Expanding The Use Of Color-Coding

The summer of 2010, I heard from the maker of another reading web site, Chris Bogardus. On his site, developed for late elementary, middle school, and older students, http://sites.google.com/site/colorthevowels/, students can read many classic poems and songs that are completely color-coded. Each different vowel sound is printed in a specific color. He asked me to try out his site, so I borrowed a fifth grade student to work with on a regular basis for several months. We worked directly from my lap top computer. Her eyes lit up the first time she saw the page with the color-coding. She read and discussed the poems enthusiastically, reading far more fluently than her typical classroom performance. For this student, the color-coding made a huge difference.

I decided to incorporate this approach into my own program for beginning readers so that I could test Chris's approach at the first grade level. I had been using color-coding to teach words for years. Now I changed the font in my books to Comic Sans MS (this showed the colors better) and added the color-coding to the sentences and stories in addition to the words. My son Brad helped me tremendously by writing two computer programs, one to apply the colors to specific vowel patterns, and another to change the colors when necessary. At this time I also rearranged the words and pictures in the books to make it possible to play the "robot game" directly from the books. Whenever I introduced a new pattern, I pronounced the separate sounds for each word, and students had to find the matching picture. Next I repeated the process and students had to find the matching word. After that students were able to read the list of words with confidence.

We followed a specific sequence to read the color-coded stories. The students gathered on floor mats with their books. I read the whole story aloud first, followed by an oral question and answer session to how well the students understood the story. Then I reread the story, one sentence at a time. Students followed along in their books, and repeated each sentence after me (echo-reading). Next, we all reread the story in unison. I often varied this step by having some students read one section and others read the next. Finally, the students took turns reading the story to me in small groups, while others worked independently. This way I could monitor their fluency and give individual help as needed. We followed this routine with every story for the whole school year.

That year my principle had given me permission to teach all the basic phonogram patterns and stories from my program for the first three months of school, before starting the regular first grade basal reading curriculum. I had requested this because I wanted students to be able to decode most of the words they read, instead of having to read words that were taught by sight because they hadn't learned the needed phonetic pattern. After teaching students to read short vowel words, I taught one new phonics pattern per day, using my materials. I sent home practice reading sheets and stories daily, and the parents worked faithfully with their children at home. By the time we started in the basal reading program, the students were able to decode almost all of the words typically taught as sight words. This gave the students tremendous confidence; they didn't have to guess at unknown words. I started the year with a typical mixed reading level first grade class. I have never had a class do better in reading! Every student ended the year reading on grade level or above, some more than a year above.
The new color-coded materials that worked so well were uploaded to this web site as the 2011 "Ten Words" Color-Coded Materials. However, see below for information about the even better revised version.

A Different Phonetic System: Phondot

About the time I heard from Chris Bogardus about his color-coded web site, I also heard from Robert Boden, who uses a different approach to teaching words phonetically on his web site at www.phondot.com. He uses a system of letter markings to show the sound of each vowel. Students read lists of words with each vowel sound, as well as stories. A free downloadable program can be used to convert any text to the marked print. Pages can then be printed for the students. The advantage to this method is that materials can be printed in black and white rather than color, saving printing costs, while still providing students the means to consistently apply the correct sound for each vowel pattern. I used these materials with a fourth grade student for whom English was a second language. She enjoyed the work, and was able to apply the correct sound for each word list and read it confidently.


I retired at the end of May, 2011. Since then I have had the privilege to tutor a few students, and as always, I learned as much or more from them about teaching reading as they learned from me. I am grateful to all the students and parents I have worked with throughout the years, since their feedback has been essential while developing this program.

As I tutored these students individually, I discovered that making a few changes to the order in which I introduce the phonograms made learning the letter patterns and sounds a lot more logical and straightforward. Keeping the same color-coding format, I added a few new stories, rearranged the other stories, and revised the sound charts.

These books worked very well when I used them to tutor a rising second grader one summer. She was not at all sure of herself when reading and didn't know many of the phonogram patterns. We worked for an hour every day the whole summer. She was an enthusiastic and willing worker, and her progress was remarkable.

I've added this improved version to the web site under the category January 2014 Revised Materials.

Rethinking Rhyming Words

One of my students was my young grandson who stayed with me during the day while his mother worked. His sister, who was three years old, insisted tearfully that she be included in the lessons, so I let her participate. Reading did not come easily to Carnes, but he worked diligently with me for a long period of time, and his work paid off. Carnes was originally not able to distinguish between the letters or remember their sounds, even using the sound story. For him, I had to revise my easiest level to provide more flexibility during the learning process. I developed the Alphabet Lotto game so that he could match the letters and sound pictures visually even if he could not remember them. I created visual discrimination pages so he could find and circle the letter he had just been introduced to. When going through the alphabet flashcards he had studied, we made a stack of the ones he could remember and the ones he couldn't. Little by little, the stack with the ones he could remember increased, until he knew them all.

When Carnes began trying to decode short vowel words, he persisted in saying each sound separately, even when we practiced sliding two sounds together. For him, I realized I had to focus on putting the first two sounds in a word together smoothly before adding the last letter. As he read the words from his book, I covered up the last letter with my finger to help him focus on the first two letters.

For many years, I had taught short vowel words in rhyming lists, cat, hat, sat, and the students seemed to do well. With that method, students pronounced the first consonant sound (the onset) followed by the vowel and consonant that follows it (the rime). An example is c-at. Now I decided to redesign my short vowel book to create lists that begin with the same letters, for example cat, cap, cab, to see if this would work better. As I worked on this project, I searched on line to see if there is any support for this approach. I discovered information that supported my hunch. Some researchers recommend teaching decoding using the method I had decided to use with Carnes. Students pronounce the word by first sliding the initial consonant and the vowel sound together (the body) and then add the ending consonant (the coda). An example is ca-t. I read that body-coda decoding is indeed easier for students.

One of the reasons I decided to change to cat, cab, can word lists is that it is hard for students to stick a beginning consonant sound to the vowel sound that follows it, especially if the consonant is a "stopped" consonant. A stopped consonant can't be held; it disappears as soon as it is pronounced. Stopped consonants include c, t, p, d, and g. So putting cat, can, and cab together in a word list provides students with the repetition needed to master the pronunciation of this letter combination. It is then relatively easy to add the last consonant sound to the end of the word.

Carnes is now a fluent reader, doing well in school. When his little sister, Kathryn, was not to be left behind. When she started kindergarten, she was reading first and second grade stories fluently.

During visits to North Carolina, I had the opportunity to work with another grandson. I took him my rhyming book, oral blending book, apple alphabet game, alphabet lotto game, and a set of plastic alphabet letters. As I showed my son how to work with my grandson, I realized that I could combine my readiness and learning the alphabet materials into one book, hopefully making it easier for teachers and parents to use it. Back at home, I created the Learning The Alphabet books to pull all the activities together. At the same time, I revised my Beginning And Ending Sounds book by adding oral blending, handwriting, and spelling activities, creating the Advanced Learning The Alphabet books.

                    (This is the end of Background, Philosophy, and Acknowledgements.)

Background, Philosophy, and Acknowledgements - Page 7

Sound City Reading

Go to previous page.
Go to next page.