Phonics: To “B” or not to “Bu” that is the question!

Did you realize many children are incorrectly taught the sounds letters make–especially consonants? Read this to learn how to correctly teach phonics to your kids.

Child reading a book

A little more than a year ago, Susanne, a reading specialist turned stay-at-home-mom, wrote some posts on literacy topics. Then she added twins to her barely toddler and things got a bit crazy as you can imagine :). Now she is back with another wonderful post for us! Thanks Sue!

Teaching Phonics To Your Kids

When teaching the correct phonics, we think of teaching children the sounds that letters make. Then eventually, children learn how to use those sounds to read.

While this is true, many parents, teachers, and parents actually do this incorrectly.

What Sounds Do Letters Make?

There are 26 letters in the alphabet; all have a unique sound or sounds that these letters produce.

Most letters in the English alphabet is a representation of a phoneme, the smallest unit of sound.

For instance, the letter D is a representation of the sound /d/, like in the word dog. When teaching this sound, some people make the mistake of attaching a vowel sound.

So instead of teaching D represents /d/, people say D represents /du/ (like in duck) or someone might say that D represents /da/ (like in dad).

The inherent problem with this is that D is not pronounced with these additional sounds. Teaching phonics this way will only confuse a young child who is learning to read.

Blending Sounds to Read

When we read, we have to take different units of sound and blend them together. If we see the word “dog”, we have to blend /d/ /o/ /g/ together. The word dog contains three different phonemes.

If a child is taught that the letter D represents the sound /du/, which is incorrect, than he will end up trying to blend 4 phonemes together, /d/ /u/ /o/ /g/.

Do you see the problem with this?

Therefore, when teaching the constant sounds, it is very important to teach them correctly without attaching additional vowel sounds to them.

How To Teach Consonants Without the Vowel Attached

In order to achieve this, you might have to visualize yourself cutting out the extra sound or “clipping” it away.

Another activity is to take a constant and attach every vowel to it and then say it aloud. For example: ba, be, bu, bo, bi. After you say these five non-sense syllables, try saying it without the vowel sound attached. You should produce the correct sound for that the letter B this way.

Be Aware of Sounds Made by Toys

Many educational toys, electronic, and computer games also make this same mistake. My son has a phonics bus that when you touch the letters it says the sound. The toy drives me nuts because it produces the incorrect phoneme (sound). For instance, the toy says, “Q says Qwa, Q says Qwa, every letter makes a sound, Q says Qwa.”

That is NOT correct Q does not have the short a sound (like in the word ant). The correct way to say Q is /Kw/ it actually sounds like a K (hard c like in cake) and W (windy breath), but there is not short a.

If you read the word queen, do you hear a short a?

I make this long point because I think we also need to evaluate the type of toys and educational software that we allow our children to be exposed to because they are reinforcing incorrect learning.

Know What Your Kids are Taught

Parents, there are many well-meaning teachers out there who are teaching your children the incorrect phonics. Colleges do not teach teachers this information. I know that is crazy, but they don’t.

Even teaching manuals do not explicitly teach this concept either.

When I was still working as a reading specialist, I found myself having to “Re-train” my elementary faculty teachers how to correctly represent the sounds letters produce. And to many of my colleges, this information was something they had never learned before but agreed made sense.

Please advocate for your children and if you notice that your son or daughter’s teacher is teaching the incorrect phonics, please schedule a conference to discuss this with him or her. If you are met with resistance, please address this with the school’s reading specialist of principals. 


correctly teaching kids to read

13 thoughts on “Phonics: To “B” or not to “Bu” that is the question!”

  1. I'm a teacher and we use the Riggs program at our school. It's fantastic, and we teach the same things you're talking about. There are 26 letters, which can be combined in 71 "phonograms" (sound-letters), to create 42 phonemes (sounds). For example, the phonograms ai, ay, eigh, ey, ei, and a all say the "long" a sound (phoneme). This is a really difficult concept to teach parents. The kindergarten students, who move slowly through the letters, have no trouble with it- unless there has been some training at home that has to be retrained! I highly recommend this program for anyone who is homeschooling or just interested in helping kiddos learn to read, write, and spell! It's all inclusive, so it incorporates speaking, sounds, handwriting, grammar (at the upper levels, around 2nd-3rd grade), spelling, and reading. It's FANTASTIC! 🙂

  2. Great topic. In some cases phonics is not even taught. MrsOzz was a 3rd grade public school teacher before becoming a stay-home homeschooling mom. The school she taught in used a block/sight reading method exclusively when she arrived. You can identify kids who are taught this way because they simply skip words they don't recognize. They were taught no phonic at all. Side note: The State of SC is consistently listed as 49th or 50th in national rankings for public education.MrsOzz eventually joined a pilot program that led her to teaching Sequential Teaching of Explicit Phonics and Spelling (STEPS). She uses STEPS to teach our own children at home now.

  3. love this! I taught kindergarten phonics for 4 years with the Abeka curriculum…..HIGHLY recommend….Teaches 6 very simple steps to reading….:)

  4. I am a first-time mom of a 10 week old baby boy. I received the Baby Wise book for Christmas, and we have been attmepting the techniques for the past two weeks with success. I too have a blog – It's about everything having to do with mommyhood from the perspective of a new mom. I am currently blogging about my experience with the book, and I would love to use your blog as a resource. It's great, and I'm learning so much from it. It's the perfect supplement to the book!

  5. The book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Lessons teaches phonics this way. It very much emphasizes the need to make JUST the sound, with no additional vowels added. And it works…it actually takes fewer than 100 lessons in most cases for the child to be reading independently. 🙂

  6. I bought my son the Leap Frog DVD & now that you mention it I do believe it says "Q" as qwa, although most of the other letters sound correct without an added vowel. I try to sound out words letter by letter best I can. My son is almost 20 months & I've recently started working with him daily on letter sounds & words. He has started understanding more words every day & I'm excited about it! Now if he would just talk already because I'm tired of playing the guessing game with the point & grunt method he uses! I do say "we don't grunt, Carter use your words" but he still grunts & I withold giving him anything and will pronounce what I think he wants. Usually I guess correctly but it's getting annoying fast. TO the moms that posted about different cirriculum's….is there anyway for parents/mothers to obtain such information to use at home?@Karen- What age group is the book you mention rated for? My son is 20 months old.

  7. This is a great post! As a former teacher I saw the extra sound cause problems, especially in lower readers. Thanks for getting this information out to parents!

  8. I too am a literacy specialist and Reading Recovery teacher. I find that this is a problem with a LOT of my students. I will only buy toys for my son that say the letter name and not the sound because the sounds are so hard to make on a toy.


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