Geese on WhatsApp:

Already a Ted Hughes fan, I loved the way Oliver wrote about nature and when she died, I enjoyed how others connected with her poems and the broader engagement which her death brought with her writing.

My copy of Devotions arrived and it sat around the house for a while. It seemed I was always too busy to pick it up, perhaps my mind was too busy.

It can feel intimidating to hold a large volume of poetry, where to begin? Collections of poems are not to be read cover to cover like a novel but discovered and savoured (like wild strawberries).

I took the book on holiday to Cornwall. I flicked through: back to front, front to back; eyes moving up and down the titles. I had read and enjoyed ‘Why I wake early’ and decided to focus on that section, quickly settling on Mindful.

It spoke to me, I decided to memorise it.

It is not an overly long poem but enjambment is used and there is no rhyming scheme to help fix it in memory.

I studied the poem and attempted to recite it aloud, one verse at a time. At first, the family were mildly interested. Discussing language choices: ‘like a needle in the haystack of light’, helped me to remember them but the family quickly grew bored.

Learning a poem by heart is ultimately a solitary pursuit – it inhabits your mind and body – a secret ritualistic chant. It made me unavailable at times; whilst from the outside appearing unoccupied – preoccupied.

The parts of the poem I misremembered were of the greatest interest to me. At first, ‘kills me with delight’ was remembered at ‘fills me with delight’, ‘leaving me’ instead of ‘that leaves me’, ‘a haystack’ instead of ‘the haystack. The use of the definite article is powerful. The use of ‘kills’ is devastating.

It felt disrespectful to misremember even the smallest word when the poet had chosen them so carefully- it led me to consider the importance and impact of EVERY word choice made by a writer.

I remembered well those sections in which a particular phrase resonated:

‘To lose myself inside this soft world’

or a vocabulary choice or metaphor intrigued me:

‘The untrimmable light of the world’

I connected strongly with the overall theme of the poem – pleasure, worship in the small wonders of nature, the glory of something as common as grass – and in this time of lockdown my gratitude for the beauty of nature and of poetry has grown. The poem is part of me now.

‘prayers that are made out of grass’

Mindful, Mary Oliver

From Devotions
Devotions, New York, Penguin Press (2017)
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