BME for phonics

Intrigued? Read on. My last two blogs have featured the role of phonics in reading, alongside grammar and context (where stories are set), as linked clues towards efficient reading for meaning. Phonics remain a valuable component in this three part process, but as children become more familiar with letters and sounds through practice, and as decoding becomes faster and more fluent – a further technique begins to emerge – BME. This stands for beginning, middle, end.

BME is what enables word reading to progress from Key Stage 1 – and beyond as young people eventually master the reading for meaning process fully. Let’s think about how this happens. Every word has a beginning, middle and end, comprised of a pattern of letters and letter groups – mainly ‘consonant – vowel – consonant’ (CVC) when words are phonically regular.

Consider these single-syllable words: cat, hop, sin, chip, push, thick, prank, brush, food, road. Each word starts with a consonant in the form of a single letter, digraph or blend (c, h, s, ch, p, th, pr, br, f). Now look at the middles of these words: all vowels or vowel digraphs (a, o, i, u, oo, oa). Finally, the ends as consonants (t, p, n, sh, ck, nk). We see clearly the CVC pattern.

As phonic learning develops, letters combine into BME groups with more letters – stretch, blink, preach, prowl, thrust, brawl.

Word endings are also added: bus- buses, stretch – stretching, brawl – brawled. So some words become CVC + ending, as a plural or verb form.

Let’s take the BME idea a stage further by looking at the difficult (multi-syllabic) types of words that creep into children’s reading books – contentment, component, empowered, horizon, decision, catapult. Once learners start to read thousands of words quickly and fluently, decoding of letters evolves into chunking.

What happens next with these harder words? The original decoding of ‘cat’ as three letters, should now be chunked as the first syllable of ‘catapult’. The initial decoding of ‘tent’ as four letters – becomes chunked as the second syllable of ‘contentment’. We can see how this ‘chunking’ strategy starts to work as more and more separate letters become read as single chunks of longer words. The examples, ‘catapult’ and ‘contentment’ are just two examples of many multisyllabic words with regular phonic patterns.

This extended BME pattern is not always so phonically regular. Many words with prefixes and suffixes have ‘middles’ that act as their roots. The root middle of ‘disagreeable’ is ‘agree’, with ‘dis’ and ‘able’ as its beginning and end. The root middle of ‘uninteresting’ is ‘interest’, with ‘un’ and ‘ing’ as its beginning and end. So children also learn to chunk a range of prefixes and suffixes and apply these to reading multisyllabic words.

Reading by this stage has progressed a long way from CVC three letter words (hop, sip) – to multisyllabic words with prefixes and suffixes. The full range of phonic patterns, condensed into BME understanding, have played a central role in this development. Children who fail to understand the central role of BME in reading, and therefore find it difficult to progress from initial decoding to fluent chunking – will always be inefficient as readers – their attempts will remain slow and laborious. As a consequence, comprehension will suffer. Such children may switch off because reading is such an effort – and are unlikely to read for pleasure, all of which underlines the importance of BME alongside phonic learning.

So let’s recap on how reading becomes efficient: from single letters as sounds – to grouped letters – to the chunking of multi-syllabic words – and finally to the instant recognition of thousands of whole words: all of which has been brought about by frequent reading of the same words until they become memorised. Reading has become fluent, fast and efficient – with BME as a central set of skills.

Don’t forget about the games – jigsaws, pairs, happy families that you can play with your child – to help with BME (blog 25.3.20: Phonic family fun). More about making reading fun next week. Also, next week, let’s look closely at comprehension. After all, reading words is of no use unless children can understand them – and make meaning from their infinite combinations – as sentences.

Meanwhile all you need to know is out there in my books for parents. Start by finding out WHAT your child learns and HOW. My books will help – Support Your Child with SEND (Book 1) and at successive Key Stages (Books 2 to 4), by Sylvia Edwards, are available from Lulu in printed form, and from Amazon. Visit my website: Parents: Help YOUR child succeed.

Good luck.

« Back to Blog