When I first started teaching English, I knew nothing about phonics. Like many other teachers in my situation, I did the best I could, selecting the best songs that I could find on YouTube to support teaching individual letter sounds.

What I later learned was that many of the videos on YouTube aren’t all that good for teaching phonics.

It’s got to do with a funky little concept known as schwa. Basically, instead of making a nice ‘ssssssss’ sound for the letter ’s’, the sound becomes ‘suh’. Likewise ‘mmmmm’ becomes ‘muh’ and other letters become ruh, tuh, puh, and so on.

All is fine, until the children start to practice blending the letters together to form words, or segmenting them to phonetically decode a word.

RAT becomes ruh-a-tuh, or a blended ‘ruhatuh’, instead of rat. MAP, becomes muh-a-puh, and so on.

That is, the way students have learned to pronounce the sounds makes it harder for them to sound out the words accurately.

I think the problem, from the content creator’s perspective, is that its harder to make letter sounds without lots of schwa sound as good in the songs.

That’s what one of the popular YouTube channels said about their phonics songs; they were aware of the issue when they created the songs, however, they chose to err on the side of musicality.

I don’t think that’s a good choice (for the students), because phonics is really all about the letter sounds.

If you’re teaching the letter sounds in a way that will make it more difficult for students later on, then I can’t see the point in creating phonics videos. A popular example of this type of video is shown below.

I still cringe each time I hear these songs playing in the language centre, because, as memorable as the song is, its likely going to make learning phonics more difficult for the children.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that some phonics songs can include both the long and short versions of the letter sound.

And so, one minute you will be singing ‘i’ is for igloo, and then the next ‘i’ is for ‘ice’ or i is for ‘island’. This can be confusing for young children. I prefer just to expose them to the short version of the letter sound. They can learn long letter sounds later in early primary English.

Here’s an example from a popular series of phonics videos that illustrates this point.

In conclusion, there are many phonics songs that I would love to use in my classroom, but I don’t, because I want to make learning phonics as simple as possible.

Tomorrow, I want to look at one YouTube channel, that I believe did a much better job with their phonics songs.

Top Tips: If you’re thinking about which series of videos to use to teach letter sounds, check how they handle the vowel sounds to see if they mix short and long sounds. Also check the songs for letters like r, t, m, and p to see how much schwa there is.

Talk with your teaching assistants. If you want to be consistent with the way letter sounds are taught to your students, make sure your TAs aren’t showing the kids videos before the class or during the break that conflict with how you want to teach. Also, make sure where the TAs are tutoring students or working with them in small groups, that they’re forming the letter sounds correctly.