Phonics is the relationship between the letters (graphemes) of written language and the individual sounds (phonemes) of spoken language. Through phonics instruction, teachers help their students, according to Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read, “…learn and use the alphabetic principle – the understanding that there are systematic and predictable relationships between written letters and spoken sounds…[and] knowing these relationships will help children recognize familiar words accurately and automatically, and “decode” new words” (12).
There are two main approaches to phonics instruction, which target different levels of learners: The Inductive Word Study Approach and The Deductive Word Study Approach.
The Inductive Word Study Approach is inquiry based, and students are required to facilitate their own learning. For example, in the first video that you see below, the teacher has placed a chart on the board with words with a common ending that have been troubling for students in their writing. She then asks her students, “What do you notice that we need to work on in our writing?” and the students must use the chart to decide. Then, the students are asked to develop a rule that the words on the board follow. Finally, the students must find these words in their own writing and correct them. Another form of The Inductive Word Study Approach is to provide students with word sorts without having discussed the rule or proper sorting of the words. In this activity, students must determine how to sort the words themselves. Both of these processes are very student-driven, and are perfect for gifted and talented students who are above-grade-level and need to be challenged. However, students who are below- or at-grade-level and need a systematic approach won’t benefit from the Inductive Approach, but will benefit from the Deductive Approach.
The Deductive Word Study Approach, often completed using the Orton-Gillingham Model, requires explicit teaching that is multisensory and repetitious, so that the students learn a routine and are able to practice these learned skills often, and can be seen in the second video below. According to Put Reading First, “systematic and explicit phonics instruction is particularly beneficial for [students] who are having difficulty learning to read and who are at risk for developing future reading problems” (15). Small groups are pulled based on the students’ needs, so that they’re working on the same skills in the group with the teacher. In the group, the teacher and students review the sounds and key words that were taught the day before; the students view the letter using a sound deck card, say the name of the letter after the teacher, names the key picture, says it’s sound, and then sky-writes the letter. Then, the teacher introduces the new skill, which include new key sounds and words. During this time, the teacher works with students on phonograms, grammar rules, syllabification, spelling rules, and Red Words, which are words that don’t follow the rules and must be learned. After that, the students work on spelling dictation, where they write individual phonetic words as well as sentences. Finally, the students practice decoding words by reading isolated words and using the skills that they’ve been taught in small group. This approach is very systematic and repetitious, but it provides students who are struggling readers and writers with the necessary skills to learn how to decode words.
According to phonics research that has been done, The Deductive Word Study Approach is the most beneficial for students because it requires explicit teaching, as well as repetition and practice. Research also shows that significant amounts of reading and writing are needed in order for students to practice the skills that they’ve learned. Invented spelling should also be encouraged in young students because they are sounding out the words they hear and using those sounds to write a word, which is a very important skill. When we assess students’ ability to use phonics and the alphabetic principle, it is important that we learn what students can do correctly (an independent/easy level), what students use but confuse (an instructional level), and what is absent in students’ spelling (a frustration level). Knowing students’ ability levels helps guide instruction, and provides teachers with a starting point for small group work. All in all, it is important that teachers provide their students with many opportunities to apply what they’re learning about letters and sounds to the reading of words, sentences, and stories so that they’ll understand that all that they’re learning is connected (19).
Providing students with resources around the classroom is especially helpful for those who need reminders when they’re writing or reading. Phonics “games” or resources for children to work with when they’re early finishers are also great to have in classroom. The following (pictures shown below) are some useful tools and extra practice resources to have in the classroom for students:
Letter Combinations Chart: This chart that shows students the different letter combinations that make the same sounds. Students can remind themselves of the sounds that each combination makes by reading the phrase listed. This tool is a good reminder for students who struggle with adding the correct letter combination sounds when writing words.
Word Ring – Make Words: This resource is perfect for students to use if they’ve finished their work early because it allows them to practice making new words by flipping individual cards, which represent beginning, middle, and ending sounds. These word rings can be tailored to each student and to what they’re learning at the time.
Reading Rods: These manipulatives are a great way for students to build words and say the sounds that each letter makes. After building the words using the Reading Rods, students can then write the words in their Word Study Notebook to keep for future reference. Students can also be challenged to write sentences with these words. Reading Rods are a great tool for students to use independently, and they’re also a great tool for teachers to use when working with students in small groups.