Kelsie Syverson, EngEd 275 DL, Chapter 5: Cracking the Alphabetic Code

Students use phonemes, graphemes, and graphophonemic relationships to crack the alphabetic code. A phoneme is also a sound and is represented with slashes when written such as /s/. Students learn about phonemes as they rhyme words, segment words into sounds, and create silly words. A grapheme is a written representation of a sound using one or more letters.  Graphophomemic is the relationship between sounds and symbols. Students learn this as they match letters with letter sounds, blend sounds to form words, and decode and spell vowel patterns.

There are three types of alphabetic code knowledge:

  • Phonemic Awareness: Where students recognize the sounds of oral language and the way it can be manipulated.
  • Phonics: Students understand that letters can be represented as sounds and can be used to recognize words.
  • Spelling: Students learn that sounds can be represented by letters and then be used to form words.

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic Awareness Strategies:

  • Identifying Sounds in Words
  • Categorizing Sounds in Words
  • Substituting Sounds to Make New Words
  • Blending Sounds to Form Words
  • Segmenting a Word into Sounds

Students use these strategies to read and write words.

Teaching Phonemic Awareness:

Phonemic awareness activities should include these three things:

  1. Should be appropriate for 5 to 6 years old students. Activities such as songs, rhymes, riddles and word play books are always fun.
  2. These activities should be planned and meaningful.
  3. They should be incorporated into other literacy components too. This will help students make the connection between written and oral language.

The teacher can use many activities to encourage phonemic awareness. These activities can include; sound-matching, sound-isolation, sound-blending, and sound-segmentation activities. Another activity is called Elkonin boxes which teaches students to segment words.



Phonics is the relationship between phonology (the sounds in speech) and orthography (the spelling patterns of the written language. Phonics deals with more of the spelling of words than the sounds of the words/letters. Vowels are the tricky part about phonics because the same vowel can make multiple sounds depending on their location in a word, the letters around it, or an at the end of the word.

In phonics, we have to teach about both consonants and vowels. Vowels are a, e, i, o, and u. Consonants are every other letter. and can sometimes be considered vowels when they are in the middle or end of a word.

Consonants can have either blends or digraphs. A consonant blend is when two consonants are together and blend together like sp and bl. Consonant digraphs are letter combinations that make a single sound and the separate letter sounds can not be picked out individually such as ch, sh, th, ph, and, wh.

Vowels typically have two sounds to them, a long vowel and a short vowel. There are also vowel digraphs where two vowels combine to make one sound. Also, if one vowel glides into the next vowel it is called a diphthong, such as house or cow. There are also vowels that are r-controlled vowels, which means the r in the word decides what sound the vowel is going to make.

One-syllable words and syllables in longer words can be broken up into two parts; and onset and a rime. An onset is the consonant sound, if any, the precedes the vowel. The rime is the vowel and any consonant sounds that follow it. So, in the word ball, the b is the onset and all is the rime.

Teaching Phonics:

The best way to teach phonics is through both instruction and application activities. Most teachers start by teaching consonants and short vowels so students can start spelling short words.


For instruction, teachers can use minilessons that focus on phonics concepts to both small groups and the whole class. Some activities could include:

  • Sort objects, pictures, and word cards according to a phonics concept
  • Write letters or words on small whiteboards
  • Arrange magnetic letters or letter cards to spell words
  • Make class charts of words representing phonics concepts
  • Make a poster or book of words representing a phonics concept
  • Locate other words that exemplify spelling patterns in books students are reading


Stage 1: Emergent Spelling – Children may put together scribbles, letters, and things that look like letters but are not able to read you what they wrote (they may be able to tell you but don’t know that the letters make sounds). Children will write randomly across the paper, not always left to right, but will have an understanding of it by the end of this stage. Typically 3- to 5-year-olds. During this stage children will learn these concepts:

  • The distinction between drawing and writing
  • How to make letters
  • The direction of writing on a page
  • Some letter-sound matches

Stage 2: Letter Name-Alphabetic Spelling – Students learn how the sounds in words can be represented by letters. At first, the words will seem short and only consist of the letters the student is hearing. Usually 5- to 7-year-olds. During this stage students will learn these concepts:

  • The alphabetic principle
  • Consonant sounds
  • Short vowel sounds
  • Consonant blends and digraphs

Stage 3: Within-Word Pattern Spelling – Begins when students start spelling most one-syllable, short-vowel words. May confuse some spelling patterns. Students start comparing short and long vowel sounds. Typically 7- to 9-year-olds. During this stage students will learn these concepts:

  • Long-vowel spelling patterns
  • r-controlled vowels
  • More complex consonant patterns
  • Diphthongs and other less common vowel patterns
  • Homophones

Stage 4: Syllables and Affixes Spelling – Start applying what they know about one-syllable words to words with multiple syllables. They learn the rules to inflectional endings such as changing y’s to i’s or dropping e’s before adding the ending. Generally 9- to 11-year-olds. During this stage students will learn these concepts:

  • Inflectional endings (-s, -es, -es, -ing)
  • Rules for adding inflectional endings
  • Syllabication
  • Compound words
  • Contractions

Stage 5: Derivational Relations Spelling – Students explore the relationship between spelling and meaning. Learn about words from people’s names such as maverick or sandwich. Usually 11- to 14-year-olds. During this stage students will learn these concepts:

  • Consonant alternations (soft > soften, magic > magician)
  • Vowel alternations (please > pleasant)
  • Greek and Latin affixes and root words
  • Etymologies

Teaching Spelling

Spelling tests can be used to teach spelling but should not be the only way. Teachers will: teach spelling strategies, match instruction to the spelling stage, provide opportunities for daily reading and writing, and teach students to spell high frequency words.

All above information comes from:
Tompkins, G. E. (2017). Literacy for the 21st century: A balanced approach (7th ed.). Boston: Pearson

Classroom Application

In the classroom I will make sure to use phonemic awareness, phonics, and spelling activities to create a balanced literacy program. I think it is important to teach something phonemically first so the students can learn how something sounds before they learn how to write it such as letter blends and vowel sounds. I would have a very literacy rich environment so students would be able to see words of common objects and associate them with something. Word walls also help with recognizing words because they are high frequency words that the students will be learning.

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