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Phonogram Revisions

By Rodney Everson • Updated Jul 27th, 2023

OnTrack Reading Phonics Program

Teach your student the phonics advanced code in as little as 8 weeks with our 170-page workbook and instruction manual.

Author’s Note

The notation used here to designate each one of the 43 sounds is discussed in the phonics section of my website. Take a look at Notation for the 43 Sounds if you need to ascertain how a certain sound is represented.

Revision #2: Addition of easy-to-learn ending digraphs

Dropping Ms. Spalding's five rules for the ending "e" requires the addition of several new phonograms, all relatively easy to learn because they are ending digraphs that just represent the consonant sound of the first letter of the digraph. Several other changes are made to the sounds for various phonograms, primarily to bring them into alignment with current pronunciations. Also, because words like home will be considered to have a vowel sound spelled "o-e," it makes sense to move just a few words up in the Ayres List to prepare a child to learn the split vowel concept.

The New Phonogram Structure

The best way to understand the revisions made to the original WRTR phonograms is to download a list of the new, revised, phonograms.

Once you have it downloaded, print it out and have it in hand as you read the rest of this page. Each type of modification will be discussed below, starting with the change in the order of presentation.

Change in the Order of Presentation

The Fifth Edition of WRTR reduced the number of phonograms that should be taught prior to beginning dictation of the Ayres List to 45, from 54 in the Fourth Edition. The equivalent number in the modified version presented here is 50 phonograms. Fifteen new phonograms, all indicated by bold type, have been added to the original WRTR list of phonograms and one, wor, has been dropped.

As I said, the revised list has 50 phonograms that need to be taught initially, compared to the Fifth Edition's 45. There are two reasons for the increase, both related to dropping Ms. Spalding's five rules for the ending "e" in a word.

First, two of the phonograms, oe and ie, were moved up in the order so that the vowel+e concept could be explained on a timely basis without having to use a rule.

And second, three newly created digraphs ending in "e" (le, ve, and me) will need to be taught in the first 50 phonograms because certain words with an ending "e" are encountered early in the Ayres List. Treating these as digraphs is also an accurate representation of the actual phonetic coding.

Author’s Note

The particular source material you've chosen (Fifth Edition, Fourth Edition, or a commercial program) will differ in the order of presentation of the phonograms. If you get through the first 50 phonograms on the revised list here, you should be able to dictate words from the Ayres list without encountering an unfamiliar phonogram as long as you then continue to gradually teach the rest until all 84 phonograms on the revised list have been introduced.

Changes in the Sounds of a Letter or Digraph

Several sound changes are made to phonograms in the OnTrack Reading Homeschooling Program. They are listed here in order of presentation. All of the modifications reflect normal, modern-day, pronunciations. (Refer to the PDF for the example words.)

All of the modifications reflect normal, modern-day, pronunciations

The phonogram i has the sound /ee/ as in ski added, so i is now /i/ie/ee/.

The phonogram n has the sound /ng/ as in ink added, so n is now /n/ng/.

The phonogram u has the sound /oo/ as in truth added, so u is now /u/ue/oo/oul/.

The phonogram y has the sound /ee/ as in happy added, so y is now /ee/ie/i/.

The phonogram er has the sound /err/ as in very added, so er is now /er/err/.

The phonogram ar has three sounds added, so ar is now /ar/or/er/err/.

The phonogram or has the sound /er/ as in work added, so or is now /or/er/.

The phonogram ie has the /i/ sound dropped, so ie is now /ie/ee/.

The phonogram ui has the sound changed from /ue/ to /oo/, so ui is now /oo/.

The phonogram ough has the /uf/ and /of/ sounds dropped, so ough is now /ow/oe/oo/aw/.

The phonogram ey has the /i/ sound dropped, so ey is now /ee/ae/.

The phonogram ei has the /i/ sound changed to /e/, so ei is now /ee/ae/e/.

The phonogram ed has the "e+d" sound dropped, so ed is now /d/t/.

This is a fair amount of changes and it's reasonable to ask whether incorporating all of them will significantly increase the task of learning the sounds of the individual phonograms. However, if you look through the above list, you'll find that although nine sounds are added, five are dropped, so the net increase is only four additional sounds in all, and three of these are for the phonogram ar.

New Phonograms to be Formally Taught

The OnTrack Reading curriculum explicitly teaches 84 phonograms, as opposed to Ms. Spalding's 70. Fifteen new ones are introduced and one (wor) is dropped. Eight of the new ones are ending digraphs with "e" as the second letter and three of the new ones are spellings of the /err/ sound not formally taught in the WRTR curriculum.

Eight easy-to-learn ending digraphs replace the five jobs of the ending-e

The ending digraphs are le, standing for the two sounds /ul/, ve for /v/, me for /m/, ne for /n/, se for /s/z/, ze for /z/, ce for /s/, and ge for /j/. All are explicitly referred to as "ending digraphs" in this curriculum.

The sound /err/ as in the words Mary, marry and merry should only be introduced if all three of those words sound the same in your dialect of English. In some areas, they are pronounced differently with the vowel preceding the /r/ sound clearly different in all three words. In other areas, all three words are homonyms in which case introducing an /err/ sound is the most efficient way to deal with the situation. The /err/ phonograms introduced are ere, err, and arr.

The other four new phonograms introduced, each for a specific reason, are ue with sounds /ue/oo/, oul with sound /oul/ (as in could), tch with sound /ch/, and ssi with sound /sh/. The phonogram ue is added to complete the ee, ie and oe set. The phonogram oul is added to remove an uncommon sound of the phonogram ou while also accounting for the letter "l" in would, should and could, and their derivatives. The phonogram tch is added because it is a valuable marker of the vowel sound preceding it, like the phonograms ck and dge. And the phonogram ssi is added to complete the ti, ci, and si set that all represent the /sh/ sound.

The phonogram wor has been dropped from this revised version. It was dropped because it is not a phonogram, but rather is a blend of two phonograms, w and or and teaching it as a phonogram makes no more sense than would teaching "war" as a phonogram, or for that matter other consistent patterns such as "ack" or "idge" or "ing." Instead, an existing WRTR rule is modified to address the effect of the phonogram w on the pronunciation of the phonograms or and ar.

Language Additions

The PDF of the revised phonograms also indicates some terminology to be used when dictating a phonogram, or referring to it later. The phonograms with a consonant followed by the letter "e," such as ve or ge, are all called "ending digraphs," since this is where they typically occur in words. Thus, in the word change, the /j/ sound is spelled with the "ending digraph for /j/."

The other addition to terminology is to designate four phonograms as "markers" when they are dictated, and when referring to them later. The concept of a marker is that it marks the vowel letter (and it will be just a letter, not a vowel digraph) preceding it as the first sound, that is, the short sound (though the term short is not used in the curriculum.)

Creating Additional Phonograms

As with the Ms. Spalding's original curriculum, when words are introduced much later in the curriculum that contain relatively uncommon spellings of sounds, a judgment must be made as to whether a new phonogram has been encountered, or just a rare spelling that should be double-underlined. That decision should hinge on whether you are likely to encounter the sound spelled that way again, and how often. If you're unsure, it's best to double-underline an unusual spelling of a sound and then revise your thinking if you encounter a few more examples of that spelling later. The PDF lists 14 such spellings as phonograms 85 through 98. All occur often enough to be considered phonograms.

Now, the adoption of these coding and phonogram revisions renders several of Ms. Spalding's 29 rules inoperable, or unnecessary, as discussed next in Rule Revisions.

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