Have to Teach Phonics? How???


Ask a teacher about teaching phonics and a look of dread washes over them. For many of us--we never learned to teach phonics while in our teacher education programs. For others, it was a literacy coach who brought over "the box" and said teach it. 

What's the big deal?!

Phonics has become the cornerstone for young readers. Phonics instruction has become the most controversial of all areas of reading education over the last ten years. Once the only aspect of reading instruction, it has now become one of five important components of reading education (with phonemic awareness, reading comprehension, vocabulary instruction and fluency building making up the other four areas).  {thinking decoding strategies such as "Lips" and "Stretchy the Snake.} Grab my FREE Decoding Strategies posters here.

The goal of reading is making meaning from text. So, how is phonics related to comprehension?

Phonics instruction plays a vital rule in helping students understand what they are reading. Phonics instruction helps the child to map sounds onto spellings. Decoding words aids in the development and improvement in word recognition. The stronger a student's decoding skills mean they are reading more and have a great word recognition bucket to pull from. In turn, increasing their vocabulary skills and reading fluency.

To learn words by sight, it's critical that students have many opportunities to decode words in a text. The more times a reader encounters a word in a text, the more likely they are to recognize it by sight and to avoid making a reading error.

Reading fluency improves reading comprehension. When students are no longer struggling with decoding words, they can devote their full attention to making meaning from text. As the vocabulary and concept demands increase in a text, students need to be able to devote more and more attention to making meaning from text, and increasingly less attention to decoding. If students have to devote too much time to decoding words, their reading will be slow and labored. This will result in comprehension difficulties.

What order should phonics be taught?

I teach phonics based on the 7 syllable types. I also make a point to teach spelling at the same time. I don't move on to the next skill until students demonstrate mastery in BOTH reading the words fluently and spelling with at least 90% accuracy. 

Start with Closed Syllables--Consonants and a Vowel {CVC} plus at least 50 sight words
Still working with Closed Syllables--add digraphs and continuing to add sight words
After digraphs move to Doubles, then Consonant Blends, and ng and nk patterns

As students master 3 letters move them on to other Closed Syllable Patterns: CCVC, CVCC, CCVCC, and don't forget about compound and multi-syllable closed {sunset or napkin}

Once students have mastered Closed Syllables move on to Vowel Consonant Silent E.  Work through this syllable type on vowel at a time--make sure students have masted one before moving on to the next. Make sure to work through mixing the vowels up before moving onto multi-syllables {fireman or pothole}

Then moving into Open Syllables such as flu, my, sky

Vowel Teams, I find are the tricky ones. I brake them into small pieces and teach like sounds together and then mix them together as students master the pairs. 

R-Controlled and Diphthongs, I teach the same way I do Vowel Teams--in very small chunks.

The last syllable type of C+le, I don't always get to (since I only have them for a couple of years), I start small with words they know and grow their list from there.

I teach phonics much like to teach guided reading. I do, we do, and you do. 

What about my students who struggle with reading? What can I do?

For students who struggle with decoding, often too much is taught too fast. Work at a pace that allows students to achieve mastery. Remember, the goal is teaching to mastery rather than just exposure. And provide loads of decodable text reading practice. Students can never get enough opportunities reading easy texts that contain many words with newly taught sound-spellings. Repeated readings of these texts will also be helpful.

Other things I do to help students achieve mastery is playing games. I provide students with syllable specific word games. Check these out. My students beg for more time to play and they are designed to be extra practice and can easily be added to literacy centers for students to play on their own!!  You can find them in Teachers pay Teachers Store.

Chat Soon,


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Welcome to my all thing special education blog. I empower busy elementary special education teachers to use best practice strategies to achieve a data and evidence driven classroom community by sharing easy to use, engaging, unique approaches to small group reading and math. Thanks for Hopping By.
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