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Explicit & Implicit Phonics Approaches to Literacy

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  • 00:00 Phonics
  • 00:53 Explicit Instruction
  • 2:08 Implicit Instruction
  • 3:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Phonics are a fundamental part of learning to read well. But how should they be taught? In this lesson, we'll examine both explicit and implicit approaches to phonics instruction, including the pros and cons of each and example activities.

Phonics

Lyle is an elementary school teacher. He wants to make sure that all of his students understand language and are able to read successfully, but he's not sure how to do that. He knows that they need to understand that certain patterns appear in language, but how can he teach those patterns? Phonics is the system of relationships between written and spoken language. For example, knowing that 'ph' makes the 'f' sound in English is part of phonics. Phonics is an important part of reading. If Lyle wants his students to be able to read the word 'phonics,' they have to know that the 'ph' at the beginning of the word sounds like an 'f.' But teachers don't always agree on how to teach phonics. To help Lyle plan his instruction, let's look at two different types of phonics instruction: explicit and implicit.

Explicit Instruction

Okay. Lyle gets what phonics is (the understanding of written letters and syllables and how they relate to the sounds of words), but how should he teach it? The teacher across the hall from Lyle believes in explicit phonics instruction, which involves teaching children phonics by clearly explaining the skills they are learning.

Let's say that Lyle wants to teach his students that 'a-consonant-e' makes a long 'a' sound. In explicit instruction, he will teach that 'a-consonant-e' makes a long 'a' sound, and then provide examples like nape, cape, hate, late, and so on. He might even ask students to come up with their own 'a-consonant-e' words that they know. In explicit phonics instruction, teachers start by teaching a rule and then offering examples.

The nice thing about explicit phonics instruction is that it has been shown in many studies to be highly effective. That is, students who are taught using explicit instruction understand phonics very well. On the other hand, there's a danger that it can lead to students viewing reading as a chore instead of a pleasurable activity. Students who are taught via explicit instruction can find it difficult to truly enjoy reading.

Implicit Instruction

The danger that his students might not enjoy reading makes Lyle nervous. He's not sure that he wants to use explicit instruction if it means that his students won't enjoy it, but what else is there? The teacher next door to Lyle believes in implicit phonics instruction, which, she explains, involves teaching children phonics through exposure to language, instead of through teaching explicit rules.

Let's go back to Lyle's lesson. He wants to teach that 'a-consonant-e' makes a long 'a' sound. In implicit phonics instruction, instead of telling his students the rule, he might present them with a long list of 'a-consonant-e' words, and then ask what they notice about the words. He could also read them a book or a poem with lots of 'a-consonant-e' words, and then let them draw their own conclusions.

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