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  • Writer's pictureJoan Toh

Surprise tip you didn't know about phonics

The tip I am about to share with you has shocked educators, myself included. When I heard my lecturer share this tip during one of our modules on language and literacy, I saw every single educators’ face in shock. None of us expected it and realised we had the wrong idea all along.

Yes! Phonics is not the first thing we should be teaching a child when he or she is learning to read. For years, many educators and parents I know are focused on teaching the different sounds of a letter. Tons of phonics classes pop up when we do a simple Google search. So many ads promote the importance of learning phonics to become a better reader. Yet, in my Diploma course, we have been taught that it is tough for children in preschool and the thing to start is to learn the number of syllables in a word.


Learning the number of syllables in a word

What is a syllable?

A syllable is a unit of pronunciation, forming the whole of part of a word; for example, there are two syllables in table and four syllables in watermelon.


How it works

Every word consists of the number of syllables. Read the word and clap to the number of syllables. E.g. aeroplane has three syllables when broken down. So we will say ‘aeroplane’ and clap three times.


Here are some words I created during the module whereby the child would read and clap to the number of syllables and paste a round sticker or use a cloth peg to clip onto the correct answer.

A / pple

Wa / ter

Um / brel / la

Mo / tor / bike

Hip / po / pot / a / mus


Why do we learn syllables first instead of phonics?

Phonics requires the child to remember the sound of the letter which takes time and effort. It is a process from the sound of one letter to putting them together with other letters and eventually completing the word. From personal experience, it was not the easiest thing to pick up even for adults.


However with the number of syllables, it has been broken down easily and there is no memorising or learning the sound of any letters. Purely reading the word and it becomes a lot easier for children. We naturally do this when we are trying to teach a child to speak! We verbalise the word and get the child to repeat after us. In reading, the word is there and the child needs to connect the pronunciation to the word itself.


This method is easy and requires no special equipment. Paper and pen or marker is all you need. Give it a try and use it as an opportunity to keep your child engaged in learning through play!


Which age group is this suitable for?

Syllables segmenting is suitable for children approximately four years old at the beginning. That is the age group whereby children are able to verbalise words and will eventually start to recognise words and read independently. However, my above examples of syllable cards did not include any words and used authentic images instead as four years old are unable to read complex words but are able to recognise items or things in pictures. Using photos to help them recall the word or learn new words verbally keep it relatable at the age of four.


In the near future, images can be altered into words and the same method can be used to teach a child how to read. For example, hippopotamus can be broken down with lines to form hip/po/pot/a/mus or hip po pot a mas to help children see the number of syllables in the word. This syllables segmentation method will no longer be a stranger to the child. In fact, I recall my dad’s friend teaching me to read words by underlining to mark out the syllables and it worked wonders! I just did not know that it was syllables segmenting back then.

In other ways, if you are looking to help your child in Primary school to read, this method is highly recommended as well. I pride myself as the living proof of this when I was introduced to this at the age of 12. It was my PSLE year and my family did not speak English. I went for tuition only at 12 years old for PSLE and I was an average student. However, when my dad’s friend taught me to read words using this method, I remembered picking up words quickly. Of course I went without the clapping at each syllable but it did not change its effect.


This method is easy and requires no special equipment. Paper and pen or marker is all you need. It keeps your preschool child engaged and excited to be clapping while increasing your Primary school child’s ability to read. Leave me a message on IG or facebook after trying this method! I would love to hear your experience on it.


About the Author

Joan Toh Education blogger

Hey there, I am Joan Toh. An Early Childhood Practitioner and Writer. In the day, I work with a childcare centre as a Trainee Teacher as I complete my teaching diploma. At night, I do sports and keep an active lifestyle. I truly believe that parents and educators are the best role model for children.


I've been in the Education industry for more than 10 years with children across a wide range of age group (6 months to 16 years). I have been a private tutor, right brain enrichment instructor, math enrichment teacher, and now, an upcoming preschool teacher.


Over the years, I saw the shift in parenting style and realised how much parents will benefit when I share my educational tips with them. Hence, I've decided to start writing. In here, you will get a range of topics and personal experiences which will help you in all areas of development of your child - physical, cognitive, and socio-emotional. For more info, check out my website here.




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