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CRASH COURSE: Phonics 101

“What exactly is phonics?”

This is a question I got all the time when I was a reading teacher. Believe it or not, a lot of people don’t fully understand what phonics is all about.

Phonics is a method of teaching reading that focuses on the relationship between letters and sounds associated with them. By learning phonics early on, children can recognize and decode words more easily.

Here’s some key facts about phonics to make it less intimidating:

Phonics is not the only way to teach reading

While phonics is an important component of early reading instruction, it is not the only way to teach reading and shouldn’t be taught in isolation. Children also need to develop fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary skills. Therefore, it is important to provide a well-rounded approach to reading instruction.

Phonics instruction should start early

Research has shown that phonics instruction is most effective when it is started early. Children who receive phonics instruction in PreK - Kindergarten are more likely to become avid readers. As students move onto the first grade and are faced with even more challenging site words and academic vocabulary, a strong phonemic awareness will allow them sound out unfamiliar words independently.

Phonics instruction should be explicit and systematic

Systematic and explicit phonics instruction means that children are taught a set of phonics skills in a specific order, starting with the most basic skills and building upon them. It is explicit in that sound-spelling relationships are directly taught. Students are told, for example, that the letter "b" stands for the “bah” sound and “d” stands for the “dah” sound. It is systematic in that it follows a scope and sequence that allows children to form and read words in a developmentally appropriate order.

Phonics instruction can be reinforced at home

Parents and caregivers can help reinforce phonics instruction at home by reading with their children, pointing out letter-sound relationships, and playing simple phonics games. An easy game I always play with my children is I SPY (Phonics Style). Instead of saying, “I spy with my little eye….something yellow,” I would say “I spy with my little eye… something that makes the /s/ (insert hissing noise) sound.” Your child would then proceed to look around and find something that starts with S, assuming they recognize what letter the hiss (/s/) sound stands for. This version of I SPY is great because you are able to quickly assess what letter sounds they are confident identifying and which ones they still struggle with.

When a teacher references "phonics" or "phonemic awareness," it’s normal to feel unsure of what all that involves, but hopefully this “crash course” for Phonics helps in the future!

Believe in the magic of reading.


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