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The Sounds of the Letter c

The two curricula upon which the OnTrack Reading Phonics Program is modeled disagree on whether to teach phonics rules. Reading Reflex does not advocate teaching a child rules at all, while The Writing Road to Reading teaches rules for both pronunciation and spelling.

When it comes to phonics rules, the OnTrack Reading program generally favors the approach in Reading Reflex. However, there is one rule which probably will help your child. The “Rule of c” governs the pronunciation of the letter "c," indicating when c makes the /s/ sound. Your child will probably end up using it if you first teach it and then emphasize its use, especially when he is attempting to decode longer words.

The rule is: The letter c represents /s/ before the letters e, i or y; otherwise it represents /c/.

Here is a worksheet that you can use to help your child learn to apply the rule:

Download the Reading the Letter C Phonics Worksheet

And here are some examples to show you how broadly useful this rule actually is.

cent: /s/ because it is followed by e
city: /s/ because it is followed by i
cyst: /s/ because it is followed by y
cat: /c/ because it is not followed by e, i or y
cot: /c/ because it is not followed by e, i or y
cut: /c/ because it is not followed by e, i or y
class: /c/ because it is not followed by e, i or y
cross: /c/ because it is not followed by e, i or y
back: /c/ because it is not followed by e, i or y (so the ck acts like kk)
scent: /s/ because it is followed by e (so the sc acts like ss)
since: digraph ce is /s/ because the c is followed by e
accuse: both /c/ because neither is followed by e, i or y (akkuse)
accent: first is /c/ but second is /s/ (ak-sent)
static: /c/ because it is not followed by e, i or y

This is English, so there are some exceptions. In the United States, they are relatively few. "Soccer" would be pronounced sokser if it followed the rule and "muscle" would be muskle. And in British English, you will encounter a few spellings like "sceptic" whereas we in the US have changed the spelling to "skeptic" to comport with the rule.

Also, to follow the rule we even add the letter "k" to words like picnic and panic when adding a suffix starting with "e," "i" or "y," so we have picnicking, panicked and panicky.

The "Rule of c" can also be useful for spelling because it is so reliable. It turns out that we generally use the letter "k" when the letter "c" won't work because of this rule.

Next, The Sounds of the Letter g goes over a similar phonics rule for the letter "g," but also explains why it is less important to teach it. Or, you might prefer to look ever the OnTrack Reading Advanced Code Phonics Workbook that incorporates all of the lessons found in this section, and much more.