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The Duffy Method

Over many years Dr Duffy developed a unique way of teaching reading and spelling together.

He was able to do this due to his knowledge of several languages, particularly Latin and Greek.

Dr Duffy showed that English is made up of two main streams - Latin and Old English - which run parallel. They never come together and must be taught separately.

As it has been shown that 87% of all syllables in English come from Latin, it is very important to establish an understanding of this stream first.

Thus words such as distribute and establishment are no harder than plan or plane, just longer.

Progress in group sessions can also be rapid, provided there are no more than five in the group and it is homogenous - that is, all are at about the same age and level.

Members take it in turn to read aloud from the Duffy Charts and then write down a selection for spelling.

The teacher is able to see when they all have them correct and only then should move on to the next section.

It is important to go at the pace of the students and to avoid any setbacks.

If this does happen the teacher should shoulder the blame for going too fast and thus avoid loss of confidence in students who have already suffered much from school failure over the years.


Word consciousness

Duffy maintained that word consciousness is the key to the mastery and appreciation of the English language.

When presented in a cognitive manner through his series of 12 charts, students can gain an understanding of the structure of English and develop an ability to identify syllables and then reproduce them.

Duffy stressed the importance of enabling students to gain a firm grasp of each section presented so that setbacks can be avoided as much as possible.

The Duffy Method consists of a programmed learning paradigm moving in small, carefully-graduated steps determined by the student, not the teacher.

It is a linguistic/phonic approach that enables an understanding of English.

It is made up of four main streams.

In addition to the charts which introduce words from these groups, Duffy developed three charts which help to explain and overcome problems associated with changes in pronunciation of some words that have occurred over the centuries.


1) Words Affected by Slurring are introduced in the following three charts:

a) Chart 3 - the elusive "a". The final syllable in words such as animal and secondary are no longer pronounced clearly. Rather, they are slurred by most speakers of English and thus are at times in their spelling.

b) Chart 9 - The Fan Chart. In former times both of the letters in ci in words such as racial were pronounced. Now they are slurred into a sh sound which can lead to the spelling of precious as preshus.

Chart 11 - the Dodging I or Wheel Chart shows how the i in words such as radio and medium is not pronounced in either its short or long form but now sounds more like an e. This can cause difficulties in the spelling of these words.


2) Words affected by similarity in sounds which can cause difficulties where auditory discrimination is not adequately developed.

a) Chart 5 - The Stairway Chart deals primarily with the difference between the suffixes tion and sion. Its novel presentation appeals to students and as pronunciation of vowels is now secure, words such as distribution and revision are read and spelled with ease.


3) Two other charts assist with the spelling of two small groups of words.

a) Chart 6 - The Alice Chart deals with words containing ie or ei.The ie, as in chief and believe, is from Old English whilst the minority of ei words such as deceive are from Latin. Some memory hooks such as Why will no veil fit her (Alice)? drive home the few exceptions from the Alice conventions.

b) Chart 10 - the Sir or Triangle Chart deals with the five ways of spelling the prefix with this sound. For example, all of the circ words are associated with roundness.


4) Chart 9 - The Ough Chart assists with pronunciation of this syllable from Old English written in the French-Latin script centuries ago. Old English is made up of Angle-Saxon, Danish and German words which were very difficult to translate into Latin. Duffy's clever sentence made up of the eight pronunciations enables acces to the reading of words such as cough and through - easy to spell but not to read.


Three important principles when using the Duffy charts:


1) Through use of these charts and examples from Word Streams - Making Sense of English, word attack skills are developed and at the same time an understanding and proficiency in spelling is gained. Gaps in a student's knowledge can be filled in and there is no need to waste time on what is already known. It is important to proceed at the student's pace, not that desired by the teacher, thereby avoiding possible failure.


2) Duffy's important principle of going from the known to the unknown helps the student to discover answers for him/herself, thereby increasing confidence and success. For example, if the au in a word such as August is unknown, the writing of a word which is familiar such as Paul can help the student to work out for him/herself how to pronounce August. The cognitive aspect of this approach is unique and can help to overcome deficiency in visual memory for letters. Many remedial programs fail because they rely on good visual memory.


3) Another important principle is that only reading materials of interest to the student should be used. The jibe among children that "he reads only baby books" bites deeper than "he can't read at all". Adults may prefer magazines or newspapers, secondary students may prefer texts used in class and primary students may prefer material dealing with favourite activities or story books.

Words on road signs, advertisements and television graphics can all be used to reinforce skills gained from the use of Duffy Charts.


This website presented by
educational psychologist
Judith Gleeson
B.A., M.Ed, T.C.
duffy remedial reading



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