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Using the Phonics Approach to Reading Instruction

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

The phonics approach to reading focuses on the individual sounds made by letters. This lesson will explore the phonics approach to reading instruction and will end with a brief quiz to test what you have learned.

Early Reading

Can you recall the first book you read? If you are like most people, you probably have no idea because little milestones built up to you being able to read a whole book on your own. Most of us begin the process of learning to read within the first few months of life as we begin to make connections between the sounds we hear and people or events.

These early steps lay the foundation for reading. Most of these things occur before we receive any formal education. By the time we reach preschool and kindergarten, everything seems geared toward learning to read and the phonics approach to reading instruction is one of the most popular methods for helping students learn to read.

What is Phonics?

H - A - T

C - A - T

Can you remember sounding out each letter to read simple words like hat and cat? If so, you were taught to read using a phonics approach! Most students spend about two years learning the fundamental phonics methods before moving on to more advanced reading strategies that are grammar- and vocabulary-based.

Phonics focuses on the individual parts, or letters and their sounds, that combine to form the whole word, in other words, the part-to-whole processing of text. Students learn to use decoding, or the process of sounding out words, to begin to read and understand new words. For example, to sound out the word hat, we would begin with the letter H and the sound it makes, move on to A, and finish with T to form the word hat!

Now that we understand what the phonics is, let's look at the different steps involved in learning to read using the phonics approach.

Reading Milestones in the Phonics Approach

Letter Recognition

A, B, C, D, E, F, G…. We all know the familiar tune that we used to learn our ABCs. Letter recognition is an important early step in learning to read. Students begin by learning the letters of the alphabet and then associating the with the corresponding printed letters on the page.

Think back on your earliest classroom. Was yours decorated with giant colorful letters of the alphabet? Maybe next to each letter was an image that exemplified the letter - A is for apple, B is for bat, etc. These alphabet displays and similar activities and tools help students make associations between the name of the letter, what it looks like on paper, and how it sounds, all early milestones in reading.

Alphabet displays help students make associations between letter names and how they look and sound
alphabet display

Another crucial milestone in letter recognition is learning the letters in one's own name. This is another way to give meaning to letters. Names show students how letters can be combined to form a word that has personal meaning to students.

Blending Sounds

Now that students know the letters and the sounds that they make, they can begin to blend letter sounds to form words. Again, a student's name can be a good starting point for this.

Sam is learning to read using the phonics approach. Sam knows his alphabet and knows that his name includes the letters S, A, and M. In fact, he now recognizes his name by sight alone. Sight words are those that the student has memorized solely by the combination of letters. In other words, Sam can spot his name by sight alone, without sounding out the letters.

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