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Using Phonics to Teach Reading

Learning to read is a complicated, multifaceted developmental step that requires letter and sound recognition, social and contextual understanding, some experience of literature and story conventions, and support from the home environment.

Experienced teachers know that when they teach small children to read, learning to recognize the graphic letters of the alphabet is only part of the story. In fact, a far more fundamental part of reading involves beginning to identify the initial sounds of each phoneme and then learning to blend and segment words for reading. In time, children will come to know a whole bank of sight vocabulary words that they can easily identify at first glance. Additionally, teaching children how to sound out words gives them confidence and independence, allowing them to make a fair effort at reading unfamiliar words.

The teaching of phonics improves student speaking and listening skills and aids in writing and spelling, but where it really shines is in helping students acquire essential reading skills.

In simple terms, phonics means letter sounds. Each letter of the alphabet has a graphic representation, a name and a sound. Teachers often explain this to students with an animal analogy, such as a cat looks like a cat but makes a “meow” sound, or a dog looks like a dog but makes a “woof” sound.

For some children, reading becomes a natural habit in a short span of time and they no longer need to sound out individual letters and words, but for others, including students with learning disabilities, phonics can continue to play an important part of their daily reading practice. The National Reading Panel reviewed extensive research on a variety of reading programs and found that “Phonics is an essential ingredient in beginning reading instruction.”

In fact, it’s almost impossible to learn to read without a working knowledge of individual letter sounds and the ability to segment and blend them for decoding.

What Makes an Effective Phonics Practice?

To be most effective, phonics practice should be regular and systematic. It should start early and form the heart of a comprehensive reading program.

To be successful phonics instructors, teachers need to be comfortable with a little theatrics. Many early reading programs combine phrases and actions with each letter sound. Imitating a train for the “ch” sound, pretending to polish eyeglasses for the “h” sound, or hissing like a snake for the “s” sound are some examples.

Enthusiastically sounding out the letters with children will give them the confidence to get involved and try it for themselves. The combination of a little drama along with the phonics instruction makes the learning fun and memorable for little ones.

Teachers should also carefully review phonics pronunciation for themselves; many adults mispronounce common phonemes, especially vowels.

Learning How to Teach Reading Skills

If you would like to be a reading expert with a phonics specialization in your school setting, consider earning a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction: Reading & Literacy. The online program offers a thorough grounding in a variety of different reading techniques and assessment. It teaches educators how to design reading programs that reach all students and includes leadership and administrative training. Graduates are well prepared to apply for school-based reading coordinator positions as early reading experts and even for management positions leading school- or district-wide reading initiatives.

Reading is an essential life skill and an important specialization in a school setting. It is almost impossible for children to be successful and reach their full potential without strong reading skills. Teachers specializing in early reading skills, including phonics, have a real impact on children, the school and the community at large.

Learn more about the LSUS M.Ed. Curriculum and Instruction: Reading & Literacy online program.


PBS Parents: The Importance of Reading

PBS Parents: Phonics Basics

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