Importance of Multisensory Phonics

I can't express enough how important is the direct instruction of phonics in a multisensory way.  There are MANY phonics programs on the market, many of which are very good.  Each has its own sequence in the presentation of phonemes and its own style of presenting and rehearsing the rules.  Some use cards; some use charts; some use a game format; some have cute songs or gimicks.  I have found over the years, that which program is used is basically a personal preference of the teacher's manual and the pace at which the phonemes are presented and practiced.

Multisensory instruction is using as many senses simultaneously as possible, when taking in information and when asking a student to perform a task.  If you would like to know more about multisensory instruction, click back to that topic in the Teaching and Project Ideas section.

Before a student can be encouraged to "read faster" to build fluency or to determine vocabulary development and comprehension in literature or a textbook, the student MUST be proficient and automatic at decoding words.  This comes mainly from thorough and correct phonics instruction.

I often use materials that I have developed myself over the years, and someday, Wisdom Seekers may offer those materials.  One program I like, but is not carried by Wisdom Seekers is the Wilson Reading System.  This phonics program progresses students to multi-syllable words quickly and assures success.  It uses a graphing element to monitor mastery of skills.  I use this program with a bit older students, usually 4th grade and up, although it was designed to be used with illiterate adolescents and adults.  Other programs worth checking into are:  the Sonday System, Language ToolKit, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, Alpha Phonics, Sing, Spell, Read, and Write, Writing Road to Reading, and Hooked on Phonics.

For students with learning disabilities or dyslexia, I can't emphasize enough the importance of multisensory phonics instruction.  If you need more information or resources, e-mail us at or call 1-406-7710069.

Helping Students Distinguish Sounds in Phonics

A frequent question from homeschool parents, tutors, and teachers is how do I help children to distinguish the sounds in phonics?  There are several ideas to try, depending on the severity of the issue:

* When teaching the alphabet, it is usually easier for children to associate the sound of consonants with the letter symbol if the sound is “embedded” in the letter name.  An example is /m/, so that when the child says “emmmmm” the sound is formed in association with the letter symbol.  Teaching these consonants first helps children get off to a start in reading.

* I prefer to do overkill on teaching the short vowel sounds and put hand cues to them, so that the cue is associated with a clue word AND the mouth formation.  Before introducing any other vowel combinations, I teach short vowels and silent-e syllables, which greatly reduces spelling confusion and helps to make a transition into other sounds.

* Often the consonant blends are taught in isolation or in a mixed format.  I prefer to group the “l” blends (such as bl, cl, fl), the “r” blends (such as br, pr, tr) and the “s” blends (such as sm, st, and sc).  By grouping rules, children often can associate the patterns within words.

* Many of my students have difficulty in “hearing” the difference in triple blends (such as str, spr, and scr).  When teaching and spelling these rules, I do many sorting activities where the child reads the rules/words, listens to the rules within words while looking at my face, and listens to the rules within words where they cannot see my lip movements.

*  For students who mispronounce words, having them orally repeat words to check whether they have processed the sounds correctly is important.  If students mispronounce both one and multi-syllable words, their spelling will be affected.

*  For students who have much difficulty distinguishing phonetic sounds, who have trouble segmenting and blending sounds in words when reading, or who are unable to associate sounds with symbols when spelling, exploring further is there are auditory processing issues involved can help reduce these difficulties in learning to read and spell.  For those children who have more severe difficulties, having an assessment done by a speech/language pathologist and/or an audiologist can help pinpoint if there is truly an auditory processing deficit in the way the child takes in sounds and stores them.  To explore auditory processing further, check out these websites: or  Both of these websites offer information about auditory processing speed,  auditory discrimination, auditory memory, etc.  For more information and reasorces e-mail us at or callus at 406-771-0069

Not every child warrants assessment or intervention–many times using a multisensory approach to teaching or a phonics program that isolates skills may be helpful.  Or repetitious drill–mostly adults get bored from repetition–children are often secure in what they can do well.

Teaching Phonics to Older Students

A frequent request at Wisdom Seekers is for materials that are basic phonics for older students.  There are materials available that are designed specifically for older students, but there are several key factors to keep in mind when selecting materials or creating activities for older students.

The first is to remember that the structure of the English language is simply that–structure.  There is nothing babyish or immature about structure.  However, understanding the structure is foundational to reading and spelling for students who are struggling.

Reading is primarily a visual task, but current research in dyslexia and learning disabilities is revealing that auditory processing skills are equally, if not more important than visual processing skills.  Therefore, when selecting materials or designing reading activities for older students, it is still crucial to utilize multisensory instruction, which includes seeing, hearing, saying, and writing (or another tactile task), and for some students kinesthetic movement tasks as well.

Visual prompts should be kept large.  In print form, 16 point font or larger is preferred.  More space between lines of print and wider margins can also help with visual discrimination and focus of words.

Teaching students to segment and blend syllables and words helps to eliminate skipped words (omissions) or guessing.  It is interesting to know that about 47% or syllables in English are closed syllables.  Therefore, when teaching phonics to older students, concentrate on those 3 letter words, but combine them as soon as possible into 2 and 3 syllable words.  Megawords, Book 1, has many multisyllable word lists that have only closed syllables.  Another source is the Phonics Word List book.

Once introduced to multisyllable words that have only closed syllables, concentrating on Silent-e syllables and introduction the -tion suffix can assist older students to decode and spell MANY age-appropriate words with less effort than typical phonics programs for younger students.  These programs often cover all the vowel combinations for digraphs (ai, ea, oa, etc.) and for diphthongs (ou, aw, oy, etc.) with 1 syllable only words.  Older students’ need to be encouraged that long words are not a mystique, but fit the structure of the English language with even more regularity than 1 syllable words.

Check our Special Needs and Homeschool Catalogs for phonics materials.  We try to select quality programs for a variety of learners, so if needed we would be happy to assist in selecting the appropriate program for your student(s).

Spelling Activity Ideas

Spelling Activities


Here are just a few ideas for making spelling practice novel and enticing:

*  Glitter on Words–Have students write large letters on any colored construction paper.  Have them drizzle a thin line of glue over the letters and sprinkle gllitter for a glitzy effect.

*  Lighted Pegs–Have the student write words on black construction paper using a white colored pencil or crayon.  Place the paper on a LiteBrite board and insert colored pegs to make a glowing list.

*  Rainbow Spelling–Have students pick 3 to 6 colors using colored pencils, markers, or crayons.  Creating a color pattern, have students write each spelling word 3 to 6 times on regular notebook or primer paper, using one color for time the word is written.

*  Circle Words in Newspaper–High frequency words, like about, through, into, and which, are often easy to locate in newspaper articles.  This activity strengthens scanning skills and visual memory of words.

*  Markers that Change–Make a colorful background with stripes, checks, or spirals.  Have the students write spelling words with the changer!  This is a favorite activity with kids!!  If you write the words first with the changer, then swipe with colored markers, the words appear and change!

*  Cookie Sheet with Magnet Letters–Cookie sheets make great magnet boards.  Make your own letters on a computer or by hand and place a small magnet on the back.  These small letters can be laminated with clear packing tape.

*  Shaving Cream Spelling–This is the MOST popular activity with students!  Squirt shaving cream on a student desk, table, or counter.  Students smear it out and finger write spelling words in the squishy, gooshy cream!  Mistakes are just a swipe away!

If you like these ideas, there are MANY more our booklet, “100 Ideas for Hands-On Spelling Practice.”  You can find it in the Phonics/Spelling and the Vocabulary/Spelling sections of our catalog.

Phonics Programs — Is there a right one?

Phonics programs – Is there a “right” one?? Edit The answer to that question is probably. There are so many phonics programs on the market, each one with a little different sequence in the presentation of phonemes. Some are multisensory, some are inexpensive, some are very thorough, some are cute, some are easy to follow, some use cards–others charts, some incorporate music–others writing. So whatever your situation, there is probably a phonics program that will suit your needs. It is my opinion that phonics is a foundational stepping stone to reading, spelling, and writing. While there are a few children who will naturally self-learn reading and spelling, most children benefit from direct, systematic, multisensory phonics instruction. A presentation of consonants, short vowels, consonant blends and digraphs, silent e, and then long vowels and diphthongs helps students be able to decode most one-syllable words. I prefer to spend much time drilling and instructing short vowels and closed syllables, since about 47% of all syllables are closed. I enjoy using a variety of teaching techniques, using charts AND cards AND games for decoding practice. To be most effective, multisensory instruction integrates decoding practice with spelling practice of the same words. I like to jazz up spelling practice by using many fun activities to get children writing words. I find that sentence dictation for spelling is extremely useful in building short-term auditory memory skills, as well as generalizing spelling into written expression. I also feel that as new phonemes and rules are taught, previously instructed ones MUST be reviewed and integrated with new words. Especially for students who regress or forget easily, the rules must be directly taught and reviewed, rehearsed, retaught, and reviewed more. As a supplement to any phonics program, check out the phonics/spelling section for Wisdom Seekers Phonics Folder Games and for 101 Ideas for Hands-On Spelling Practice. These are great, inexpensive tools for making ANY phonics program more appealing and fun for students without losing intensity. Wisdom Seekers is just beginning to develop a Christian-based multisensory phonics/reading program to be used with any aged student. The program will progress from pre-reading phonemic awareness, instruction of sound-symbol alphabet, beginning phonics, and syllablication rules. It will integrate reading decoding practice, word lists for reading and spelling, sentences for reading and spelling, and readers with tightly controlled vocabulary to accompany the phonics instruction. Please pray for this project, as it is desperately needed by many students with special needs who are being educated in Christian schools and homeschools! If you are interested in this program, please let us know so that we can continue to put it on the high-priority list.