Phonics teaches students the systematic and predictable relationships between the letters (graphemes) of written language and the individual sounds (phonemes) of spoken language. Students learn how to apply these relationships to read and write words.
Systematic, explicit phonics instruction includes the direct teaching of a set of letter-sound relationships, which include both consonants and vowels, in a clearly defined sequence (Reading First, 2001).
According to Reading First legislation, effective phonics instruction...
Explicitly and systematically instructs students in how to relate letters and sounds, how to break spoken words into sounds, and how to blend sounds to form words
Helps students understand why they are learning the relationships between letters and sounds
Helps students apply their knowledge of phonics as they read words, sentences, and text
Helps students apply what they learn about sounds and letters to their own writing
Can be adapted to the needs of individual students, based on assessment
Includes alphabetic knowledge, phonemic awareness, vocabulary development, and the reading of text, as well as systematic phonics instruction
"That direct instruction in alphabet coding facilitates early reading acquisition is one of the most well-established conclusions in all of behavioral science" (Stanovich, 1993). Phonics is a key that opens the door to reading success. Virtually all students will benefit from explicit phonics instruction, assuming it is done well.
Phonics affects reading comprehension through its influence on word reading. When students are able to read words rapidly and accurately, their cognitive resources are freed to focus on the meaning of the text. For this reason, the ability to decode nonsense words in the first grade is a good predictor of future reading comprehension. According to the Connecticut Longitudinal Study (Foorman et al., 1997), the ability to decode words in first grade shows a high correlation with reading comprehension.
Systematic, explicit phonics instruction teaches students a carefully sequenced set of sound spellings, progressing from easier to more complex phonics skills in a direct manner. Through explanation, modeling, guided practice, and ample opportunities to apply developing skills to reading and writing, a strong foundation for successful reading is built.
Incidental, implicit phonics is characterized by inferring sound spellings from reading whole words, then breaking down the words into phonic elements. Sound spellings are taught as they are encountered in text as opposed to in a specific sequence.
Research has shown that systematic, explicit phonics instruction results in better growth in children's ability to comprehend what they read than non-systematic or no phonics instruction (Report of the National Reading Panel, 2000). Although many students (approximately 50%) will learn to read despite the instructional method employed, the other half who struggle will require systematic, explicit phonics instruction if they are to become successful readers.
"Programs including systematic instruction on letter-to-sound correspondences lead to higher achievement in both word recognition and spelling, at least in the early grades and especially for slower or economically disadvantaged students" (Adams, 1990).
Effective phonics instruction includes teaching a clear progression of skills to mastery before moving on to more complex skills. Most core reading programs have their own scope and sequence of phonics skills, based on general guidelines. F
If you are searching for a scope and sequence of phonics skills, the guidelines below will help you determine the best approach and sequence for introducing phonics skills to students.
Introduce high-frequency-sound spellings first. It makes sense to teach the sound spellings frequently found in text first, so students will have ample opportunity to practice using this information to read. Save lower utility sound spellings for later in the sequence.
Introduce a few short vowels early in sequence. By introducing a few short vowels early on, students will be able to apply their newly learned sound spellings right away to read simple, vowel-consonant or consonant-vowel-consonant words.
Introduce letter sounds that relate to letter names first. For example, the letter name "t" begins with the /t/ sound, so it will be easier for students to learn this sound spelling. Letters sounds that do not relate to letter names should be taught later in the sequence. For example, the /h/ sound is not in the letter name "h."
Separate letters and sounds that look or sound similar. Letters that cause visual confusion, such as b-d, c-o, n-u, v-w, should be taught separately. Separate easily confusable sounds, such as /p/ and /b/, /f/ and /v/, /d/ and /t/. For some sounds, the shape of the mouth and the placement of the tongue, cheeks and teeth may be exactly the same. The only difference may be that the sound is voiced or unvoiced. It is important to introduce these sound spellings separately and explicitly discuss these similarities and differences with students.
Provide ample practice time and explicit instruction for blending sounds. For early readers, blending sounds together to form words can be a challenge. Students may not understand what an adult means when he or she says, ̉sound it out." Provide modeling and guided practice until students become proficient at blending. Different blending techniques include sound-by-sound blending (/f/, /a/, /fa/, /n/, /fan/), vowel first blending (/a/, /f/, /fa/, /n/, /fan/), and whole word blending (/ffff/aaaa/nnnn/, /fan/).
Follow a logical scope and sequence of skills that progress from easier to more complex sound spellings. Teach easier sound spellings to mastery before moving on to more difficult sound spellings. Start with words that have two or three phonemes and have sound/symbol relationships are common, and move to words with four or five phonemes. Some sounds are continuous, such as /s/, /m/, /f/, /a/, while others stop after one puff of air, such as /b/, /k/, /t/, /p/. It is easier for students to blend words when they begin with a continuous sound. For example, mat, fat, and sat are easier to blend than bat, cat, and pat.
As students are prepared for more complex sound-spelling patterns, instruction should advance to include digraphs, vowel-consonant-e words, vowel digraphs, inflected endings, r-influenced vowels, varient vowels, vowel dipthongs, and multisyllabic words.
Develop a clear and systematic approach to assessing each student's phonics skills.
Effective teachers administer pre- and post-assessments regularly and make instructional and grouping decisions based on students' mastery of key phonics skills. Creative staffing may be used to maximize the amount of individual and small group phonics instruction that students receive.
Make the connection between phonics and reading/writing explicit. Students need ample opportunities to practice applying newly learned sound-spelling relationships to reading and writing. Effective teachers coach students as they read decodable text. Dictation is an effective method for applying phonics skills to writing. Early on, students may need sound-by-sound dictation. As students progress, whole word dictation may be more appropriate.
Students enter first grade with varying amounts of skills and knowledge of sound/symbol relationships. Along the continuum of phonics skills, students may fall anywhere from mastering none of the sound/symbol relationships to mastering most of them. There may even be some students who have already learned to decode texts and do not require phonics instruction. How do you identify students' instructional needs?
Assessment The first step is gathering data by administering a screening or benchmark assessment. For example, DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Early Literacy Skills) assessments are standardized, individually administered, reliable, and valid measures of early literacy development. DIBELS recommends all kindergarten through second-grade students be assessed three times a year in phonics skills. Students not making adequate progress toward phonics benchmarks should be assessed at more frequent intervals and provided with appropriate intervention.
Letter Naming assessments in which students name the letters of the alphabet should be given at the beginning, middle, and end of kindergarten and at the beginning of first grade. According to the National Research Council (Snow et al., 1998) ... "measuring how many letters a kindergartner is able to name when shown letters in a random order appears to be nearly as successful at predicting future reading, as is an entire readiness test."
Nonsense Word Fluency is assessed to ensure that students are actually decoding the letter-sound relationships and not using their sight-word memory to read the words. When assessing students on nonsense word fluency, be sure to tell the students that they are reading "make believe" words as opposed to real words to eliminate confusion. Assessing the speed and accuracy with which students read nonsense words demonstrates their automaticity with phonics; when students can read words rapidly and accurately, cognitive resources are freed to focus on the meaning of the text.
Nonsense Word Fluency assessments should be given in the middle and end of kindergarten; at the beginning, middle, and end of first grade; and at the beginning of second grade. The DIBELS benchmarks indicate that by the middle of first grade, established readers should be correctly reading more than 50 letter sounds per minute.
Analysis and Intervention After you administer the assessments, you can analyze the results to determine how to differentiate instruction based on students' needs. Below are some examples of assessment results and analysis for instruction.
If a student reads the word "faj" as "/fa/, /j/" or "/f/, /aj/" and also demonstrates this pattern of incomplete blending with other words, then instruction in phonemic awareness skills such as blending phonemes would be appropriate.
If a student reads the word "pib" as "pob," and also demonstrates this pattern with other words during reading instruction, it would be appropriate to work on individual short vowel sounds and CVC words until mastery, and then begin instruction in CVCC words beginning with a continuous sound.
If a student can decode the nonsense word "pib" but cannot decode the word "shop," instruction should focus on CVCC words beginning with a stop sound and ending with a consonant blend, and then move to CCVC words with continuous sounds as consonant blends.
To practice using the progression of word difficulty, sequence the words in these lists in order of difficulty.
| step |
| bat |
| strap |
The teacher assesses students prior to the lesson and places students in groups according to their instructional needs.
Purpose—The teacher clearly articulates the purpose of the lesson and what students are supposed to learn from it.
Warm-up—The lesson includes a phonemic awareness warm-up activity and a review of previously taught sound spellings.
Modeling—The teacher explains and models new sound-spelling relationships in an explicit, fun, and engaging manner.
Students receive coaching and feedback while practicing phonics skills. Practice activities may include word building, word study, reading decodable text, and dictation.
Manipulatives, such as letter cards, magnetic letters, sorting mats, decodable text, games, and so on, are easily accessible to students.
The teacher adapts instructional methods, strategies, and materials to meet the needs of individual students.
The teacher honors students' attempts and provides positive feedback.
Application—The phonics skills are applied to text that is wholly decodable.
Dictation and Spelling—Activities allow students to make the sound/spelling connection by using their skills in reading and in writing.
Assessment—An assessment is given to determine whether or not students mastered the focus skill. Instructional and grouping decisions for the next lesson are made based on this information.
Follow-up—Students not working with an adult are engaged in meaningful follow-up work or learning at literacy centers.
Along with phonics instruction, young children should be solidifying their knowledge of the alphabet, engaging in phonemic-awareness activities, and listening to stories and informational texts read aloud to them. They also should be reading texts (both out loud and silently) and writing letters, words, messages, and stories (Put Reading First, 2001). Focus on students' metacognition as they practice phonics skills by asking them to explain what they are doing and how these skills relate to reading and writing. For example, ask students questions such as, "Does that make sense to you?" "What surprised you about this story?" "Did you understand what happened?" or "Is there anything that confused you in that paragraph?" This will help them focus on finding meaning in the texts they are reading.
Phonics instruction is most effective when it begins in kindergarten or first grade. Approximately two years of phonics instruction is sufficient for most students. If students begin phonics instruction early in kindergarten, they should learn most necessary sound spellings by the end of first grade. If students begin phonics instruction early in first grade, they should learn most necessary sound spellings by the end of second grade (National Reading Panel, 2000).
Phonics instruction should occur as a regular part of the literacy block in the early grades. However, sound spellings that are explicitly taught during this time can be reinforced in other content areas.
Reading: Sound-spelling relationships are taught systematically and explicitly during the literacy block. Students have ample opportunities to apply newly learned sound spellings to reading through the use of decodable text.
Writing: Students apply newly learned phonics patterns to their spelling during dictation, journal writing, and process writing.
Math: When learning about patterns, students can hunt through text to identify words that follow a previously learned phonics pattern. For example, students search for consonant-vowel-consonant words in newspaper headlines or magazines. They circle consonants with a blue crayon and underline vowels with a red crayon. If a word follows a blue-red-blue (consonant-vowel-consonant) pattern, the student highlights the word and writes it their word study notebook. As more complex phonics patterns are mastered, students can repeat the procedure and compare patterns.
Social Studies: During the literacy block, students learn that the letters "er" make the /er/ sound. As they read (or listen to) text related to a social studies unit on families, they make a list of words ending in "er", such as mother, father, sister, brother, grandfather, grandmother, and so forth. The students write sentences describing their own families using the word wall words. Afterwards, they underline all of the words that have the "er" ending in their sentences and read the sentences aloud to a partner.
Science: During the literacy block, students have been studying consonant blends. As they read (or listen to) a text related to a science unit on insects, they hunt for and circle blends in the names of insects (e.g., fly, slug, snail, bumble bee, wasp). The class then displays the names of the insects with the blends circled on a science word wall for future reference. The students write a descriptive paragraph about the insects using the word wall words. They swap paragraphs with a partner, who circles all of the blends used in the paragraph.
Spelling Multiple Syllable Words: The purpose of this lesson is to provide upper grade students with a systematic approach to spelling multiple syllable words.