Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. When you make a purchase through an affiliate link, I earn a commission at no cost to you. For example, this site is a participant in the Amazon Associates program, where I earn a commission through qualifying links. See my entire disclosure policy for all the boring details.
Today I’m going to show you exactly how to teach phonograms to your child at home.
These phonogram tips, resources & activities are some of the main tools I’ve used to help our children learn to read between ages 4-6, and I know they’ll work for you too.
At first, I was intimidated by teaching our kids to read because I don’t have a background in literacy education. I thought you had to be a professional.
As it turns out, learning to read snuggled up on the couch next to Mom or Dad is one of the best gifts for your parent-child relationship! It is so fun to come alongside your child as they discover the magic of reading.
So, let’s dive right into this complete guide for how to teach reading & spelling using the phonograms.
What are phonograms?
A phonogram is a letter or combination of letters used to represent a sound. Some phonograms have one sound. Others have 2 or more sounds. Sometimes people call these, “phonics sounds,” but phonograms is a more accurate term.
- C is a phonogram that says /s/ in cereal or /k/ in cat.
- T is a phonogram that always says /t/ in twirl.
- TH is a phonogram that says /th/ in tooth and /TH/ in this.
- A is a phonogram that says /a/ in cat, /ā/ in face, and /ah/ in fall.
Phonics is the reading instruction method of learning phonograms, and blending them together to form words.
7 TIPS FOR TEACHING PHONOGRAMS
1. Teach Phonograms Incrementally
Whether or not your child is already reading, you should teach phonograms because it’ll make their life so much easier for spelling.
The best way to teach phonograms is the same way you’d eat an elephant – a little bit at a time!
The younger the child the fewer phonograms you should introduce at one time. Here are approximate guidelines for how many phonograms to teach at once.
- 3-4 year olds: 3 at a time
- 5-6 year olds: 4-5 at a time
- 7+ year olds: 5-6 at a time.
2. Track Progress with a Printable Phonogram List
STEP 1 – Print our free phonogram list progress chart. It has all 75 phonograms on it in a logical teaching order, along with sounds & pronunciation tips for parents. Plus, there are spots to track progress for up to 4 kiddos! Even kids who already know some reading basics will benefit from learning phonograms.
*Note on teaching order – I compiled this order after studying several major phonics-based language arts curriculums. Almost all the programs teach the phonograms in a very similar order! Your child may already know some phonograms out of order, and that’s fine… Don’t stress about the order!
STEP 2 – Put your phonogram cards in the order that is on the chart.
STEP 3 – Show your child one card at a time and see what he already knows! In order for the card to be considered “mastered,” the child has to know all the sounds in the correct order. This isn’t a test – don’t make it stressful or high pressure. Just say, “I’m going to show you some letters or letter combinations, and I want you to tell me what sounds each one makes. If you don’t know, no big deal. Just say, ‘I don’t know.’”
Be encouraging. For example: “You’re right! S does say /s/. It’s kinda sneaky though. It also says /z/, such as “has.” If your child is reading at all, they’ll realize it’s true and maybe even find it amusing.
Make 2 piles/ groups as your child tries them out – “mastered” and “needs to learn.”
*Note: You can skip this step if you want! Just start introducing the phonograms in order on the chart, a few at a time. Some of the sounds, the child will likely already know, and that will just be an easy card for them.
STEP 4 – Mark off the mastered cards on your phonogram tracking chart.
If your child is already reading, he will likely know some of the phonograms. Mark them off, regardless of where they are in the ‘order’ on the chart. Then put your “needs to learn” pile in the order on the chart. Labeled, sandwich-sized ziplock bags are helpful for sorting the piles. Or you can use a small basket with labeled index card dividers, which is what we do. It’s easy to keep everything in order!
STEP 5 – Create a “practicing” pile.
Grab the first 3-5 cards from the “needs to learn” pile to create your 3rd group of cards which is the “practicing” group. Make sure you’re going in order from the phonogram chart.
You can store these piles in a little index card holder, with paper clips, or ziplock bags.
Work on learning the “practicing” phonograms until they’re mastered. As your child masters a sound, put it in the “mastered” pile and then add a new card to your “practicing group.”
I will share several simple phonogram activities, games, and teaching tips through the rest of this post. Use them as you see fit.
3. Review Often
Once a phonogram has been mastered, you want to make sure you review it frequently. With our kids, we review their mastered phonograms once-a-week-ish.
Usually, we just zip through all the cards in the “mastered” pile and call it a day. If the child gets it wrong, it goes to the back of the pile for one more try. If it’s clear that the card actually needs more practice, it goes back to the practicing pile.
We also use the sounds the child has mastered in games and activities listed below in tip #7. You don’t need a specific system or curriculum for which sounds to review on which day. Just wing it to decide which ones to practice based on which are the trickiest or need the most review.
Quick & consistent repetition over a long period of time will yield amazing results!
4. Find phonograms in books
When you learn new phonograms, take time to point them out as you come across them while reading once in a while.
For example, “Oh hey! We just learned that E can say /ĕ/ or /Ē/. Look! /ĕ/ /ĕ/ elephant! And beeeeeee. The 2 different e sounds are in this book.”
Point this out occasionally, but there’s no need to do this to the point of exasperation. Which brings me to my 5th phonogram teaching tip.
5. Don’t ruin all read-alouds with phonics!
Reading is supposed to be fun! Keep the activity of reading together a time for bonding and getting lost in a story. It is always beneficial to read aloud to your kids of all ages – this is my favorite book on the topic of reading aloud.
BUT it’s especially important to enjoy reading when you have a new reader at home.
Learning to read requires a lot of mental energy for your kiddos. They are thinking hard and doing lots of things at once- What’s that letter? What sound does it make? How do I string these together? And what the heck is this book about anyway?
So, when you have a few minutes to read together for fun – don’t ruin it with a phonics lesson 🙂 Just read to them and enjoy the story.
If you want your kids to listen to read-alouds for longer, grab some coloring supplies, beads & string, or legos. Studies show kids listen more attentively and retain more of what they read when their hands are busy. My voice almost always tires out before my kids are done listening.
6. Use Flashcards
I’m all for hands on learning, and I don’t think flashcards work for everything… but they sure are convenient for phonograms practice! And phonograms are the foundation of written & spoken language in English.
If you act like flashcards are horribly boring, your kids will think they’re boring. If you act like they’re fast, fun, and easy, your kids will probably think they’re fast, fun and easy.
If we are trying to get through phonograms quickly for some reason, we’ll just zip through the flashcards in a traditional way.
Other times, we use phonograms flashcards for simple activities and games.
7. Use simple phonogram games & activities for practice & review
I’m convinced we’ve made teaching phonics way too complicated. A little bit of practice several days a week over a long period of time will produce amazing results. It doesn’t need to be tedious or painful, and there is no rush!
Kids are so easy to please. Use your happy mom voice, call it a “special letter game,” throw in some m&ms and you have a winner!
A couple phonogram game & activity ideas are:
- Hot/ cold – Hide a phonogram card in the room & give your child hot & cold clues until they find it. When they find it, they say the sound(s) aloud. Then, let them hide it for you.
- Memory match – Write each phonogram that your child is practicing on 2 different index cards (better yet, have your child do it!)
- Phonogram fishing – Put paper clips on the phonogram cards your child is working on. Let your child make a fishing pole with a stick, string, and a magnet on the end. Then, have your child fish for phonograms while saying the sounds he picks up. Alternatively, you could say, “Go fishing for the phonogram that says /k/ /s/” and they’d try to find a c.
My phonogram game & card packet has more games explained, but you can make up your own games too.
Usually on long winter days when we need exciting indoor activities. (When it’s nice out, we tend to just do quick flashcard run-throughs so we can go play outside!)
What to Do Once Your Child Has Learned Some Phonograms
While your child is learning phonograms, start playing “say it slow/ say it fast” to learn how to hear sounds and blend words together. This auditory blending game may seem disconnected from learning to read, but it is actually a perfect way to start practicing blending!
Once your child has learned the first 6-10 phonograms, you can start teaching them to blend the phonograms together to sound out words. Learning to sound out words could be a whole separate post (that I have yet to write and will try to get up ASAP).
But here are a few quick tips to get you started!
Start with the word at.
I write it on a white board or use magnetic letters to spell it out. Then I add various letters in front of it one at a time to form new words. Kids LOVE this – it’s a MAJOR lightbulb moment!!
- Sat – your child will likely use the /s/ sound for s instinctively, but since s has 2 sounds, you might need to give the hint: “here we use /s/.”
- Cat – same for c – they might just read cat correctly, instinctively using the /k/ sound. If they try to use the /s/ sound for c, say “here we use the /k/ for the c.
You can then do this process as long as their attention span holds with all kinds of other simple words.
Think about endings that have lots of options for words:
- -ad… had, mad, dad, bad, sad, fad
- -op … top, hop, pop, cop, mop. Usually my kids come up with something silly like Nop or Zop in an effort to rhyme. We spell it out and laugh – “That’s silly! That’s not a real word but if it was, it would rhyme with top.”
- -ip … sip, zip, tip, lip
- -ed… bed, ned, ted, fed, wed
A hands on alphabet is super nice to have for this stage of the game, but it’s not necessary. Writing letters on paper and reading from books is enough. Here are 4 options for alphabet manipulatives, if you want a set!
1. Cheapest Option – The cheapest option is to make your own by cutting index cards or cardstock down into little squares, writing each letter on several of the pieces of paper. If you were feeling very crafty, you could use blue paper for consonants and red for vowels. Optional: add adhesive magnetic squares to the back to make the tiles magnetic. Here is a free printable from blogger, Mama Jenn.
2. Pre-made cardstock ones – Here is a set of pre-made laminated cardstock letter tiles for $12+shipping from All About Learning Press.
3. Magnetic Letters – I don’t love the multicolored magnetic letters you can buy at the dollar store, because all the colors seem visually overwhelming to a new reader. But hey, they work in a pinch! Otherwise, these magnetic letters are awesome, and they come in an organizer case all for less than $25!
4. Wooden Letters – We have this wooden alphabet and my kids love pulling it out. We don’t use it every day, so that keeps it fun and special.
A Few More Phonogram FAQs
How Many Phonograms are there?
70-ish. There are 70 phonograms that are widely recognized in the English language. These phonograms are based on the research methods of Dr. Samuel Orton. All Orton-Gillingham based reading curriculums use a sequential introduction of at least 70 phonograms as one of their foundational elements.
Orton-Gillingham based curriculums are also multisensory, language based, and cumulative in their approach.
The Logic of English Curriculum, a comprehensive Language Arts program based on the book Uncovering the Logic of English, added 5 phonograms to Orton’s orginial 70: augh, bu, gu, cei, and es.
I added these to my phonogram chart because they make sense to me. There is some flexibility in whether or not you include those in your phonogram teaching, though. They’re not make or break your child’s education. 🙂
Phonograms vs. Consonant Blends
You may notice some programs include practice activities for combined sounds such as: br, fl, st, or tr. Those are technically not unique phonograms, but are rather 2 individual phonograms blended together. Though it’s fine to practice those sound combinations, they’re more accurately called “consonant blends,” not phonograms.
The Good and the Beautiful Language Arts program incorporates flashcard practice with blends like that, but they are technically different from the 70-75 unique phonograms.
Many children will not need to practice consonant blends in order to learn to read. Practicing the 70-75 phonograms will be sufficient along with reading from books. Over time, they’ll naturally start blending those consonants together with ease.
Why teach with phonograms?
The short answer to that question is – learning phonograms makes reading and spelling easier!
If you know the phonograms and spelling rules, you can use them to spell almost anything in English.
Here’s a quick example of a 7 year old sounding out two easy spelling words.
The slightly longer answer to “why teach phonograms” is that phonograms are the basis of reading & spelling in the English language.
Many languages have a completely phonetic alphabet where each symbol (letter) only has one sound. English, though sometimes made fun of for being illogical, is just more complex than the purely phonetic languages. It has 45 sounds made up of 70-75 combinations of sounds (depending on how you classify a few phonograms!)
Learning to read happens as your child learns what sounds the phonograms stand for and how to blend them together to form words. (Eventually, of course, this process becomes automatic and you can read words made up of phonograms without even thinking about it.)
Learning to spell happens as your child learns to break apart (segment) words into sounds and learns how to write out each of those sounds with the correct phonograms.
Decades of research in cognitive science and literacy instruction reveals traditional phonics methods – those that use phonograms as the foundation – are the most successful in teaching kids to read and spell.
If you want a really long answer, check out the book, Uncovering the Logic of English (Eide). It’s a bit of a snooze-fest because it’s an entire book about phonics! But, it’s interesting & you’ll have a lot of “ah ha” moments while reading.
How is a Phonogram different from a phoneme?
Phoneme = sound
Phonogram = symbol
Phonemes are the smallest units of spoken language – they are the sounds that make up a language.
A phonograms is a written symbol used to express a sound.
A grapheme refers to a written character that symbolizes a sound, so phonograms are one type of graphemes. Chinese characters would be an example of a different type of grapheme.
For example, there are 3 phonemes (sounds) in the word “weight”: /w/ – /ā/ – /t/
Those 3 phonemes are represented by 3 phonograms (symbols): w – eigh – t
The second phonogram in the word weight has 4 letters!
What are a few phonics based homeschool curriculums I can use at home?
It can be overwhelming to choose curriculum for homeschooling in the early years. If you have a very young child, keep your life simple! Just use the phonogram teaching steps & games listed in this post along with this no-prep blending game. Then, grab a few BOB books and show the child how they can combine phonograms to make words.
If you want to try an open-and-go curriculum, here are 5 that we’ve tried & can recommend, although I want to re-emphasize, none of these are necessary for the young reader.
This is a complete language arts program that is free to download… however, it has a TON of pages & the color illustrations are part of what makes it beautiful. Unless you have a high quality laser color printer, it will probably be cheaper & easier to just buy their hard copy… it’s VERY reasonably priced, which is part of their whole mission. I love this company! Their curriculum is simple, beautiful, and very effective. It teaches reading in a sequential, multi-sensory, cumulative way. Plus, it includes poetry memorization, art/ picture study, and narration. This is probably my favorite option for a lot of reasons!
This program is in-depth, multi sensory, & sequential. There are tons of quick, no-prep games and activities. The downside is it’s a bit on the pricey side. You can reuse many of the materials with multiple kiddos, though.
I used their spelling program for my oldest. It’s nice for an early reader because you can take spelling and reading at their own pace, rather than teaching them alongside each other. Some of the activities are long though – we often cut the activities short. In general I feel like it was a tad on the cumbersome side for my personality & preferences. However, it’s very well done & consistent with an Orton-Gillingham based approach & I’d definitely recommend it.
This is very similar to Logic of English, but much more complicated for teachers/ parents. On the other hand, it’s much cheaper! You spend $100 on 3 things up front, and you’re set for your child’s entire reading & spelling education!
*Program note – You need the Spell to Write & Read Manual along with the Wise Guide for Spelling. The program’s flashcards are useful too. Plus, you’ll need to purchase a learning log for each child every year: K-2, grade 3+
If you’re on a tight budget and willing to figure it all out, it could be a good fit for you. This is what our university model homeschool program uses for spelling, and it’s definitely grown on me! The enrichment activities are simple, and it reinforces all spelling rules consistently throughout the program. It’s also efficient because you can use the same materials for multiple children.
But I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to a parent looking for something that’s truly “open-and-go.” It takes a little persistence to figure out how to use it!
I used this program for the first time when our oldest turned 4. I learned a lot from it and used it with my second daughter too, although less formally. (Reading came more quickly for her because she had already “accidentally” learned the first 26 basic phonograms alongside her big sister before I taught her to read.)
It’s inexpensive and nice for getting a jump start! Here’s an interesting article that mentions this book & the national phonics curriculum debate.
If you’re feeling hesitant about how to teach your child to read, I’d recommend this book because it’s really helpful for parents with no literacy education background. The parent-introduction outlines the whole learning-to-read process, and provides clear scripts for what to say. Even if you only use the first half of it with your child, it will likely be helpful. Plus it’s usually under $20, so you don’t have much to lose!
It was immensely helpful for me with my first child & she loved the way you read first and then uncover the picture of the story she read. Some reviewers complain that it becomes tedious, but when that happened for us, we just switched to early-reader books. If you’re using phonogram flashcards alongside this book, you probably won’t need to finish it.
*Note – we never used the handwriting exercises included in this book. I taught that separately.
What Should My Child Read?
After you introduce a few phonograms, grab a few easy reader type books from the library. (Or, if you’ll be teaching multiple kids to read, purchase them as your budget allows.)
If you want something very systematic, you can start with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. It has passages that get increasingly difficult. You don’t have to follow the lessons word for word, but it can still be helpful for a simple way to do leveled passages. We used this to varying degrees with each child for simplicity, and always covered up the picture while reading the story. After reading it once, our kids seemed to love uncovering the picture – ha! Guess they’re easily amused.
Otherwise, don’t stress about which readers to get. Not every single thing your child reads has to be at the perfect level. The point is for them to practice sounding out words and realize that there are little books they can read by themselves.
Gauge what you give them to read based on their frustration level. If your child gets easily frustrated, use one of the first two options on my list below. They are much shorter and more accessible!
Either way, do not stress about what readers to use!! They’re a tool for practice, and then ideally your child moves on to reading higher quality picture books 🙂
Our Favorite Books for Beginning Readers
For Very Very Beginning Readers and/ or Easily Frustrated Kiddos
- BOB books – Beginners Set 1, Advanced Beginners Set 2, Word Families Set 3
- The Good & The Beautiful Boxed Sets: A, B, C, D – they now have an entire leveled library of good books with pretty pictures.
For Starting to Get the Hang of It-Readers
Ask your children’s librarian where the very early reader section is in your library. They will have a ton!!
If you want to purchase some, these are a few of our absolute favorites that our first 2 readers have read over and over. I think the paperback versions are all under $5.00 on Amazon! Here’s my list, all in one spot!
It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect… Just Start!!
When my oldest child turned 4, she kinda sorta seemed interested in reading. That seemed young to me, but I didn’t know any difference, and we knew a couple other kiddos who started reading at that age.
So I did a few Google searches, grabbed Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, and hoped for the best.
None of it was perfect! I had never taught anyone to read before, and I didn’t know anything about the philosophical debate between phonics-based vs. balanced literacy. We were often interrupted by another child, and we missed several of the days.
But she learned to read.
And it was like watching the most beautiful glowing lightbulb click on. Her entire world expanded as she realized everything in print was accessible to her.
I still remember how sweet it was to be driving around listening to her sound out the words on all the signs; or watching her realize she could read instructions to a new game; all of the library book covers suddenly weren’t just pictures.
You don’t have to execute any of this perfectly. All of my tips & resources are meant to be guidelines to help you in the journey. But, don’t let perfectionism get in the way.
- Print the phonogram list or grab our entire phonogram packet!
- Make up some games
- Grab some BOB books and Dr. Seuss
- Dive in and watch the magic unfold!!