Friday, March 18, 2016

Phonics Investigation Challenge #1: Voiced and Unvoiced

Welcome to the very first Phonics Investigation Challenge!  If you explore this concept with your kiddos, be sure to comment below and share what you've found.  Next week I'll add a shout-out to those who participated!  (Feel free to use the family name, initials or some other abbreviation for your kiddos for the sake of Internet privacy if you prefer.)

Note: If you learn better by watching and listening, you can Katch the Periscope broadcast here.

One of the things our family has enjoyed recently has been exploring and investigating our English language, pronunciation and phonics.  We've discovered that of all the sounds we make in order to speak English, they can be divided into "voiced" sounds and "unvoiced" sounds.  Have you ever played a kazoo?  (If not, you can click here for instructions on how to make your own kazoo with just a comb and a piece of wax paper!)  If you simply blow on a kazoo, you hear only the sound of air passing through your lips and the instrument.  But if you add a humming sound, you will vibrate the material of the kazoo (like the wax paper) and make a buzzing sound.

The same idea happens with the sounds of the alphabet.  Sounds are partly determined by how you shape your mouth and lips and where you place your tongue with relationship to your teeth and lips.  But sounds are also determined by whether you simply blow air through your mouth or whether you also make a humming or buzzing sound along with blowing air.

To try this out, put your hand on your vocal chords (the front of your neck) and say the word "think".  Stretch out the "th" sound at the beginning of the word.  Do you feel your vocal chords vibrating?  If you aren't sure, try this comparison.  Now say the word "this" and again stretch out the "th" sound.  Can you feel the difference?  For both pronunciations of "th" your mouth, lips, teeth and tongue are in the same position.  The only difference in the sound is the vibration of the vocal chords!

Pretty cool, huh?  Want to investigate more?  Here are some challenges for you this week:

  1. When you read, keep an eye out for the "th" sounds.  Which one do you hear more often - the voiced or the unvoiced "th"?
  2. There are several other pairs of sounds just like this: your mouth, lips, teeth and tongue stay in the same position and only the presence or absence of the "buzzing" of the vocal chords makes the difference between sounds.  Some of these pairs can be found among the basic sounds of letters of the alphabet, so start there.  But there are some more complicated versions as well!
  3. As you experiment with the sounds of the letters of the alphabet, you may notice that there is one type of letter that is always voiced.  Can you discover what that category might be?
Happy exploring, guys!  And please share your discoveries in the comments below!  We can wait to see what you find!

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