Tag Archives: phonics

Pirate Phonics

pirate 2

What is a Pirate’s favourite shop?


What is a Pirate’s favourite animal?

An aarrrdvarrrk

What does a Pirate spread on his toast?

Marrrmite or marrrmalade.

We have had hours of fun with the endless possibilities of pirate jokes around the dinner table.  My youngest daughter’s recent addition is

What is a Pirate’s favourite fruit?

An arrrringe.

Pirate jokes are a great way to practice oral phonics and rhyme.

My middle daughter is beginning to learn to read and write so I decided to use International Talk Like a Pirate day to introduce the ‘ar’ sound.

What Sound does a Pirate make?


What sound does the letter ‘r’ make?

rrr like rrrabbit and rrred.

So even though it is called an ‘r’ it doesn’t make an ‘ar’ sound. We need more than just a letter ‘r’ to make a pirate sound.  We make a pirate sound with a and r together.

I gave her a magnetic ‘a’ and ‘r’ on a board along with a number of consonants. We used the magnetic letters to make as many word with ‘ar’ in them as we could exaggerating the ‘arrrrr’ sound in a pirate voice.

My daughter moved letters around to make different words and blended the sounds to read them out.

I wrote down the words for her in a list













She then dictated a story using the words and I underlined the ‘ar’ words for her to read .

Once upon a time there was a pirate called Martin.  He loved to eat a jar of pickles. He also loved to go to the scarecrow farm which was far away. He also like to do art. He had a pet wolf called Martha. One night there were lots of stars. He went out in the car to see his cheeky friend.  He always called his girlfriends funny names. Martin threw a bottle of tar on his friend’s arm. So he ate a Mars Bar.

As we read the story we said all the ‘ar’ words in a pirate voice.

As we were walking around the museum at the weekend she said

Mummy, I’ve thought of another pirate word ‘guitarrrr’

I wonder how many more she will come up with.

Ideas for Teaching Literacy through Play – Painting with Feathers

painting with feathersOn the way home from school we were talking about quills. My Harry Potter obsessed 9-year- old had made a quill by putting a biro refill into a feather.

My four-year old asked

Do we have any ink?

No but we can use paint.

We painted with feathers when I was little didn’t we?

We can do that tomorrow if you like. We could use the Peacock feathers we collected at Remlinger Farm.

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I set the paints up with a few feathers.

My 2-year-old suddenly declared

I wrote the word ‘buh’

Buh for bat.

She has been playing a Sesame Street alphabet game on the iPad and is beginning to talk about letters and letter sounds.

Her 4-year old sister asked

How do you spell bat?

How do you think you spell it? What does it begin with?


That’s right and what other sounds are in bat?

Bat….    t

Yes, so what is the middle letter?

Bat…b…a…t…..    a.     B..a..t spells bat.

After a little bit of impromptu literacy I had a brain wave. The girls are really interested in pirates at the moment and I thought we might be able to do some writing with feathers, make a pirate map or maybe we could make a wizard’s spell.

I stained paper with coffeemaking paper look old

When it was dry I singed the edges to make it look like an old scroll.


I asked the girls what they would like to do. They decided on a Wizard’s spell.

It will be funny because we don’t even know how to read and write……………. Maybe Wizards write differently to people.


writing with a quill

I think this would be a great way to encourage boys in their mark making.

  • Set up a desk in a role play pirate ship with ink and quills
  • Make a spell book for children to add their own spells
  • Add a few feathers and a small pot of paint to your mark making area
  • Make treasure maps and encourage the children to mark the treasure with an X.

Literacy for under 5’s shouldn’t be about sitting at a table learning letters, tracing over letters or using flashcards. It can be brought into any aspect of play and when children are ready and interested in letters and sounds they will talk about it, ask questions and experiment. Make it fun, make it relevant and they will learn.

The Phonics Debate – Alive and Kicking on Mumsnet

phonicsI have been reading with interest the continuing phonics debate on Mumsnet this week in response to  Guest Posts from Michael Rosen and Nick Gibb.

This year the UK government introduced phonics screening tests at the end of Year 1 and there is a firm commitment to the teaching of synthetic phonics as the primary method of teaching reading.

For me there are 2 key questions in this discussion:-

1. How important is phonics instruction for producing fluent readers?

2. Is it appropriate to test young children’s phonic knowledge?

1. The Importance of Phonics

Clearly, phonic knowledge is important.  I learned to read using the phonetically regular Meg the Hen books and was always an advanced reader.

Phase 1 of Letters and Sounds (a resource for pre-school children published by DFES in 2008) gives an excellent grounding for later phonic skills. The materials introduce phonics through listening and playing with sounds before any focus is put on the written letters.  My own children could recognise rhyme and alliteration at the age of 3 through playing games, and joining in with songs and rhymes.  In my opinion it is this groundwork in early life that is  sometimes missing in failing readers therefore phonic instruction in later phases becomes meaningless and sterile rather than fun. Building the underpinning skills through play is therefore an important factor.

There are numerous studies that cite the size of a child’s vocabulary in the pre-school years as an accurate indication of how easily they will learn to read.  Further studies suggest the importance of children understanding story structures and the language involved in re-telling stories.  Children develop vocabulary through talking and listening but to an even greater extent through reading.  When a child is unable to read or in the early stages of reading, the importance of adults reading to them cannot be underestimated. Not only does it encourage an interest in books but it also enriches vocabulary considerably. As evidence to this point my 8 year old who is an advanced reader has a rich vocabulary and writes with mature language and expression. She enjoyed advanced books such as Winnie the Pooh and Pippi Longstocking in her pre-school years.  She now reads Harry Potter, Little Women and the Narnia books and regularly inquires as to the meaning of words developing her vocabulary even further.  As a writer myself I am very aware of the impact reading has on the quality of my writing.

There is little doubt that there is a percentage of children who are failing to learn to read, having a detrimental effect on future academic success.  I would be interested in analysing the statistics to see what proportion of these are boys.  Most girls enjoy reading, mark making, role play and other early literacy related play.  Many boys do not.  In my opinion more needs to be done to channel boys natural interests in physical play and technology into literacy activities.  This does not have to exclude phonics as one of my colleagues demonstrated when she encouraged her pre-school boys to explore rhyme and rhythm by dressing them up as rappers, using electronic beats and encouraging them to make up their own raps.

To some extent therefore it is not what is taught that is the issue but the way that it is taught.  If phonic instruction is to be the key method of reading instruction then it must be engaging or children will switch off from day 1.

2. Phonic Testing

I understand the reasons for introducing this test and would by no means undermine the fact that we need to highlight failing readers early to give them the extra support they need.  However, I do feel that most teachers know the children who are struggling to read without the test. Certainly as a parent who has helped with reading in class this was easy to spot and it was also clear which children were struggling to decode using phonics. I think that putting children under pressure at a young age and giving parents another thing to worry about or be competitive about is wrong. I don’t have children who have been through these tests and from feedback from other parents I think that schools are handling them sensitively, ensuring that children are unaware that they are being tested, however I still feel that they are wrong.

Some children will be exposed to all of the experiences mentioned above but will still struggle to learn to read.  Perhaps the tests will help to identify and address these children’s needs at an early stage but I am wary that catching children when they are failing is not the best starting point to addressing the problem.

A further point that was raised in the discussion is that all children do not learn in the same way and that the ability to decode words does not automatically produce fluent readers.  I used to work with children on the autistic spectrum.  One of these children had a fascination with letters and sounds, he could read phonetically regular words before he started school but his understanding was at the level of a 1 year old.  When we read books together they were of the ‘Where’s Spot?’ type and anything more complex was beyond his understanding.  I realise that this is an extreme case but I believe that it is a cautionary tale to those who may think a good phonics test result means that their child is reading fluently.

I will be watching with interest as my children move through the US education system (especially as they will start school a year later than in the UK) to see how literacy teaching differs and whether there are similar worries about levels of attainment.