University of Edinburgh

Literacy Workshop 1: Should We Teach Phonics to Deaf Children?

Presented Monday 26 March 2007

Phonics for Deaf Children?

Fiona Jarvis
Specialist SLT

What do we mean by Phonics?

The relationship between phonology and orthography


  • Individual speech sounds
  • The smallest units of spoken language
  • They combine to form words
  • In normal continuous speech they cannot be heard/identified individually
  • Different number/combination in each language
  • 44 phonemes in English


The study and classification of speech sounds - the sound system of a language, that is, the sounds used in that language.


The organisation of the sound system of a language.

Phonological awareness

The ability to:

  • recognise syllables in words, eg; the 2 syllables in the word 'baby'
  • be aware that words such as 'toy' and 'boy' rhyme
  • know that the word 'king' starts with the same sound as 'car'

Phonemic awareness

The ability to:

  • split a word like 'cat' into phonemes /k/ /a/ and /t/ and then blend them together again
  • know a word, eg; 'man' is composed of individual phonemes and that by replacing the initial one you can form another word, eg; 'fan, can...'
  • Graphemes

    the smallest, meaningful, contrastive units in written language
  • they combine to form words
  • each language is composed of a different number and combination
  • in English the main graphemes are the 26 letters of the alphabet
  • used to symbolise the 44 phonemes in c140 letter combinations of which c70 are relatively consistent, eg; 'gh' is the grapheme for the phoneme /f/ in 'cough'


The system of spelling and how letters combine to represent sounds and form words in the written form of a language.

Why do we teach Phonics?

  • National Literacy Strategy
  • Evidence
  • Provide specific skills

Valid Concerns

  • Too much emphasis?
  • Children learn in different ways
  • Necessary for reading?

How do we teach phonics?

  • Individuals
  • Choice of phonic programmes
  • Different methods
  • Whole to Part v Part to Whole

Whole to Part

  • Implicit Phonics
  • Analytic Phonics
  • Top Down Phonics

Part to Whole

  • Explicit Phonics
  • Synthetic Phonics
  • Bottom Up

Potential problems

  • Work from sound to symbol
  • Linking sounds to letters
  • Fast rate of introduction
  • Particular attention to the development of phonological skills
  • Requirement to hear and say initial and final sounds
  • Naming and saying the sounds of the letters of the alphabet
  • Emphasis on blending and segmenting words
  • Presumed English language level

Useful features

  • A whole-school approach supported by the headteacher
  • A single, well-structured phonics programme with a set teaching order
  • Previous focus on developing the children's attention skills
  • Developing the children's familiarity with the letters of the alphabet
  • Suitable and adequate resources
  • Confidence about teaching phonics
  • Enthusiasm and enjoyment
  • Motivating the children with interesting activities
  • Making teaching multi-sensory
  • Daily teaching
  • Teaching at a set time each day
  • Lots of repetition
  • Frequent and regular revision
  • Introducing 1 way of spelling each phoneme and later introducing others
  • Linking phonics to ongoing language work
  • Teaching a range of strategies
  • Recognising that some children will struggle - ID and give extra support

Prerequisites for Learning Phonics

  • Roles of Visual, Auditory and Motor areas
  • Need for highly developed auditory skills
  • Link with real language
  • Early encouragement to enjoy books
  • Solid first language base
  • Knowledge and experience of the world
  • Relevance and meaning of the materials

Phonics for deaf children - are we MAD ?

  • Revisit the definition
  • Research support - with good aided profile children can develop good phonic skills
  • If ...

Development of Phonic Skills for deaf children depends on :

  • Age at diagnosis
  • Level of deafness
  • Type of deafness
  • Age at which child was aided
  • Constancy of wearing hearing aids/CI
  • Aided levels
  • Language development
  • In addition to pre-reading experience etc.

but ...

  • Even with hearing aids, children cannot access all of the auditory information
  • Presumption that children can both hear and discriminate the phonemes of English
  • Little benefit from phonic teaching if child does not have Phonemic Awareness
  • Some may also have specific literacy problems

What needs to change?

  • The addition of visual clues
  • Focus on whole word recognition & context?

Accept that in mainstream it is part of the curriculum. Make ourselves familiar with available phonic schemes.

Additional information from...

The acquisition of phonological knowledge does not depend exclusively on hearing. Information from:

  • Lipreading
  • Cues
  • Fingerspelling
  • The written alphabet

can be used in order to build up a visual knowledge of spelling patterns in order to make predictions about words.

What's Different about Visual Phonics?

  • Designed to accommodate the most profoundly deaf children
  • A shift in emphasis from auditory to visual information
  • Reduced language content
  • Fewer phonemes
  • Scottish consonants and vowels
  • Cues

Which Cues?

Cued Speech - hand-shapes are arbitrary, so no inherent information

Cued Articulation - linguistically based.

  • Hand Position indicates Placement eg; nasal, back, front
  • Movement of Fingers indicates Manner eg; plosive, fricative
  • Hand Shape indicates Lip/Tongue Position/Movement
  • Number of Fingers indicates Voiced/Voiceless

Jolly Phonics - language-based cues, not suitable with older children.

What's different? (continued)

  • Lip pattern pictures
  • Elements to suit a wide age range
  • Familiar vocabulary
  • Colour coding for vowels

+ criteria previously referred to such as being a structured programme with a set order for teaching, being fun, including interesting activities to engage and motivate children to learn.

Colour coding of vowels

A single vowel phoneme can have numerous graphemes eg; /u/ -> oo, ue, u, ou, ui...

A single grapheme 'ou' can be pronounced as eg; ow (bough), uh (tough), aw (bought), oo (through)...

Colour coding of vowels

black grey green

gold blue orange

pink red purple

An Overview of Visual Phonics

  • Teacher's manual
  • 10 workbooks - one for each of the teaching groups
  • Activity Pack
  • Assessment Booklet
  • No set time-table
  • Guide to the order of teaching based on:
    - normal dev order of sp sound acquisition
    - maximising visual and auditory contrast
    - degree of difficulty re visual clues
    - degree of difficulty re auditory clues
    - degree of difficulty re production
    - early introduction of voiced v voiceless concept


Worksheets for each of 38 phonemes:

  • 9 vowels
  • 3 diphthongs
  • 26 consonants

Introductory Worksheet

  • The letter(s)
  • Letters to find in the main picture
  • The hand cue
  • The lip pattern
  • A picture to colour
  • Words containing the phoneme
  • A practice writing line
  • Further activities

a phoneme

ee phoneme

ie phoneme

ow phoneme

m phoneme

p phoneme

sh phoneme

zh phoneme

f phoneme

Pre-Introduction of Visual Phonics

It was found useful to work on ...

  • Knowledge of the letters of the alphabet / fingerspelling
  • Understanding of the concept of beginning/ middle/end in particular when applied to the position of letters within a word
  • Awareness of voice especially voice on v voiceoff

Role of the Teacher and SLT

  • Class Teacher introduced VP in class
  • SLT ran weekly group with Class Teacher
  • SLT carried out some additional individual work
  • Different use of materials but complementary
  • Ongoing liaison


  • The children enjoy it
  • Improved understanding of link between spoken and written word
  • Greater awareness of lip patterns
  • Improved ability to lipread and in use of LPs
  • Improved speech if good audition
  • Improved word attack skills if good audition
  • Positive collaborative exercise

What Next?

  • Continual reflection...altering...adding...
  • Changes according to need
  • Need to develop
    - pre-activities for nursery level
    - more activities
    - more/improved assessment materials
  • Taking it forward