Day 1 - Let's Talk Phonics!

DAY 1 Let's Talk Phonics!  (Monday, August 27)
CLICK HERE to access the original event announcement.

Welcome to our six-day dialogue on teaching phonics to adult learners!

  • If you are here because you want to hone your skills in teaching phonics to adult learners…
  • if you are here because you want to share ideas related to researched practices in teaching phonics to adults…
  • if you are here because you enjoy watching experienced tutors work directly with students…
  • if you are here because you are ready to have some fun dialoguing with people who have a passion for helping adults learn to read… 
  • then you have come to the right place!!!

We will be meeting for six days, Monday through Saturday, and thereafter should you wish to continue interacting on this critical reading topic. 

The six-to seven-minute videos that we will be discussing are published by Partners in Reading – San Jose Public Library and Read Santa Clara – Santa Clara City Library. Representing our video developers this week is our guest expert, Kathy St. John. As you probably read in the announcement, Kathy’s resume includes many years for experience working ESL and literacy organizations serving adult students. More recently, she was the Training and Program Coordinator for OVAE/LINCS Regional Professional Development Center 4. She is currently an ESL teacher, a LINCS National Trainer, a Literacyworks National Trainer, and a freelance consultant in the areas of literacy and nonprofit fund, organizational and board development, strategic planning and organizational capacity building. 

Joining you will also be the three LINCS Moderators supporting this discussion: Susan Finn Miller, Kathy Tracey, and Leecy Wise. We’ll be joining you in asking or answering questions, or cheering you from the sidelines as you interact with Kath St. John and one other.

We will cover one video per day, under the category or subtitle: Alphabetics: Decoding/Phonics. The first 6-minute video is Decoding - Part 1: Tutoring Using Synthetic Phonics. NOTE: Each video in the six-part series has the same 1-minute or so introduction to the skill. You can skip that intro in Videos 2-6, if you so desire. 

You are invited to observe the tutor in our first video and return to this discussion to participate in a dialogue relating to your experience. Please reflect on the following:

  • What was the most helpful, interesting, or valuable thing you learned while watching the tutor work with the student?
  • Why do you think we talk about “tutors” more that “teachers” in basic adult literacy?

In addition, you are also invited to pose questions that you would like our guest or moderators to address in this discussion. The more we talk, the more we’ll learn together.

To our Guest Expert:  Kathy St. John, what motivated the development of the excellent list of videos produced by Partners in Reading – San Jose Public Library and Read Santa Clara – Santa Clara City Library? What feedback have literacy tutors offered on using the videos to develop helpful skills to work with beginning adult learners? What other comments would you like to share on this first day of our discussions?

Video List for the Week
Day 1 -  Decoding - Part 1: Tutoring Using Synthetic Phonics
Day 2 -  Decoding - Part 2: Tutoring Using Analytic Phonics
Day 3 -  Decoding - Part 3: Tutoring Using Phonics by Analogy  
Day 4 -  Decoding - Part 4: Tutoring Using Phonics through Spelling  
Day 5 -  Decoding - Part 5: Tutoring Using Phonics in Context 
Day 6 -  Decoding - Part 6: Tutoring Phonics Using a Multisensory Approach

Let's talk phonics! Your Event Team


Thanks for this opportunity to participate in Let's Talk Phonics. What a honor it is to be here this week discussing this important topic with all of you! I'm sure everyone has many wonderful ideas and lots of great experiences and recommended strategies and resources to share. Hopefully there will also be some interesting questions and comments that will encourage us all to think more deeply about phonics and the important role it plays in laying a solid foundation for overall reading ability. To begin our discussion, I'd like to respond to the following questions that have been posed.

What motivated the development of the excellent list of videos produced by Partners in Reading – San Jose Public Library and Read Santa Clara – Santa Clara City Library?

My colleagues at Partners in Reading and Read Santa Clara knew I'd been working with LINCS for several years on the topic of Teaching Adults to Read: the Four Components of Reading. Both programs had learners who were struggling with reading whom they felt could benefit from the recommended, research-based approaches LINCS had been promoting. However, they felt that the resources available were more geared to adult education teachers and classrooms, rather than one-to-one volunteer tutors and their individual or small group learners. They felt it would be helpful if the research was framed in a more user-friendly manner and if the recommended strategies were illustrated very graphically by real learners and tutors working together to demonstrate the strategies. They asked me if I'd like to work with them to produce a series of videos funded by an LSTA grant from the California State Library that focused on the strategies that were the most useful and appropriate for volunteer tutors and their learners. At the time, my colleagues Amy Prevedel, Paul Heavenridge and I were working on Tutor Ready: Reading, a special project for LINCS with pretty much the same aim. It was the first time LINCS really developed a free online professional development opportunity for volunteer tutors working with learners to improve their reading skills in all four components: Alphabetics, Fluency, Vocabulary and Comprehension. It seemed like the stars had aligned and I jumped at the chance to work on this new project (originally with Amy Prevedel and then later with Paul Heavenridge as well) which would illustrate the recommended strategies we had highlighted in Tutor Ready with videos of real tutors and learners showing what it really looks like to put the recommended research-based assessment and instructional strategies into action. As a team, we made sure the strategies that we knew tutors and learners were the most likely to be able to use in their tutoring sessions aligned with the research promoted by LINCS. So the motivation was the desire to meet tutor and learner needs while encouraging the use of best practices founded on solid, current reading research that LINCS and reading experts in adult basic literacy and education knew to be the most effective. In the end, we were able to incorporate the videos into Tutor Ready:Reading so that both projects fully complemented each other.

What feedback have literacy tutors offered on using the videos to develop helpful skills to work with beginning adult learners?

​We're very pleased that the feedback literacy tutors have given us has been overwhelmingly positive. That old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words proves to be even more true when we're looking at videos demonstrating the recommended strategies. Tutors have told us that seeing the approaches in action is incredibly helpful. They say it's an invaluable addition to the training and manuals they receive from their programs in pre-service and in-service trainings. And tutors really appreciate the fact that we used real tutors and learners rather than actors or experts. In the videos, not everything is perfect, there are some slight errors and it makes it very real and approachable when tutors are trying to learn how to use the strategies themselves. The videos aren't intimidating and they show that you don't have to be a professional adult educator to help learners improve their reading skills. They also say that seeing the rapport between learners and tutors in the videos helps them understand what a successful tutoring relationship looks like.

We've also heard good things from prospective tutors who are just learning about adult literacy and tutoring in tutor trainings when they first join a volunteer-based tutoring program.  These prospective tutors have a hard time envisioning what they will be asked to do and what a tutoring session will look like. They're often anxious about what can seem like the very heavy responsibility of helping an adult improve his/her reading skills. When they can see what a tutoring session looks like and see the tools and techniques in motion, their anxiety is often allayed and they feel more confident to take on the challenge of working with a learner to improve his/her reading at any level.

An added benefit that we didn't foresee when we were developing the videos was actually first pointed out by tutors who understood that a big part of what they do when they work with their learners is to help teach them how to learn and how to be learners. They immediately saw the potential for watching the videos with their learners so their learners could see the reading strategies in action. They could see what it's like to be a learner, what a tutoring session looks like and how adults can use different approaches to improve their reading skills. So tutors helped us see that the videos can be a learning tools for learners as well!

What other comments would you like to share on this first day of our discussions?

I'm just so excited to have this opportunity to really delve into the subject of phonics and to share successes and challenges, recommendations and questions. I'm a HUGE advocate of phonics as the key that unlocks the door for learners of how to build the foundation of basic reading skills. Whenever I'm able to talk about the videos with people who view them I get really helpful feedback that allows me to think more deeply about how to most successfully convey the reading research so that the field can use it so reading assessment and instruction at all levels is more effective. I always learn from others and pick up fabulous and inventive new tips on how to improve my own teaching practice, as both a teacher of adult literacy and ESL learners and of adult educators. I'm especially looking forward to learning from this group about what works and doesn't work with this series of videos as my colleagues Paul Heavenridge, Dianna Baycich and Kathy Harris and I are currently developing Tutor Ready:Writing and we hope to obtain funding to produce a series of videos that will illustrate research-based recommended strategies for assessing and teaching writing skills. So I'm eager to learn from the feedback on this video series so we can do an even better job with the next video series.


Kathy, thank you for sharing such good information on the development of the video series from Partners in Reading. One of the lessons I learned very early promoting adult literacy is that native-English speakers respond far better to individual tutoring in small spaces over being taught in classes, which is what prompted the development of the series, as you mentioned. Why? Shame is a big contributor to that choice. It's not embarrassing to not know how to read in English as an adult if you are learning it as a second language. Classes work well with ESL students. However, adult English speakers prefer to perform in private when that is possible.

Thank you for joining us in this discussion and sharing your expertise on this essential reading-development topic! It's easy to see why "the feedback literacy tutors have given us [you] has been overwhelmingly positive." I'm glad to hear that more are in the making!


I couldn't agree with you more, Leecy, when you contrast native English speakers who want to improve their reading and writing skills with English language learners who have no reason to feel anything but proud of themselves for learning a new language. Often, native English speakers never got the individual attention they needed to address their special learning needs when they were in school. And they weren't able to work at their own pace without regard to how quickly or slowly other learners were learning. Embarrassment and shame are certainly challenges we all deal with with these brave learners and are another important reason that one-to-ne tutoring is so effective for native English speakers. Thanks for making those excellent points!

Good morning,

I enjoyed watching the video for day 1.  I teach very beginning adult ESL students.  We are working on the basic phonemes of the alphabet.  We have not worked up into the others sounds yet.  In the classroom, some of students are able to say the phonemes of the letters with some accuracy but not all of the students can do this. 

As I have move into blending and putting the sounds together as you do in the video, I was wondering if pictures of the words created would assist in the students ability to blend or does this establish the word as a sight word they memorize according to the picture.  We began with the "at" word family and then moved into the substitution of first letters.  The students struggle as they guess at the word or forget the sound of the letters all together.  Am I moving them to quickly? 

I like the technique of having the students say each letter but wondered about the next level of recognizing the word family set sounds such as a and t which say "at" versus sounding out each letter and then saying the word as three sounds combined.  For fluency wouldn't it be better to allow the students to progress to the next level versus coming back to the individual sounds?

Thank you for the ability to enter into this discussion.


Hi, Diana. You've asked great questions for further dialogue!

I have two questions related to your comments and to the students you teach. Are they literate in their own language? What native languages do your students speak? 

If your students are already literate in their own native tongues and if those languages employ an alphabetic system, they will be able to read in English. The trick is to teach them meaning/vocabulary and to pronounce letters and combinations of letters using acceptable English pronunciation. 

On the other hand, if they don't read in their native languages, phonics is the way to go, either in their native tongues or in English. In that case, if in English, synthetic phonics is likely to work better with ESL students over analytic phonics. But that's for another day's discussion! :)

What do others here think? Leecy

Aha, Diana! It sounds like phonics instruction is at the top of the menu as a segment in other English reading, writing, and speaking instruction that you will offer. Please continue to ask questions in this and following "Let's Talk Phonics" discussions! Thanks for responding. Leecy


Hi Diana, The clarification questions Leecy asked are relevant ones when it comes to phonics lessons with beginning English learners. I have found it helpful to focus on phonics with learners who have had no or limited formal schooling. For me, it is also important that I use words that students know or at least words that I can easily explain during phonics lessons with beginners.

It's no small feat to learn to both speak a new language while also learning to read for the first time.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

This discussion is very timely for me as I am planning a face-to-face training with new adult literacy tutors next week. In addition, I am putting together a session at our fall conference on planning hybrid trainings that include face-to-face and online training components.

Is there a link that I can send to people that would direct them to the six videos? I have seen these in the past but am not sure of an easy way to find them.

What was the most helpful, interesting, or valuable thing you learned while watching the tutor work with the student?

I liked that the tutor asked the learner at the end of the session how he felt about the level of repetition.

Hi Anna,

I am excited to see that you are gathering ideas that you can apply to your profession already! It's exciting to see the pieces come together. I am curious as how you will frame the resource for your participants. Do you envision sharing the resource, or will you include a tip sheep with ideas? We are planning on using the discussions to build a framework for a resource guide that supplements the videos. I'd love to hear your ideas about how you can integrate videos in your workshops. 

Hi Anna! Thanks for posting the link to the videos that's on Read Santa Clara's website. I'd like to share another link to Partners in Reading's You Tube channel that organizes the videos by component of reading. So all of the Phonemic Awareness videos are organized into one stream, as are the phonics videos.And so on. I personally find this organization easier to work with. Here's that link:





Anna, thanks for your comments and for sharing the YouTube channel that houses all of the videos in the series!

You said, "I liked that the tutor asked the learner at the end of the session how he felt about the level of repetition." I believe that's a practice that leads to "student-centered instruction!" You'll notice that in this series, tutors explain what they are going to do before starting each activity. Is that also a practice that you and others would recommend when working with beginning readers? Leecy

Learning can be a stressful experience for our students. Many have not had positive interactions with prior teachers and the unknown can cause anxiety. Simply explaining what will happen before the student needs to respond is definitely an example of student centered instruction. Then, asking how the student felt after the experience also reinforces the positive experience, gives the teacher meaningful feedback, and gives the student a voice in the experience. I can't think of better examples of student - centered approaches. 


Hi Leecy,

I like that you not only addressed the student's reflection on the activity, but also mentioned that the tutor introduced the activity before beginning. And yes, with the literacy organization I work with, our tutors are ProLiteracy certified and focus on "student-centered" instruction. One of the methods I've learned through my state's adult education professional development is simply called "I Do - We Do - You Do", and officially it is called "explicit instruction". It follows the same tutoring pattern that the tutor in the video used. She introduced the lesson, showed the student what the objective or competency is, then they make a few words together, then the student makes a few words on his own.

What did I like the most? I was absolutely thrilled with the real-life tutor/student pair. She was professional and non-threatening, and the student seemed pleased to be participating in the video.

Indeed, Carrie. Thanks for reviewing best practices in student-centered instruction. I'll add one step to the explicit-instruction process, which I learned in training to work with learning-disabled students. It's about the same.

1. I do it and you observe.
2. I do it and you help me.
3. You do it and I help you.
4. You do it. 

You mentioned liking the "professional and non-threatening" approach. Absolutely! Above all, adult beginning readers will only learn if they feel safe. Thanks for bringing that up. Leecy

Thanks to Carrie and Leecy for focusing in on and naming the explicit instruction demonstrated in the videos. I love the I do, We do, You do model of explicit instruction and I love Leecy's twist on it even more! In a training I did once for adult ed teachers in the south, a participant added her own take on the last step. She uses Ya'll do which is when students in a classroom setting do the activity together after doing the other steps outlined by Carrie and Leecy. 

Thanks also Leecy for connecting explicit instruction to recommended best practices for tutoring/teaching learners with undiagnosed or diagnosed learning disabilities. Research and our own experiences in the field tell us that this approach can be very successful with learners with LD. You can't have enough explicit instruction and repetition in those situations!

I'm so glad that you liked seeing a real life tutor pair in the video. Maureen and Jonathon enjoy each other so much and work together so well. We were delighted when they agreed to  be featured in the videos. Maureen was a little nervous about asking Jonathon to participate, as were the Partners in Reading program folks. He's quite shy and quiet and they weren't sure that he would want to be filmed. But he enthusiastically signed up for the project and really did seem to enjoy being part of it. Once again, I was reminded that we sometimes may try to protect our adult learners from what we think may cause them anxiety. But when we do that, we take away their authority as adults and learners. I've learned not to presume who will want to participate in which activity. Now I invite the individual to participate and leave it up to him/her to decide for himself or herself.

Hi Anna, Thanks for noticing that the tutor in this video ends the lesson by checking in with her learner about what they did, what worked well and what might be changed in the future. You'll find that all of the videos end with this intentional reflection piece as it's such an important part of continuous, informal assessment and lesson planning. That reflection is critical for learners as they become more aware of their own learning or more "self-regulated" and independent learners. It also reinforces the idea of learner-centeredness, as Leecy pointed out, and also sets up the tutoring pair as a team, with the learner in an active role in deciding the content and nature of future of lessons. A tutor can use the information from this reflection piece to plan what to include, exclude and emphasize in the next lesson and to encourage the learner to build on in home practice, if the learner has said it's possible to invest time outside of the tutorials. We hope everyone will be encouraged to make reflection a part of every lesson!



My background is elementary education, with some years of experience in an At-Risk Reading classroom for students in K-3.  Right now, I am teaching adults: advanced level ESL students and a dyslexic gentleman.  I find the methods the tutors are using to be very adult-friendly.  The explanations are helpful because I know, as an adult, the word games and such might seem babyish or childlike at first, but the tutor does a great job of explaining relevance before they start.  

The only comment of concern I will make is that the tutor consistently makes a voiced vowel sound at the end of her consonants when they are isolated.  This practice is not great for beginning readers, as they will consistently think of the voiced vowel sound in conjunction with the consonant sound and thus make it more difficult for blending.  My dyslexic student also had some pretty severe hearing issues as a young child, which led to speech difficulties as well, so it is imperative that I point out the position of the lips, tongue, and teeth with each letter sound and make it a truly physical sensation that goes with auditory input.  That way, his speaking, listening and spelling are also improved.  I feel it necessary to point it out for all beginning readers, though, as it makes a big difference.  My ESL students also benefit from doing some healthy mouth exercises for pronunciation purposes.

Miranda, you raise a very important issue. You are right that it is important that tutors not add vowel sounds, especially at the end of voiced consonants, like /b/ in boy. That way, when students are asked to blend the sounds, they won't say buh-oy.

Showing some students "the position of the lips, tongue, and teeth with each letter sound," as you noted, and also, having students place their hands on their throats to distinguish between voiced and unvoiced sounds, can be very effective. However, I am told that in some cultures and among some people, bringing attention to the mouth and tongue is very offensive and even repulsive. Has anyone encountered that reaction? Leecy

I too explicitly show  how to form "the position of the lips, tongue, and teeth with each letter" as some of our letters are not found in their alphabets.  I have a number of students who arrive with poor hearing and by being explicit we are able to progress forward until they are fitted with hearing aids.  Some students arrive into the classroom with teeth decay from years in the refugee camps.  We laugh together as it is very hard to make some sounds without your teeth and we do the best we can. 

Thanks to everyone for bringing this key concept up. Many learners, both native English speakers and English language learners, have trouble "hearing" and reproducing certain sounds. There are many reasons for this including hearing impairment or auditory processing issues or not having heard or practiced saying that sound because it doesn't exist in one's native language. I recently heard research that said that if a person hasn't been exposed to a certain sound by the time they're 3 months old, they will struggle to produce that sound.

Whatever the cause, a great way to address the issue is indeed to ask your learner to "feel the sounds". Demonstrating where your tongue, teeth and lips are is important. Then asking your learner to imitate you. Showing voiced versus unvoiced sounds is part of this too. Demonstrating that you can say /ssssssssssssssss/ until you run out of breath but you can't do the same with /t/. Asking "Is air coming out of your mouth or not?" That's one way to mark the difference between /p/ and /b/. I try to make this a silly, fun activity because there are indeed cultural differences, as Leecy says, that can make sticking one's tongue out or positioning one's mouth in a certain way embarrassing or unacceptable. When my learners have trouble pronouncing the /th/ sound as in think I ask then to stick out their tongues and blow and I pretend to use my fingers to try to grab their tongues and pull them out of their mouths. Even the shyest student cracks up because I've created an environment in which we all feel comfortable being silly, trying new things and taking risks. It can be hard for learners to re-create the mouth positions when they're looking at me putting my mouth, tongue and lips in different positions, so I give them a mirror so they can see their own mouths. I always have a small pocket mirror in my teaching bag of tricks for just that purpose. It's fun! You might want to try it!

Hi Miranda! Thanks for your keen observation. I'm not sure if you noticed in my first post that I mentioned that because we worked with real tutor learner pairs some errors happened that we didn't catch until it was too late. It makes the videos authentic but it does also present a problem in the case of the tutor voicing vowel sounds after consonants. /b/ /oy/ is boy, not buh oy. Maureen is an exceptional tutor in so many ways. When she was working with Jonathon we were so focused on all of the many moving parts of orchestrating the filming of the videos and on all of the wonderful things happening during the tutoring session demonstrations that we somehow failed to focus on this unfortunate glaring error. Mea culpa! We should have caught this and asked the tutor to clip her consonants and not add an "uh" vowel sound after each one. It's an important error and one that makes me cringe whenever I watch it because I should have noticed and intervened and corrected it. When I show the the videos in trainings I actually use this as an example of most Americans' natural tendency to add an "uh" sound following consonants sounds. I don't know why we do it, but most of us do. And it's a super hard bad habit to break. But we MUST because if we don't it's totally confusing for our learners. So I use the videos of an example of why it's important NOT to add a voiced vowel sound after consonants and I really drive home why that is. I guess I'm trying to make lemonade out of lemons since we don't have the option of re-filming those videos. I'm afraid this is an issue in all of the phonics videos so please make note of it but I'd like to encourage you to try to focus your attention elsewhere. Many thanks!

I'm excited to be part of this discussion, but I'm not sure I can keep up with the daily comments with it being the first week back to school. I'll catch up at the end of the week, I'm sure.

The most interesting part of this first video was watching the learner's smile when he made the word 'sob'. Those lightbulb moments are so great!

It's also good to see the variety of practice methods at the end of the video. All of those are simple and cheap and so useful. I love the double styrofoam cup method; I've never seen that technique. 

Most of my ESL students are a little higher than basic phonics level, but our classes are all levels together, so it's good to see some techniques I could have pairs practice together or a volunteer help out with. I always hesitate with so much repetition, but it was comforting to hear the learner say the repetition was good for him. I know it is; I just worry about students getting bored. I have to constantly remind myself not to stress over that.

Thanks for this series!


I taught "language fundamentals" for five years at The New Community School in Richmond, Virginia.   I, too, wondered about the repetition... but ... I figured I should trust the program.

I also did the data and statistics for student improvement. Every. Single. Year.   the most methodical, "boring" teachers had the best results.  Every. Single. Year... and even with our quickest-thinking students.   

It's repetitious to *me.*  To the students, it's ... actually knowing the answer, confidently.   

That said, I think it's totally important to get the student's input and to respect it.   I have a student who's coming in to build reading skills -- I work in an open computer lab and most folks are students coming in for help w/ classwork.   He's coming in on his own.   I've made adjustments to the program (it's Reading Plus) so that he's doing more vocabulary and less "passage reading"  -- because he said he thought the vocab. work was what he needed (it's also consistent w/ 'best practices' at his level).   

I appreciated the big manipulative cards and the guiding the direction of reading, rather than having little text on a screen or paper.   

Anna, Ginger, and Susan, I'm glad that the issue of repetition has come up in a positive way! Repetition is boring under two circumstances: (1) too long and (2) misguided (not relevant or not at the right level level).

In our earlier Phonics Prep post for this discussion, you will read, "Phonics practice should not take very long in any learning session. Why? Basically, many people find it boring! It also requires a lot of concentration and learners can tire easily if phonics lessons are more than 15-20 minutes long. Keep it short, yes, but definitely keep it!"

As someone who has studied other languages, I remember that I wanted the instructor to repeat, repeat, and repeat sentences before I tried to say them correctly. I wanted to hear the new rhythms and sounds over and over and over, and I wanted to say them over and over as well. For someone who knew the language, the activity would be boring, but for me, I loved it. Well, for a little while... Leecy

Good points all about the value of repetition. We know this is how the human brain works and learns. Why do young children want to watch the same video and read the same book over and over and over until the adults in their lives want to scream? Because that's how we learn. How do you become a proficient pianist? By playing a piece only a few times? Nope! By playing it over and over and over again until your fingers are numb. Or so I'm told!Image removed.

I think Leecy's observation of how she learns other languages is apt. I often think about my own way of learning new things when I'm thinking about adult literacy learning. Did it really take me dozens of times and lots of viewing of a video I made of my trainer to FINALLY be able to tie my horses's rope halter correctly? Yes it did! And now that I've mastered that skill and it's so automatic that I could do that tie with my eyes closed, do I ask myself "Why was that so hard for me to learn? It's easy peasy!" Yes I do!

I personally get bored easily by repetition in the lessons I teach. But I have to remember that it's not my boredom that I should be focusing on. If one of my learners appears to be bored by the repletion that other learners need to master a concept or skill, I find another meaningful activity for that learner to engage in. It's been challenging for me, but I now try really hard to allow enough time for repeated practice. It's especially helpful for learners with learning disabilities. Repetition is essential for them!

Thanks for joining us, Ginger. We're happy to have you whenever it works for you.

Don't you just love the phonics cups?! I stole that idea from my colleague Dianna Baycich at The Ohio Literacy Resource Center/Kent State University. And she stole it from somebody else. We hope lots and lots of people will steal this fun and effective idea that works especially well for tactile and kinesthetic learners.

I brought my phonics cups to a training I did in California last year and the program director shared with me that one of the program's tutoring pairs had seen the videos and was enthusiastically using the cups but that they kept adding cups as the learner became more advanced and was able to work with multisyllabic words. It never occurred to me to keep adding cups!

A few months ago, I demonstrated the cups to an environmentally conscious group of tutors in California who were sad the cups were styrofoam. One went to Target between the first and second training and found some great plastic cups with rims that work even better than styrofoam because they're lightweight but durable and come in different colors that can connote vowels versus consonants or onsets versus rimes. I think it's great that everyone who sees the videos adapts what they see and learn and makes it work better for them and their learners. 

I'd also like to encourage people who work with intermediate level and even some advanced level learners who have trouble with multisyllabic words, blends and digraphs and some spelling combinations to try phonics to get over those bumps that can hold higher level learners back from fluent and proficient reading. Often, it just takes a quick lesson on those more advanced phonics concepts to remediate intermediate level, and even some advanced level, learners who have funky gaps in their decoding abilities.

I had a question about the manipulatives used in the first video.

I have seen bound phonics cards called, "Flipping Phonics." Tutors like them, but I noticed in the video that what is difficult with the "Flipping Phonics," is the student participation.

I was wondering how difficult it is to find cards, color coded like those in the video, and if they are very expensive? I think the exposure to the different types of phonics manipulatives is useful and interesting, and I thought the video was very well done.

Thank you for offering this for us!


I am so you liked the first video! Thanks for your great questions!

In the videos, we used letter cards from the Wilson Reading System. I just checked and they're about $18. You can order them at

Other kinds of practice cards are also available. You might want to take a peek at:

We also really like to encourage learners and tutors to use Scrabble letter tiles without the game board. They're not color coded but they are adult looking and very durable and portable.

There are so many different kinds of letters to choose from. Teacher resource stores have some wonderful options. I like to go to my local Lakeshore store to see what a particular learner might like. Here's some of what they have to offer:

I have a bunch of their word building tiles that I take to trainings They're small, pretty durable, color coded and cost about $5 for a packet.

Happy shopping!

I enjoyed watching the video.

I teach ESL to adult students and many times it is difficult to get them to read properly. This teaching strategy not only allows the learner to figure out by himself the sound and pronunciation but it also allows for speeding the reading skills.

I really like it and will try it as soon as I can.


I liked the video and was especially struck by the nice relationship between the tutor and her student.  Asking a student to reflect on their learning is something I don't do enough, so it was good to see that done.  I also think it is good to use manipulatives in teaching phonics, as it addresses several learning styles.  I have done something like this in my whole class, but not one on one.  I think I need to do it in smaller groups at least and try to find the time to do one on one.

I'd love to hear more about how you do phonics play with your class. I'm always looking for tips to share with others. Can you tell us more about how you do this?

Phonics play like we see in the videos certainly can be done with multiple students or even a class but the challenge there is for the teacher to be able to make sure everyone in the class is on target and to provide immediate feedback if they aren't. I'd love to know your secret for doing that!

The reading research tells us that most learners who are learning to read at this level really do need and benefit from that one-to-one individualized attention when doing phonics play of all types. This is especially true for those learners who struggle with decoding because of a learning challenge. But working with individual learners within a class is time consuming and can be very difficult for classroom teachers to do, unless they have assistants in the class or can structure the lesson so they can pull struggling learners out of the main group activity to work with them on phonics activities individually. It can be done but it requires time, planning and good classroom management skills. More power to you if you've cracked that nut!