Why and How to Teach Phonics

The latest report shows only 35% of fourth graders in the United States are proficient in reading.  I have been searching for articles answering this question; Why are so many of our students not reading? Many scientific studies have found that explicit systematic phonics instruction is the most effective way to teach children how to read, and most struggling readers cannot decode words. Some students crack the phonics code very quickly and become capable and confident readers easily.  However, without explicit and systematic phonics instruction many children will end up having reading difficulty.

  • Phonics instruction is teaching students the sounds made by individual letter or letter groups and teaching them to blend separate sounds together to make one word.
  • Explicit phonics instruction is directly teaching children the specific associations between letters and sounds, rather than expecting them to gain this knowledge indirectly or by doing a stack of phonics worksheets.
  • Systematic phonics instruction is beginning with simple letter sounds and moving onto more complex sounds.

Daily phonics instruction is crucial for all students in grades K-2 and for struggling readers in grades 3 and up. Just 5-10 minutes of systematic, explicit phonics instruction each day has proven to increase reading success.

I believe phonics lessons are most effective with small groups of students who are working on similar phonics challenges. Since phonics is very systematic, it’s important to find out which sounds the students are using and confusing. There are many different phonics assessments available, however just by listening to students read aloud you can see which sounds they are having trouble decoding.

Phonics Lessons Sequence:

  1. Introduction: Show students the word chunk and have students read it several times.
  2. Phonemic awareness: Say or show pictures of words and have students thumbs up or down if they hear the word chunk in the word.
  3. Making Words: On white boards, with magnetic letters or letter cards have students create and read more words with the word chunk by adding beginning and ending sounds. Help students understand the meanings of the words they create. Having picture cards is very helpful for primary students and ELL students.
  4. Find the Chunk: Show students some larger words with the word chunk and have them find the chunk and help them decode the word.
  5. Dictation: Have students write words on a paper or white board as you dictate.
  6. Seat Work: NOT WORKSHEETS! Have student write and illustrate their own sentences using the words. Have students play games to practice reading the words. Card games like Memory and Go Fish are great. I have some free board games which you can use with any words.

I believe the best way to increase students reading proficiency is to provide differentiated, explicit and systematic phonics instruction in small groups. Students should also be immersed in a literacy rich environment with many authentic and motivating reading and writing opportunities.

I was looking for an easy-to-use phonics program without worksheets. I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted, so I creating this one. It has helped many, many of my students become successful readers!

Happy Teaching!