When I was moved to teach first grade, I knew the most difficult part of teaching young readers was going to be teaching them to decode. I had taught first graders before, and the phonics instruction was boring and I often saw very little application to my students’ reading and decoding.
I went to a graduate studies workshop where a presenter shared about The Phonics Dance, created by Ginny Dowd. I was hooked immediately- and now, so are my students!
Are you ready for some phonics magic?
What is The Phonics Dance?
The phonics dance is a series of chants, visuals, motions, and stories used to teach students letter sounds. I use the “Hunks and Chunks” portion of the phonics dance in my first grade classroom. This portion concentrates on teaching students common vowel digraphs, diphthongs, and even some blends.
To really get an idea of what the phonics dance is… click here to see Ginny Dowd’s class in action. I was immediately excited after seeing and hearing about the phonics dance, and knew that at very least, this would be an academic movement break.
Learning the Phonics Dance
On the very first day of school, we practiced the letter sounds using the picture, word, sound cards that my students used in Kindergarten. By the fourth day of school, I introduced the “ch” brothers, th,ch, sh. I added 1-3 chunks per week every week. Each time, introducing a story and then the chant that the students would practiced. Every single morning, sometimes twice a morning, we practice the chunk “dance” or series of chunks.
What I noticed after just the first week was that already in our morning message my students’ hands would shoot up and they would be eager to share “I see a chunk!” We quickly began to put a rectangle around the chunks we knew and circles around the words we knew. I was definitely optimistic at this time since no prompting had happened, my students were spotting these chunks on their own.
After the three “h” digraphs, I went right to the “ing” ending since it appears so frequently in their reading and writing. Learning this chunk also makes so many words manageable (not only sing, sting, ring, but also reading, jumping, seeing, going).
I decided in my classroom on the order to introduce the chunks based on student needs and reading material. (for example: the “or” chunk was taught when we were reading about a scarecrow and the words “worn” and “torn” appeared). I also marked down basic notes during reading group about some of the chunks that were giving the children the most trouble when they were decoding.
Although I was excited about teaching phonics using the phonics dance, I also never could have imagined how it has helped my students to decode. Using “chunks” is the one strategy that they always employ independently. Those long words don’t seem so long to segment and blend when you’ve got a chunk in there -think about the word Halloween (H-all-ow-ee-n), the words are just so much more manageable once the students have internalized these chunks. Vowel sounds are also something that first graders in the past have really struggled with. Often times, short vowels are expected to be “mastered” before long vowels can be taught. The problem is, that fairly early in reading, long vowel digraphs appear in reading. The phonics dance has given my students a way to access these long vowel digraphs in a fun way that really sticks with them.
What about the struggling readers who don’t know all their letter sounds? What about the kids who struggle to segment and blend? Well this strategy has been a gift to them as well! Think about the word “going” instead of “g-o-i-n-g” there are only 2 parts “go-ing”).
Can you imagine first graders (in the fall) beginning to use long vowel spelling patterns in their writing? The most wonderful question one of my firsties asked me last week was “Does feed have “ee” or “ea” in it). Last year I taught third grade and those students were not as aware of vowel digraphs.
I am telling you, I feel like I’ve really found a piece of magic!rents love it (yes they are reciting the chunks at the dinner table), the students love it (“When can we learn a new chunk?”). and I love it (They can READ and WRITE!).