Sounds & Syllables: Sample Unit

“When our spelling is perfect, it’s invisible.”  Marilyn vos Savant

Sounds & Syllables Tier 3 | Phase 2 | Unit 3: words beginning with /uh/ spelled <a>

In this post, I want to share a unit from my Sounds & Syllables curriculum, one of the early units from Year 3, which examines the spelling of the schwa at the beginning of words (which is most often spelled <a> in this position). Hopefully, it will provide insight into how Sounds & Syllables works and in particular the resources that come with the programme. You might read to see if Sounds & Syllables is the right spelling programme for your school. Or you might use it simply to steal some good ideas about how to teach spelling.

Before diving in, if you are unfamiliar with the Sounds & Syllables five-step spelling sequence which forms the beating heart of the spelling programme please do so by clicking this link.

The resources in this unit are typical of those in other units, but do not represent the full scope of teaching resources contained with the full programme. Nor do I outline in this post the elements of a typical Sounds & Syllables lesson or the progression through a weekly unit of work. Those might be the topics for future posts.

A downloadable PDF of the sample unit and its resources is available for download at the bottom of the page.

Word Lists

Each Sounds & Syllables spelling unit comes with a set of words that exemplify the spelling pattern to be studied [fig.1]. Words are broken down into syllables (syllable divisions are indicated by the pink syllable lines) and within word spellings (graphemes) are separated. There are more words than you ought to be teaching within single unit, allowing teachers to select the words that best suit their needs: perhaps simpler words for struggling spellers or more challenging words for high flyers? Perhaps certain words fit with the current curriculum topic or writing outcome? The word lists aim to include words that children are more likely encounter during reading and use when writing, but also include words that might suit a range of learners (both those who struggle with spelling and high flyers). Teachers are free to use words that exemplify the learning objective that are not included in the word list should they wish.



Teaching Notes

Each unit also comes with a set of detailed teaching notes [figs.1,2] These notes aim to accomplish three things. The first, and most important is to explain the subject knowledge particular to the unit in question. This subject knowledge might relate to phonology (the organisation of sounds in spoken language) and orthography (the set of conventions of written language), and – where appropriate – morphology (the structure of words and word parts, and the relationship of spelling and meaning) and etymology (the history and origin of words). In this sample unit the subject knowledge is phonological and orthographical in nature. It is phonological in that it explains the schwa (sometimes called the ‘unstressed vowel’) and its relationship to stress within syllables. And it is orthographical as it unpicks thew conventions around spelling the schwa at the start of words (the focus of the unit). Second, the notes provide guidance about using the five-step Sounds & Syllables spelling sequence – our core spelling strategy when spelling any word. There might be guidance on how to pronounce words in a clear spelling voice, on how to break words into syllables and then into sounds & spellings, and on problem areas and misconceptions and how to address them. Third, the notes provide guidance related to the practicalities of teaching particular to the unit.




Teaching Resources

Each unit comes with a set of teaching resources that can be printed and used with children, making Sounds & Syllables a fuss-free spelling solution. There are no ineffective strategies here: no word searches, crosswords, look cover write check sheets, word shapes and other spelling atrocities (see my post The Seven Sins of Spelling for more details of how not to teach spelling). The lesson resources are designed to help children to break down and spell words, and to analyse and understand their structure. They allow children to both investigate word patterns and provide plenty of spelling practice. There are core Sounds & Syllables spelling techniques such as Breakdown & Map Match that are found in almost every unit, but also others that might help with the teaching of specific objectives. To make using Sounds & Syllables as fuss-free as possible, I have populated the resources with selected words from the word list. Should you wish to use other words, there are blank templates that allow you to adapt the resources to your particular needs. Here is a quick overview of the resources included with this unit. Breakdown [fig.4] This is  simple technique which helps children to break down words to understand how they work. And once completed, it allows the teacher to see how children think about words: do they understand how many syllables in a word and where the syllables are divided? Are they isolating the sounds within a word and can they map those sounds onto written spellings? Words from the word list are presented to children with spaces between each letter:

a b o u t

Children say the word aloud in a spelling voice (which you will have taught prior to this activity) and snip the word into its syllables and place syllable lines between the syllable divisions:

a | b o u t

Children then draw sound lines beneath each spelling, saying each sound aloud as they do so.

a | b o u t


Word Map [fig.5] In Word Map, children are presented with a list of target words and their word maps. In Sounds & Syllables a word map consists of the syllable and sound lines that show how the written word is mapped onto sound. For example, the word syllable would be broken down as follows:

s y | ll a | b le

we can remove the spellings and be left with the word map:

_ _ | _ _ | _ _

To complete the each word map, children, say the word in a spelling voice and orally snip it into syllables. They then copy the spellings onto the word map, saying the sound of each spelling as they write. Two additional more challenging word maps (those indicated by a star) are included. These will pose challenges for event he most able spellers, and children particularly enjoy the problem solving naature of trying to figure out these words maps. (A quick tip: mini-whiteboards are useful as it will sometimes take children several attempts to solve these word maps). Some useful discussion can come from solving these word maps: for example, which sound the <o> in among represents (it’s /u/) which spelling represents the /j/ sound in adjacent (it’s <dj>), and which sound <u> represents in aquarium (the first is /w/ and the second is a second schwa).


Map Match [fig.6] Map Match takes Word Map to the next level (and works as a great follow-up activity). Children are presented with ten target words and ten word maps, but with no indication as to which words match which maps. Children have to use their knowledge of syllables and sound-spelling matches to figure out which words can be written onto each map. Once they have found a match between word and map, they complete the map by writing the spelling onto each word line, saying the sound of each spelling in turn as they write.


Mixed Up [fig.7] You will find variations of Mixed Up in many spelling programmes. In it words are presented in a jumbled up fashion and children have write the correct spelling of the word from the given letters. Unfortunately all too often the jumbled letters are presented letter-by-letter. So the word cheese might be jumbled as e h e c e s for spellers to untangle. But this obfuscates the relationship between sound and spelling (and is a red flag that your spelling programme might well be junk). In Mixed Up,  jumbled words are presented grapheme by grapheme, which illuminates the relationship between spelling and sound.. So cheese might be presented as ee se ch. Vowel spellings are coloured pink. This provided useful information as to the number of syllables within the target word, as each syllable contains a single vowel sound. The handout can, of course, be printed in black and white should you not wish to provide children with this additional information. To complete Mixed Up, once children have identified the word they are spelling, children use the Sounds & Syllables spelling sequence to write the word in the box below, saying the word in a clear spelling voice, snipping it into syllables, and writing each spelling in turn as they say the sound it represents. Again, starred items represent more challenging words.


Look, Cover, Spell, Check [figs.8,9] Some teachers seem very attached to Look Cover Write Check even though it is an ineffective spelling strategy. They like that it provides children with independent practice. And we do need children to practice spelling the same words multiple times if we are to ensure they stick in long-term memory. Sounds & Syllables comes with its own much improved version of the format. It has the familiarity of Look Cover Write Check, but has children working in a more effective way. The first side [fig.8] has six columns. Column one lists the target words to be learned, with each word broken down into its sounds and syllables. This is the column against which children check their work. Columns 2 to 5 have children spelling the word with less support as columns progress from left to right. Children complete columns 2 to 5 as follows:

Column 2. Children are presented with a word with each letter spaced out: a b o u t. They say the word aloud in a spelling voice and snip into syllables: a | b o u t. They then draw sound lines as they say the sound that each spelling represents: a | b o u t. They check against column 1, circle misspellings and correct them above.

Column 3. Children are presented with the syllable divisions for the word:      |     . They say the word aloud in a spelling voice and orally snip into syllables. They then spell each syllable in turn,   saying each sound as they spell, ending up with a word spelled on its word map: a | b o u t. They check against column 1, circle misspellings and correct them above.

Column 4: The children are presented with no supporting information. They say the word aloud in a spelling voice and snip into syllables, drawing syllable lines. They then spell each syllable in turn, saying the sounds, drawing sound lines and writing spellings ending up with a word spelled on its word map: a | b o u t. They check against column 1, circle misspellings and correct them above.

Column 5: The children spell the word without drawing syllable or sound lines. They say the word in a spelling voice and say each sound in the word as they spell it, ending up with a written word without any lines: about. They again check against column 1, circle misspellings and correct them above.


On the reverse of the sheet [fig.9], children compose a sentence including the target word. Column 1  lists the words broken down into sounds and syllables. Column 2 provides a brief explanation of the target word and column three provides space in which to compose a sentence.


Paired Spelling [fig.10] This is a simple way to have children practice spellings. Organise children into pairs. One child in the pair has the Paired Spelling sheet, selects a word from the list (words are in approximate order of difficulty) and reads it to their partner (no spelling voice this time). Their partner uses the Sounds & Syllables spelling sequence to break the word down and spell it on a mini whiteboard. Together, they check the spelling. Should one or more spellings be misspelled, the speller circles each and writes the correct spelling above. They then rub out the attempt and have another go. Once the word is spelled correctly (or after three attempts), the children swap roles.


Weekly Spelling Practice [fig.11] This is an effective way method for practising spelling at home (perhaps for a weekly spelling test). It is most effective when the words are read out by another. Cut out the words to create a set of spelling cards. Each day, the cards are shuffled and spellings read out. The child then attempts the spelling, breaking the word down into Sounds & Syllables. If the word is spelled correctly, it is placed on a Yes pile. If not, any incorrect within word spellings are circled and the correct spelling written above. The card is then placed on a No pile. The No pile is shuffled again and only those words are spelled a second time, placing correctly spelled words on the Yes pile and incorrect ones on the No pile. The process is repeated a third and final time. This means that each day, those words causing the most difficulty sre attempted more frequently than those that are not. You might even use more sophisticated version of this approach called The Leitner System.


Download the Unit

Please download the sample unit and try it out with your Year 3 children by clicking on the image below, which will open a PDF of the unit and its resources.

Sample Unit: Tier 3 | Phase 2 | Unit 2

Get in Touch

Should you wish to get in touch to find out more Sounds & Syllables, or book Sounds & Syllables spelling training and receive the complete Sounds & Syllables curriculum for your school, please do so via the contact page on the website. I’d love to hear from you. Click on the image below to open a 2-page PDF outlining the key elements of Sounds & Syllables to share within school.

Sounds & Syllables Flyer

To subscribe to this blog please fill out the form below.

About the Author

Leave a Reply