The OnTrack Reading Middle School Phonics Course is a free mini-curriculum that any content-area teacher in middle school, or even high school, can use to improve your weaker readers’ ability to read multisyllable words. It's designed to be ten 15-minute blocks to be spread over ten class sessions and is based on the multisyllable method of the OnTrack Reading Phonics Program.

Following the completion of the ten lessons, the information taught can easily, and productively, be reinforced by the simple process of the teacher writing some of the more complicated content-area vocabulary words on the board while chunking them and coding them according to the method.

For example, if one of those words was circumnavigation, it would be coded as: cir cum na vi ga tion, with a tiny 2 written above both the letter c (in cir) and the letter a (in ga) to denote their second sounds. In relatively short order, most of the struggling readers could learn the minor, but very consistent, coding required, and would begin learning the various pronunciation options for the vowel letters and for the vowel and consonant digraphs (such as the /sh/ pronunciation of the digraph ti in the example.)

The first of the ten short lessons, Introducing the Main Rule, is on the next page, with each of the remaining nine lessons following on its own page. The rest of this discussion will address some of the issues involved when teaching phonics to an older child and some reviewing you might want to do before proceeding to use this mini-curriculum.

Why an Older Child Didn't Learn to Read Well

I'm not one who automatically blames the teachers and the school's curriculum for students failing to learn to read. Yes, there are inefficient curricula, and certainly there are some poor teachers, and poor school systems that subject their students to both poor teachers and poor curricula. Yet, even in those situations, many children do learn to read.

It's quite possible that many of the older students who struggle with reading were dealing with undiagnosed, untreated, vision problems of the sort discussed elsewhere on this site. If you're curious and want to learn more, see The Vision Piece of the Dyslexia Puzzle.

The Potential of this Mini-Curriculum

Christine V: "I teach 5th graders. Even my highest readers have had 'Ah ha!' moments using these rules. I have some very low readers, 2nd and 3rd grade levels, that are now decoding at a much higher rate. Thanks for this resource.”

If vision issues were not responsible for a particular student's inability to read, it's possible that he never had sufficient phonics instruction. In that case, the phonics mini-curriculum described in this section will build a foundation for filling in the needed information over the year as vocabulary words are discussed in regular classes.

Also, it's quite possible that by middle school or high school a student's vision problems will either have resolved or that his visual system has accommodated somehow to compensate for his particular problem. In that case, the student might finally be receptive to phonics instruction, even if he struggled in the early grades. Again, the mini-curriculum here will pull things together for such a student very quickly.

Be aware, however, that some students might still be dealing with vision issues that can make reading quite difficult. Though such a student might easily comprehend the information presented in the mini-curriculum, he might not practice it enough to internalize it because of a general avoidance of print.

Getting Up to Speed

If you do decide to try this phonics mini-curriculum in your classroom, I believe that you will get the most value from it by extending its use (not instruction, but use.) Sharing this easy decoding method could help the weaker readers in your class a lot if you continue to apply it to content-area vocabulary as the year progresses over the rest of the school year. You would do this by simply discussing the coding of the more complex vocabulary words that your students encounter in your content area. That complexity might be due to the word having many syllables, or due to the peculiar phonics coding within the word, or both.

You will learn all you need to know about chunking the multisyllable words appropriately by just going through the ten lessons in the mini-curriculum. However, to properly code the phonics structure in accordance with the techniques used here at OnTrack Reading, and to gain a fuller understanding of this unique method for decoding multisyllable words, you should read The OnTrack Reading Multisyllable Method section of this site, which lays out the entire method upon which the OnTrack Reading Middle School Phonics Course is based.