Phonics They Use: Words for Reading and Writing
Published in 2000 by Addison Wesley Longman
If Cunningham ever reads this review, and if she ever has
a chance to revise this book, I hope she will consider moving the last chapter
to the front of the book. In the mean time, if you buy this book (and
I think you should), then I heartily recommend that you turn first to the
very last chapter, titled "The Theory and the Research -- The Why Underlying
the How." This is an excellent chapter that provides a very nice summary
of why most phonics instruction is so very, very bad, and why the approach
that Cunningham advocates is probably a lot more effective than most traditional,
decontextualized letter-sound instruction.
Phonics instruction has a bad rap, and that's unfortunate
because most kids really do need some explicit instruction in the letter-sound
system of English writing. Sadly, most phonics activities that I have
encountered are artificial, contrived, and depend on a lot of fairly boring
repetition and rote memorization. The research that Cunningham describes
in the last chapter of this book, and the activities and lessons that are
provided throughout the rest of this book are much more engaging and authentic
than most of the phonics drills that I've had the misfortune to witness.
Now, before you write me angry letters, let me reiterate
my position -- fairly explicit letter-sound instruction is important for
a lot of kids, especially at-risk students who need a lot of explicit instruction
in decoding skills. The people who claim that children never need
explicit instruction in the letter-sound relationships in English do not
have a research-based leg to stand on.
But most examples of so-called phonics instruction that
I have seen are not as powerful as they could be. This book and Cunningham's
"Making Words" series of books provide some much more engaging and applicable
lessons that, if done well, are likely to be more effective than the decontextualized
phonics drills that so many people (myself included) find vaguely repugnant.
I am putting these three books together because they are
basically the same. Each of these books builds on the activities outlined
in Cunningham's Book "Phonics They Use." Collections of letters are
given along with the words that can be generated using those letters.
For teachers familiar with the book "Phonics They Use,"
you know that it is fairly easy to create these word groups in advance, but
doing it every day can get tedious. Cunningham and Hall have kindly
done it for you, so you can have hundreds of word collections at your finger-tips
to use with your students. For kindergarten to second-grade students
(and even older, struggling readers), this is a lesson that should be
employed every day if possible, so it is important to have a lot of word
groups at your disposal to avoid repetition. The books are cheap,
I recommend buying all of them.
Words Their Way, 3rd Edition
by Donald R. Bear, Marcia Invernizzi, Shane Templeton, and Francine
Published in 2003 by Prentice Hall
Much of what I said about Cunningham's "Phonics They Use"
could also be said about "Words Their Way." Like Cunningham's book,
this book guides teachers through an approach to teaching letter-sound relationships
through more interactive and engaging activities. This book contains
some great activities that are appropriate for children at different "stages"
of decoding development ranging from simple letter knowledge to more complicated
"chunking" stages (where letters are chunked together into morphemes or
common letter clusters such as "ion" and "de"). I have also seen teachers
of older struggling readers use these strategies (and an understanding of
the word-identification stages) to help their students develop more fluent
I like that most of the activities involve categorical sorting activities
that allow children to examine the characteristics that separate one letter
from another or one word from another. By actively engaging in these
sorting activities, children learn to zero-in on the critical salient features
of letters and words, and are thus less apt to be confused by orthographically
similarities among letters and words.
To help teachers develop actual word-sorting activities more easily,
the authors of "Words Their Way" have also created some companion activity
books that are very handy.
Words Their Way : Letter and Picture Sorts for Emergent
Words Their Way : Words Sorts for Within Word Pattern
Words Their Way: Word Sorts for Letter Name Alphabetic
Words Their Way : Word Sorts for Syllables and Affixes
Words Their Way : Words Sorts for Derivational Relations