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Tips for Teaching Phonics and Word Study

Phonics and Word Study

Phonics and word study are one of the five key areas of reading instruction; they are essential components that lay a solid foundation to read and spell successfully. There are four basic elements when teaching phonics and word study:

  • Letter-sound knowledge,
  • Regular word reading,
  • Irregular word reading and
  • Decodable text reading.

Letter-Sound Knowledge

Letter-sound knowledge refers to the understanding that letters and groups of letters in a word are associated with distinct sounds. Before reading a word, a child must blend the individual sounds of each letter together. Therefore, it is imperative that a child initially learn each letter’s most common sound. The table at the end of this post provides the most common spellings of forty-four sounds and a key word to assist in pronunciation.

It is not recommended to teach letter sounds in alphabetic order but rather in clusters that can form numerous words. For example, the letters, /m/, /n/, /a/ and /t/ can be used to form several words, e.g., am, mat, tan. In addition, it is not recommended to initially introduce confusing letter-sound relationships. In particular, avoid teaching the following combinations simultaneously.

  • /b/ , /p/ and /d/
  • /d/ and /q/
  • /p/ and /q/
  • /w/ and /m/
  • /u/ and /n/

While every child’s pace is slightly different, introducing two letter-sound relationships per week is ideal for most children.

Regular Word Reading

After a few weeks of letter-sound instruction, most children are ready for regular word reading. A child who knows the letter-sound association for /m/, /n/, /a/, /t/ , /i/ and /s/ can decode words such as in, man, is and many more. The short /a/ sound should be one of the first taught – it is so common in the English language that learning this sound increases the words a child can read and write twofold. The next step requires a child to blend known sounds together to read a word. A child should silently sound out each sound and then say the whole word quickly.

It is recommended to begin teaching words with the following patterns:

  • Short vowel –consonant (VC), e.g., it, in
  • Consonant – short vowel – consonant (CVC), e.g., sit, tin

As a child progresses, introduce the more complex patterns:

  • CCVC, e.g., shop, stop
  • CVCC, e.g., last, list
  • CCVCC, e.g., truck, trunk
  • CVCe, e.g., bake, rake.

As noted above, a child should begin with the consonant and short vowel sounds. Then introduce blends (two or more consonants that retain their own sound), digraphs (combining two letters to make one sound) and long vowel sounds.

Irregular Word Reading

According to Dr. Moats, approximately 25% of the most common words used in children’s books are phonetically irregular. Irregular words and other very high frequency words are generally taught as whole words; these words are commonly referred to as sight words. It is recommended to teach irregular words that appear often in children’s writings and texts; review these words prior to their encounter in a story. As you introduce new sight words, make sure you review the previously taught words. Finally, use these words in both reading and writing activities. For example, they can write two sight words ten times and then write a sentence using the words. Select books that contain the sight words you are currently reviewing.

Decodable Text Reading

After a child receives instruction in both regular and irregular words, they are ready to apply this knowledge and read a book. Try to select reading material that contains those letter-sound associations as well as sight words that a child has been taught. First, read the book together and then have the child reread the book.

In order of difficultly (one being the easiest), the following recommended books are great decodable books:

  1. Bobby Lynn Maslen, Bob Books (Scholastic)
  2. Martha Weston, Jack and Jill and Big Dog Bill (Random House)
  3. P.D. Eastman, Go Dog. Go! (Random House Beginner Books)
  4. Syd Hoff, Danny and the Dinosaur (Harper Trophy “I Can Read” series)
  5. Cynthia Rylant, Mr. Putter and Tabby books (Harcourt)
  6. Paulette Bourgeois, Franklin books (Scholastic)
  7. Norman Bridwell, Clifford books (Scholastic)
  8. Arnold Lobel, Frog and Toad books (HarperCollins)
  9. Laura Joffe Numeroff, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and other books (HarperCollins)
  10. Peggy Parish, Amelia Bedelia books (HarperCollins)

Once a child learns the four components of phonics and word study, they are well on their way to learning to read.

Forty-four Most Frequent English Sounds

Sound Key Word Sound Key Word
short / i / it / z / zoom
/ t / tip /th/ that
/ p / pig /ch/ chill
/ n / nose /sh/ shop
/ s / see /zh/ sure
short / a / at /hw/ wheel
/ l / lip /ng/ song
/ d / did /oi/ boil
/ f / fly /ou/ house
/ h / him /oo/ soon
/ g / get /oo/ book
short / o / on long /a/ aim
/ k / kit long /e/ ear
/ m / man long /i/ ice
/ r / rat long /o/ oat
/ b / bin /yoo/ use
short / e / elm /th/ the
/ y / yet /ô/ ball
/ j / jar /û/ bird
short / u / us /ä/ car
/ w / wet /a/ alarm
/ v / vet /â/ chair

Source: Vaughn, Linan-Thompson (2004) p. 36 and 37.

References: Vaugh, S & Linan-Thompson, S (2004). Research-Based Methods of Reading Instruction. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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