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Phonograms and Their Importance

teach the phonograms before the alphabet

Phonograms and Their Importance

What Is a Phonogram?Phonograms are important when learning to read

Phonograms are quite possibly one of the most important tools your child will ever learn. K-3rd graders bring a hunger for learning to their first day of Kindergarten, but they’re not being given the right tools to develop a love of reading. Even worse, they’re being given the wrong tools, all the while teachers and parents believe they’re doing the right thing.

Orton-Spalding and It’s Ability to Teach Children to Read

A phonogram is a letter, or combination of letters, that represents one or more voiced sounds in a word. The phonograms are the 26 alphabet letters and 46 multi-letter combinations that combine to make the 45 sounds heard in English speech.

In the 1950’s, neurologist Dr. Samuel Orton created what are now widely recognized as the 72 Orton Phonograms, encompassing all the sounds and sound sequences in the English language. With phonograms, Orton and his colleagues in linguistic research revolutionized how children learn to read, write and spell.

The NRP (National Reading Panel) has compiled over 100,000 research studies demonstrating the effectiveness of teaching children ‘phonemic awareness’ which is the result of studying phonics.Teachers can and should teach Kindergartners phonics, it’s really the sensible thing to do.

The Folly of Teaching the Alphabet First

I’m sure we’ve all been subjected to this irresponsible practice before, “A, B, C, D, E, F, G,” so why is it so widely thought that teaching the alphabet first is a ‘good’ thing? It’s one of those pernicious myths that just doesn’t seem to go away. The simple solution is to teach phonograms first.

teach the phonograms before the alphabet Part of the problem is that students don’t have a proper way to ‘decode’ the English language; i.e., using phonics to see, hear, identify and manipulate sounds and sound combinations. Combine this with teaching them that the letter ‘a’ has only one sound (it has three sounds, in fact), you start to see that we have a big problem on our hands.

On top of that, not only does the letter ‘a’ have more than one sound; most of the alphabet letters don’t even make the sounds that are prescribed to them when ‘saying’ the alphabet! For example, the phonogram ‘b’ doesn’t say ‘bee’, it says ‘b’, as in ‘bumblebee’; the double letter ee is what gives it the ‘e’ sound, but that’s because it’s a completely different phonogram, not to be associated with the phonogram ‘b’. And this goes for many of the other alphabet letters, hardly ANY of them say the alphabet letter sound, so why are we teaching kids sounds that don’t even exist?

This method of teaching the alphabet first starts them on a limited and incomplete foundation from the start, as students believe that there is only one sound per alphabet letter. In the event that they’re introduced to phonics, they struggle to learn phonograms because it’s been ingrained into them that there is only one sound per-letter. This creates even more confusion and stress, on top of not being able to read effectively.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” ― Nelson Mandela Click to Tweet


The Solution and How It Affects Your Child

The easy solution to all of this is to introduce phonics into your local area. If you have a Kindergarten teacher in your area, make sure to approach her and voice your concerns about teaching the alphabet first. Present her the evidence that this approach is flawed and that phonics is the superior method, it’s easy to teach and most every student will benefit from it. Every good teacher will listen as they want the very best for children, just as much as you do.

As a result, your child will start learning the mechanics of the English language right from the very start which will give them a tremendous advantage for when they get to grade school.

If all else fails, you can empower your child by taking their education into both of your hands by homeschooling. This is sure-fire method to make certain your child is learning what you want them to learn, including phonograms, phonics and comprehensive language arts skills.

Once children start learning the mechanics of the English language via phonograms, our illiteracy rate of 42 million adults will start to decline. One thing’s for sure, we can’t keep heading in the same direction that we’ve been going, it’s a steep cliff ahead, turbulent and jagged at the bottom.


National Reading Panel, (2002)
Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the
Scientific Research Literature on Reading and its
Implication for Reading Instruction—Reports of the
Sub Group.Washington D.C.: The National Institute
of Child Health and Human Development and the
U.S. Department of Education.

photo credit: Éole via photopin cc
photo credit: kvanhorn via photopin cc

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About Cheyenne Adamson

"All the world’s a stage,” and Cheyenne is a player behind many curtains. As the the President of YesPhonics™ - and its first official student - Cheyenne is guiding his company to its next evolution as an enlightened force in the field of education. As an actor and film maker, Cheyenne has produced three short films under his production company, Grubstake Films. He has acted in numerous productions on stage and in film. Cheyenne plays chess, basketball, skis and takes any chance he can get to hike in the woods. He writes about phonics, politics, health and education and spends his free time reading, making movies, and pursuing inner peace. You can see the latest movie he's in at: