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  • Writer's pictureAnn Sullivan

Starting a new year? Teaching Names? Here are a few tips...

In school, children learn to read, spell and write via a phonics programme that gradually and incrementally introduces them to the alphabetic code in manageable steps. They systematically learn the relationship between the 44 sounds (phonemes) in English and the 175 or so letters and letter combinations (graphemes) that represent them. This takes time, 2-3 years for most children.

At odds with this, one of the first things that teachers and parents want children to do is to learn to read and write their name. Many names are ‘phonically complex’, containing phonemes and graphemes that children don’t learn about until well into their phonics programme, in some cases in the second year of learning.

Look at this fairly typical teaching sequence for phonics. We can see the point at which a selection of names would be actually decodable, in relation to the sounds and graphemes covered in phonics lessons and an understanding of syllables.

With this in mind, how can teachers and parents support children to recognise and write their names? The answer is to highlight the phonics, point out the relationship between the sounds in the child’s name and the graphemes in it and consider it as priming the child for phonics instruction ahead.

As a starting point, it is helpful to ‘phonically code’ the child’s name. That means highlighting the graphemes in the name and actively talking about the sounds that correspond to them. Most children will need to be shown more than once how their name is written by matching graphemes to the sounds within in, so make sure that they are given plenty of opportunities to observe an adult modelling this for them.

When coding names like this, it is helpful to have slightly larger than usual gaps between the graphemes and to bold any graphemes that are made up of more than one letter.

For Pat, Meg and Rav in the table, this is relatively straightforward.

P a t M e g R a v

For Nish, Mitch and Joe, it's a little more complicated as these names contain sounds that are represented by graphemes made up of two or more letters.

N i sh M i tch J oe

Amber, Elroy and Jordan also have to factor in that their names are made up of two syllables and in the case of Jessica and Mohammed, three.

A m - b er E l – r oy J or – d a n

J e – ss i – c a M o - h a - mm e d

When reading their name, encourage the child to point to each grapheme and say the matching sound, blending as they go. When spelling their name, encourage the child to think of the sounds in their name and match a grapheme for each. At first this could be physically building their name by manipulating cards or post-it notes with the graphemes written on, putting them in the correct order and saying the sounds as they do so, as shown below. Notice a couple of things here. Firstly a grapheme is written on each card and some graphemes have more than one letter so all of them go on the one card. Secondly, you can see that there is a line for each sound (and therefore for each grapheme), acting as a visual cue and also highlighting the phoneme to grapheme correspondence.

The child could also copy the graphemes, using guidelines as a scaffold and, with a little instruction in correct letter formation, free-hand. When writing their name, always encourage the child to say the sound at the same time as writing the matching grapheme.

If the name has more than one syllable it is helpful to colour code rather than add a hyphen or slash to indicate separation of syllables (to avoid confusion around the purpose of these visual symbols for the child). Encourage the child to blend sound by sound and syllable by syllable, pointing to the graphemes as they work through the word.

Another way to focus on the sounds and graphemes when reading names is to make a ‘flippie’. The graphemes are printed on a series of cards which are then stacked and stapled together. The child can run their finger across the cards, saying the sound as each grapheme ‘flips up’.

You can download a free template for making flippies from here:

You might also like to read my blog for Phonic Books which explores some of the tricky aspects of names more fully.

Hopefully this has given you a few ideas for weaving phonics into learning names. Have a good start to the new academic year!

A nn

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