Episode 13: Phonics, Phonemes, and Friendship

In this episode we take a fun look at ABC books, phonemes, and discuss ministering through language exchange. 

We’re also doing a giveaway! Three winners will receive my favorite ABC book! Comment on my blog to be entered to win. Each comment or question posted will give you another entry. Deadline for entries is September 30, 2020.

Books Recommended in This Episode


Welcome to “Books that Spark” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. September is literacy month. And so I thought I would go over, especially with school starting, and talk about some of my favorite alphabet books. Now, some I’ve talked about in other episodes, such as the P Is for Pterodactyl book: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever written by Raj Halder and Chris Carpenter; illustrated by Maria Tina Beddia. And of course, in that we’re talking about all the words that have silent letters in them. And so it’s the letters that are at the beginning of words that do not make a sound. And I think it’s a great book for your older students; for the younger students who are strong readers and who are interested in words, that one would be a good one.

Another one I’ve mentioned before is A Is for Salad, which is written and illustrated by Mike Lester. And in this one, the picture shows something that relates to the letter shown, but the words don’t match. A is for salad, shows an alligator eating a salad. So of course the A is actually for alligator. And so this one is good for the children who already know their alphabet and are wanting to have some fun with that. Another one is called Z Is for Moose. It’s by Kelly Bingham and illustrated by Paul Zelinsky. And it is such a cute book and tells a story. This moose, he wants to be in the alphabet book too soon. He gets on the wrong page. And then when they finally get to M, they decide to go with mouse instead of moose. And so he’s crying, and it’s just, it’s really cute. So, that’s another fun one. And then one of my favorites–it’s kind of an older book–is called Avaricious Aardvarks and Other Alphabet Tongue Twisters by Sandy Sheppard illustrated by Joel Bower. It’s an A-to-Zany Look at God’s Creatures. It’s a really cute little book, and I love it for the alliteration. It’s all about animals, and every page is a tongue twister to have fun with language and with the alphabet. For instance, it says, “Avaricious aardvarks antagonize anxious ants,” “Big Brown baboons buy bananas by the bunch.” So of course, this is not going to be your A is for Apple, B is for boy, C is for cat type of book. This is going to be for a little bit older child, and it’s a lot of fun. And especially if you have them practice saying these tongue twisters and learn them as tongue twisters and see how fast they can say them or how fast they can read the page. Then it can be a lot of fun.

If you’re working with ESL students, then this is even more fun because tongue twisters are so hard when you’re learning a language. I used to try to learn Chinese tongue twisters. Oh my goodness. Those are so hard because the tongue twisting is partially the tone. It may have the same word in the tongue twister over and over and over like ma ma ma ma ma, you know, and you’re just changing the tones. There’s one about teachers and lions, and it’s crazy. But anyway, the C for this one is “Creeping, crawling crocodiles, constantly create concern” or “Dehydrated dromedaries don’t drink daintily.” And so these words are going to be a little more involved. If you were using this book to teach language, you could also use it because in each one you have adverbs adjectives, a noun, and a verb.

So each one is a sentence, for instance, “Friendly frogs, frolic friskily for fun.” So you have “friendly,” which is your adjective; “frogs,” which is your noun; “frolic” is your verb, “friskily” is your adverb; and “for fun” would be your prepositional phrase. In this one, you can teach alliteration, you can teach grammar for different words, what they are, the noun, verb, adjective adverb, plus you’re teaching pronunciation and fun with language with your tongue twisters. And so in they’re all animals in this book that they talk about. And it starts out with a little poem in the front. It says, “Curious beasts from a to Z, fill the earth, the sky, the sea, they jump and fly and swim and crawl. God our Father made them all.” So I like that. This book is not overtly Christian in the sense that every page talks about God, but at least it starts that way.

If you’re not a believer and you don’t want to talk about God, this is still a great book because of all the ways you can use it to teach grammar, to teach English pronunciation and to have fun with alliteration. Plus the words are big enough that you can also pull out a whole vocabulary list from this one book to teach your kids to expand their vocabulary. So I love books like that, that I can use for several different purposes within my lesson plan. And I mean, you could have it come into an art lesson and have them draw animals. If you wanted to, you could even bring in lessons across the curriculum, but certainly you can with your grammar and your English language lessons, use a book like this for vocabulary and everything that you’re working on.

In addition to these, if you, and I’ve mentioned this before, if you join my mailing list, you have access to three different phoneme books that I created. I do not sell these books. I only give them away. I made three of them. One is more geared toward children who enjoy construction and tools and science, and it’s called The Little Toolbox of Phonemes. And then there’s one geared toward the girly girls among us who like pink and purple and glitter and dressing up. And then there’s one that is full of coloring pages for you, and it tells the different stories of Jesus. And we go through the phonemes. You’ll print these out and fold the paper in half lengthwise and laminate. And then after you laminate them, you can take them to one of the print shops and have them put one of those spiral connectors at the top of the pages. So the book flips open that way. It’s just unique. It’s long and thin and fun. I originally made one for my son, and in the front cover I actually put “A book for Nathaniel made by mom with lots of love.” You can, because you can print these out, if you want to make your own title page or whatever, feel free to do that and make the book your own because this is something that’s just a gift for you to use with your children.

Now, if you don’t know what phonemes are, phonemes are the sound that the letters make. So it may be one letter. It may be two letters. It may be five, let’s see, O-U-G-H, four letters I think is the longest one I have is the OUGH phoneme. And the OUGH phoneme has six sounds: /Oh/, /ooh/, /uf/, /off/, /ah/, /ow/. And so with each one, we’re saying all of the sounds that that letter or that group of letters makes. So for a, instead of just saying /a/, /a/, /a/, /a/, we do /a/, /ay/, /ah/, /uh/ because the letter a in English can say /a/ as in Apple; /ay/ as in ate, like ate an apple or ape; /ah/ as in tall; /uh/ as in the a word. When we have a as a word, we normally don’t say I saw a bunny. We say, I saw a bunny. When we teach a, we teach all four sounds. And typically in the classroom, I teach them in the order of the most frequent sound. The most frequent sound for an a in English is /a/, second is /ay/, than is /ah/, and fourth is /uh/. But for your purposes, you’re just having fun and helping your children to know when they see an a, these are the sounds it makes. So as you’re doing these phoneme books, as you print them out, this will take you through most of the most common phonemes. If you have children who are in first, second, third grade, I would print the whole book for them. If you have little bitty kids who are in their fours and fives or threes, fours, and fives, you might want to just print the part that’s the 26 letters and not go into the two letter and up to four letter phonemes. I have the whole one letter alphabet with the phonemes, you know, up in the front part of the book. And then later on, I go into the vowel digraphs in the SH, CH, TH digraphs. And so these phonemes are in there, but you don’t have to go that far. You can choose for your child, what is appropriate for their age and print the whole thing and just go over the first part, or just print part of the book. It’s up to you. Like I said, this is a gift to you. Use it how you would like. I did the one with the coloring pages because I thought it would be fun for the kids to be able to color the book. And then you have it laminated and put it together. So now it’s not just a special book Mom made for me, it’s a special book that I helped color and create as well, which is kind of fun. So that, like I said, is available. You have three to choose from. I may do some more in the future if people really like them. But they are a lot of fun to go over. And I really feel like it helps equip a child to read and to begin to understanding letters and what they do. Then, if you’re going through a book and your child is trying to read the words and they try to sound it out with an /a/, and it doesn’t quite work or more commonly with a C, if they say the C with an S sound, and it’s supposed to be a k sound, then you can simply say, “What’s another sound that C makes?” And they’ll automatically know, “Oh, it can say K.”

And so then they try it and the word makes sense. I get that a lot with G as well with the /g/, /j/ sound. And so if they say the wrong sound and you have them try it with the other sound, and then they’re sounding it out. My children started reading early in life. My youngest started reading at about age three, and we did not teach him. I feel like I didn’t teach any of my kids to read. I did teach them phonics, and I did teach them phonemes. And through that, they taught themselves to read. And before I knew it, they were reading books. Of course, we read books to them all the time. And so they would pick up words along the way, I’m sure, but reading was never a chore. It was a joy with my kids. That was always a positive thing. And they fell in love with reading books. And the wonderful thing about alphabet books, ABC books, is you can find one to match just about any interest your child may have. There’s one for the alphabet of words from art. There’s one about tennis pros out there. If you want to talk about women’s history, there’s one about amazing women. I did one for my son with Star Wars words and there actually are two different ones I found one had to do with Star Wars, and one had to do with Marvel comics. So those are out there as well. The one I did for my child, I just did on my own. I didn’t even know there was one. And so I have a lot of fun with those. And, let’s see, what else did I see construction work.

If we’re not careful, a lot of our books exclude little boys. And with the alphabet books, you see alphabet books that include boys and girls and help them both to find things they love and read about those. And one really cute book that’s out there, if you like Eric Carl and his artwork, it’s a very simple book, but it has flaps, and it opens up and it’s his artwork. So there’s the Eric Carl ABC book, but there’s so many to choose from. And they’re just great and help, like I said, help you to teach your kid to read without really teaching them to read, helping them just to fall in love with letters sounds, and then let them start to put those together. The other thing that I sometimes do with phonemes is show them in different places within a word. So not every time is the word going to begin with the letter that we’re talking about. Sometimes we need to teach some words where the letter comes at the end or in the middle of the word. Even if the alphabet book isn’t teaching that or your phoneme book, isn’t teaching that, be aware of that and take the opportunity to show other words that have the letter in them, because then the child can begin to recognize those sounds in the midst of the word and start being able to put words together.

We have to be really careful. One of the things I’m sorry, I’m in teacher mode here, but if you’re a homeschool mom, maybe you’ll appreciate this. When you’re teaching phonemes, be careful not to add extra vowels. For instance, when we’re talking about B and in this particular book that I had for my son, it says, “B is for battery.” And so we don’t say, “B, /buh/, /buh/, /buh/” or “B /ba/, /ba/, /ba/.” We say that B, B, you want to cut it short? And then that way, when you’re showing, showing a child a for instance, C A T, and they do, eh, they can start to hear cat. But if you say Cuh Ah Tuh, then they start seeing cuh-at-tuh, and they can’t get the sounds put together correctly. So you want to keep it short. And that sometimes is very hard to do, especially with R, that one’s always a difficult one /r/, /r/, /r/ and then the rabbit, and they want to do /ruh/,/ruh/,/ruh/ beause that’s easier to say, or LA LA and just to do /l/, /l/. You can also use ladder drills and you can get these through A Beka. They’re wonderful. A Beka is a publisher that does homeschool materials, and they have these ladder drills, and you can find them from others as well. But I’ve always used A Beka’s. I also make my own just to have them handy, but they take the letters and put the different vowel sounds to them. So for “B” you would have a ladder that has /ba/, /beh/, /bi/, /baw/, /buh/. Then I have my students do the long vowel, sounds: /bay/, /be/, /by/, /bo/, /boo/, or /byew/. And so we practice putting the sounds together that way very quickly, they will teach themselves to read. One of the things I did when I taught kindergarten is I would not try to teach them to read. I only taught phonemes and phonics. They would start reading on their own. And it’s a wonderful way to teach reading because the student doesn’t feel pressure. They don’t feel like they’re competing, and they’re just naturally start to pick up the language and pick up reading on their own. And it’s like, all of a sudden this light bulb comes on, and the words start making sense, or the letters start making sense. They start realizing they’re words. So, as a rule, when I’m teaching kindergartners, I do not push reading. I do try to help them learn their alphabet, learn their phonics, the basic phonics. And then we try to move into phonemes. With the basic alphabet I teach phonemes from day one. And then when they get into first grade, if they haven’t started reading on their own or toward the end of kindergarten, if they haven’t started wanting to read, or haven’t tried to read on their own, then I might push it a little bit, try to encourage them a little bit. Sometimes see if there’s some sort of a learning disability, if they’re not hearing well or seeing well, or if the letters are flipping on them, that will start to become obvious, pretty close to right away–at the beginning of trying to teach.

But I just wanted to let you know, these books are there for you. And all you do is sign up for my mailing list. Of course you can cancel at any time, but on my mailing list, I’m not doing a newsletter just yet. I plan to start that in the future, and that would be once a month. And at that point, I’ll probably give you the option to choose which mailing list you want to be on. But right now I just have one mailing list, and you get two to three emails a week telling you when I’ve posted an episode on my podcast, when I’ve posted a blog post on my blog, and if we have a contest or whatever, I do have also some posts that go out just to my mailing list. They are not available on my website and are just talking about discipleship and growing in our faith. Those are kind of like my blog posts, but they’re special just for my mailing list members. And so you’ll also get those, but it’s not an everyday email. And I try not to pester you too much. I just want to bless you, give you materials and resources that you can use with your children, whether you’re homeschooling or not. If you’re just reading to them each evening or going over their homework together–tools that you can use. And then also to challenge us as we’re growing in our faith. That’s one thing when I was a young mom that I missed was just being encouraged in my faith. Life is so hectic when you have little kids around and to stop just for a minute and read a short blog post that hopefully will encourage you and challenge you in your growth and in your relationship with God, you know, that’s my heart. And so that’s what I send you, and I hope it blesses you.

If English is your child’s second language, these phoneme books can just be lifesavers for them and really help them to grow in their English language ability and help you to grow as well. If it’s a second language for you, many times, I feel such a burden for the parent of a child, who if they’ve come to America, they’re learning English. The child learns English at school. The dad usually learns English at work, but if the mom is staying at home with little kids, she doesn’t get to learn English as well because she’s too busy being a mom and just keeping life running and adapting to a new culture. And I think I have such a heart for this because that’s what happened in our family. In Taiwan, my husband learned Chinese. He took classes. Plus he was in the workplace where he was having to use his Chinese all the time. And my kids who went to Chinese school are completely bilingual. They can read and write and speak Chinese. And then my two older kids who went to English schools–they went to a missionary school and they were home-schooled–they did not learn as much, but they learned some from their Sunday school teachers and from other people. But I tried to learn, and I just didn’t have time. And I say, I mostly entertain people with my Chinese at this point. I understand a whole lot more than I can speak, but it is really hard for me to have the courage to even speak what little bit I know, because I mess up the tones, and my kids correct me all the time. But as a mom, you just don’t get the opportunity like the others who are out in the marketplace, in the schoolyard, you know, learning the language. So I have a real heart for helping moms learn the language when they’re new to the U S. And so I used to teach ESL, before COVID, at our church for women and men who needed to learn. And I would love to get back to that as soon as COVID is over. If not, I’m going to have to start it online, I guess. But if you are in that boat, if you are a parent, and you just don’t have the opportunity to learn as much English and would like to learn more, or better yet, you probably know someone like that, probably they aren’t listening to this podcast. I have resources that would be good for them. I can share what I would recommend to help them learn English.

If you would like to facilitate their learning, I can give you some materials or some ideas of materials that could help you. But the best thing you can do, if you know someone in that situation is to be their friend. You can do a language exchange with them. We used to do this in Taiwan all the time. What you do is get together once a week with that mom and do a one-on-one is best and have tea or coffee. And you just sit and visit for a while. But then for like 30 minutes, you share English with them. And for 30 minutes they teach you their language. So it’s reciprocal. They don’t feel obligated then to pay you for teaching them English because they’re helping you learn their language. And it is so much fun. It will help you to learn a little bit of their language, their culture. It opens the door for you to have conversations about your faith and their faith, parenting, and marriage, and all of those important things that we just want to talk about and share with each other and have a confidant that we can talk to.

If you can imagine, when you go to a new country, not only are you learning the culture and the language, you’ve left behind your family and your friends, and finding new friends is not always easy. Being able to trust someone is not always easy. If you can partner with one of these ladies and let them know that you just would love to learn their language and you could help teach them your language. You’re able to work on pronunciation because you’re there in a one-on-one situation. It just becomes a wonderful time. We’ve had the blessing of being able to really get to know someone from another culture, to experience their culture and their language, and to just be there for someone, I would highly encourage you to seek out the people in your neighborhood, in your child’s school, who might enjoy a partnership like that.

One of the main books I discussed in this episode is Avaricious Aardvarks and Other Alphabet Tongue Twisters. And this book is out of print. Like I said, it was an older book, but I have found some copies that I can get. And so I’ve decided to do a giveaway because, of all the ABC books I could find, it’s one of my favorites, and I just feel like I should share the joy. So if you are interested in entering our giveaway, please make a comment on my blog post or one of the episode posts on my website at TerrieHellardBrown.com, and you will be automatically entered in the giveaway. You have between now and the end of September to enter. For each time that you post a comment, you will be entered again into the drawing, so you can increase your chances of winning by commenting more and more. If you have any questions about the ESL information that I mentioned for starting a language exchange with a neighbor or a friend, just email me, or, again, post it in the comments, and I’ll be happy to share with you what I’ve learned over the years with that. Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark” a podcast celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. I hope our discussion will spark meaningful conversations with the children in your life.

Your Host:

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials. Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, and discussion. For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com

1 thought on “Episode 13: Phonics, Phonemes, and Friendship”

  1. Thanks for the recommendations! My kindergartner is reading a lot of ABC books with his class right now, so it’s always good to find more.

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