Chapter 4: How to withdraw the use of cues at the right time and aid spelling

Minimal phonic cues are intended only as a temporary aid to learning. It is therefore necessary to consider how long they should be used and in what way they should be discarded. Because there is no changeover to another script, the way in which the cues are discarded depends largely on the way in which they have been used.

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An MPC reading programme

This example is based on work which was tried in an Infant class of about thirty-five children with a range of five to seven years. Though set out in the form of a progression, individual children were at different points on the programme. Books were not marked but new words were on cued lists.

1. Pre-reading work to develop language, visual and aural discrimination, interest in stories, understanding the use of labels to convey meaning, etc.
2. Using means such as wall-stories, captions on the children’s own pictures, class news books, the breakthrough stand and materials (Long-man), to aid word matching and sentence matching and to give the idea that print conveys meaning.
3. Writing begun, letter formation and learning of sounds.
4. Any other reading pursued intuitively by whole-word learning until at least consonant sounds are known, when they should be used as guide in conjunction with context clues. Phonic work as suggested in Chapter 3.
5. After the sound concepts are well established, repetition and some drilling on sound symbols for about five minutes daily until, with the cue-card as an aid to memory, MPC can be used for decoding new words. Children given individual cue-cards to learn and use. Large wall cue-card provided.
6. MPC then used in one or more of the ways suggested in Chapter 2.
7. If new words are marked on books, children can ignore any marks they don’t need. Once a vocabulary of about 150 words is known, (usually by about the fourth book of a reading scheme), work could begin on extracting the rules of spelling and pronunciation using some system of word analysis. MPC dictionaries could still be used, but group teaching using MPC Spelling Workbook will now speed the process of internalising the sound-symbol relationships before children go on to a Junior class.
In age-grouped classes the programme should be begun and proceed as far as possible, with records kept on children’s progress so that it can be continued without interruption according to individual needs. An ideal form for such records is shown in Figure 8, using squared paper. The stages may be groups of sounds learnt, books read or any graded set of skills. It is then easy to group children for practice by lookng down the record to see which are at the same stage.

Figure 8

1 Pre-reading
2 Wall story
3 Letter Formation
4 Simple sounds
5 Digraphs
6 Blending
7 Using Cues
doing this
finished this
tested and passed

To achieve the maximum benefit this programme should be agreed and co-ordinated throughout an Infant department. If some teachers wish to use MPC, while others do not, it should be used only incidentally to aid understanding and not be relied on too heavily. Partial use in this way is not confusing because no departure has been made from normal spelling. No harm will be done if MPC is incompletely mastered by the time of transfer to another school, provided that analysis was not over-emphasised at a stage when it was only confusing rather than helpful to a child who could have made some progress by whole word learning and use of context. Slow-learning children are greatly helped in later ‘remedial’ work (though this is a misnomer for children properly taught) if they really know the sounds and digraphs thoroughly, whether cues are to be used or not. If cues are used in later teaching of slow-learners, a basic knowledge of the sounds as shown on the cue-card will enable quick progress to be made once the child has attained the mental maturity necessary for satisfactory analysis and synthesis. Independent learning using cues will then also be helped.

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Leaving cues behind

The transfer consists of ‘internalising’ the cues; knowing that an ‘e’ at the end of a word is not sounded, that ‘gh’ is similar, but may modify the preceding vowel, that ‘-tion’ is sounded ‘shon’, etc.; the things which good readers do unconsciously without cues. Cues aid this normal process and, having made it more conscious, also help spelling.
The MPC spelling Workbook defines the main spelling rules, using cues, and suggests children’s activities for each rule. In this way, learning is reinforced. The book’s contents are briefly listed below. Of course, these are all rules which have to be learnt whether MPC is used or not. The progression is designed to ensure that children who have used MPC in the early stages are finally able to discard it while getting as much value as possible from it. Each page of the MPC Spelling Workbook could serve as the source material for a group lesson or discussion.

Lesson 1
Unsounded letters: indicated by putting a cross above the letter. Children find words with final e and copy them.
Double letters: explain how only one is sounded.

Lesson 2
e at the end of a word sometimes makes the preceding vowel ‘hard’.

Lesson 3
The two main ways of spelling .
and , which sound the same and are regular.

Lesson 4
and , including the sound in all, talk, for, more, door, etc. Adding the marks will help to reinforce the sound-symbol correspondence or discrepancy.

Lesson 5
c sounded either as k or as s. Help pupils, by looking at the words they have found, to deduce that rule that e and i following c make it produce the soft sound s.

Lesson 6
g and j sounds.

Lesson 7
gh usually unsounded, but modifying other symbols. (It is better not to deal with gh as the sound f here, but leave it to go with ph as an alternative, later on.)

Lesson 8
ch when the h is unsounded.

Lesson 9
The er sound.

Lesson 10
Silent consonants: k, g, w. There is no harm in doing some written-learning to try to help children remember the spellings, but using the words in various meaningful ways should also play a part.

Lesson 11
s sometimes sounding like z.

Lesson 12
The vowel sounds; a, e, i, o, u; a, e, i, o, u and ah, er, oi, oo, oo, aw, ou. Point out that these sounds vary much more than consonants in the ways they are spelt, partly because speech has changed over the years and in different places.

Lessons 14,15
Ways of spelling the ‘hard’ vowels, e.g. ai, ay, a-e; ee, e-e, ea, ie, ei; i-e, y, igh, ei; ow, oa, o-e; ue, eu, u-e; oo spelt in various ways. The teacher must, of course, use professional judgement as to how much of this children can do at a time, and when. If giving too many alternatives only seems to confuse it may be better left until later.

Lessons 16, 18
mo sounding mu, ph as f, f as v or changing to v, and gh as f. Although these sounds could be quite difficult and confusing without MPC, the marks make them clear and more interesting.

Lessons 25, 26
Breaking words into syllables. As well as being able to sound out c-a-t, etc., the reader must be able to sound c-a-f or d-a-l, because these are syllables within words. Attention to syllable-reading is often neglected and is a cause of some difficulties. Obviously, this work is done as needed, and not otherwise.

Lessons 27,28
The various sounds and spellings of –tion, -sion and –cian. These are mainly longer words and children need to be advanced in their reading to cope with them.

Lessons 29, 30
Alphabetical order, needed for looking up words and for listing things, is sometimes neglected. See that children can recite the letters of the alphabet in order at some point, and also give practice in thinking whether one letter comes before another, to help in looking forward or back. Plenty of practice is needed in various ways before children can use a dictionary quickly and, of course, small wordbooks, followed by 500-word, 1000-word or 2000-word dictionaries may help children to reach the stage of using a bigger one. The MPC Word List will be found very useful here. Exercises on finding a word its second or third letter are also needed, e.g. because, before, behind.

Lesson 31
Check that all small letters and capital letters are known. For bright and average children this should be so by the time they transfer from Infant to Junior classes. Once children can read and write with reasonable fluency it is better for them to use the letter-names for spellings. For the less-able this should be postponed until they can read without needing to build up sounds aloud, or they will get confused. Eventually, both will be known. If MPC has been used systematically, capital letters which differ from lower-case will have been marked with substitutions.

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