Word Detectiveby Joy Allcock

Joy Allcock has spent the last 15 years creating research-based resources that improve the outcomes for children learning to read and write English.

Her Word Detective series is sold throughout the world and is producing some dramatic improvements in reading and writing. Joy believes that the way children are introduced to written English when they first start school, is for some, the biggest obstacle to their success.

The traditional way of teaching English is driven by the alphabet. Students are taught to recognise a letter and associate it with a sound: one letter – one sound. Because there are more than 40 sounds in the English language and only 26 letters, this is not only inaccurate, but is misleading for many students. In the early and most crucial learning days confusion is already setting in, because children are being taught inaccurate information about how written English works.

For example, most phonics programmes teach A, /a/, apple; B, /b/, ball; C, /k/, cat; but what about the A in apron, was, about, water? The letter A in these words does not sound like /a/ as in apple. Similarly children might learn S, /s/, snake; but what about the sounds of the S in sugar or his?

Instruction also has a strong focus on learning to memorise words, which is great for those people who find this easy; but what about people who don’t find it easy to remember the images of words? A predominantly ‘visualising’ approach disadvantages these people. Also, what happens when we come across a word we have never seen before? We have to know how to work words out when we are reading and spelling. How do we do this?

Joy's approach is to use sounds as the starting point for phonics instruction and to link each sound of English to possible ways they can be written. Children come to school already knowing about sounds so teaching moves from what they already know (the spoken word), to what they don’t know (the written word). This approach has proven to be highly successful in

state and private schools, for native English speakers and English language learners.

For example: Children think of all the words they know that start with the /k/ sound. They discover that this one sound can be written in different ways! Kate’s /k/ is a K, Carl’s /k/ is a C and Chris’s /k/ is a CH – and they will find other patterns too! From their first exposure to written English children find out how it really works – that one sound can be written in different ways and that one letter or spelling pattern can be pronounced in different ways (chips, Chris, chef). They are not taught ‘This letter sounds like this, except for all the times when it doesn’t!’

Children need strong sound analysis skills (phonemic awareness skills) to understand how phonics works. Strong phonemic awareness have been shown to accelerate reading and writing performance because they provide a foundation for children to read and write unseen words. They can break down an unseen word into segments and then rebuild it sound by sound when they are reading. The video clip below shows a 6 year old boy using his phonics knowledge and phonemic awareness skills to break down anunknown word into its component sounds and then reconstruct it out loud. He can then associate it with a word he has heard, understand the word and move on. The satisfaction of being able to decipher the unknown text,although reward in itself, converts reading from being a tiresome chore into an enjoyable pastime.

The Word Detective Apps

Word Detective: Sounds like Fun

Objective: To teach the 45-sounds of English & the positioning of the sounds in words.
Special Features: Available in American, Canadian, British, Australian and New Zealand English. Interactive, fun gaming to improve motorskills. Report cards for parents to monitor progress. 4 Different games. Over 200 images to help with vocabulary learning.
Pdf: Sounds like fun guide

Available on platforms

Word Detective: Apostrophes

Objective: To provide a simple 4-step system allowing the user to forever place possesive apostrophes correctly.
Special Features: Free test. Available in American and British English. Interactive with audio and visual examples. Contraction apostrophe examples included.

Available on platforms