It's a mistake thinking a lack of phonics instruction is the primary cause of low literacy rates, or that more phonics instruction will solve that problem.
This page describes phonics and its elements, research findings, and suggestions on how it is learned and taught. Topics include: phonemic awareness skills & examples of instruction, example of synthetic or explicit phonics, example of analytic or word analogy phonics, content of phonic's instruction, four cueing systems, and a phonics test for teachers.
Phonics is the relationship between letters and sounds and translating text into oral language.
Allophone is a speech sounds that represent a single Phoneme (the sound of k in kit, and k in skit are allophones for the phoneme k.
Phoneme is a perceptually distinct unit of sound that distinguish one word from another.
Systematic phonics is the teaching of phonics with a specific plan or program. Different from teaching as opportunities are presented as a result of the needs of the children or responsive phonics.
Synthetic phonics also called explicit phonics is where the teacher presents the individual sounds of words and how they blend into word pronunciations.
Analytic phonics is also called word analogy phonics emphasizes larger units of pronunciation. Analytic and synthetic are very different.
Research findings related to phonics
- Systematic phonics instruction gives learners a faster start in reading than responsive phonics or no phonics. National Reading Panel (NRP)
- Phonics instruction for second-grade students and older struggling readers, improved their word recognition skills, but not reading comprehension. National Reading Panel (NRP)
- Analysis of these results conclude the systematic approach was beneficial because it supported teaching more phonics more thoroughly to more children. National Reading Panel (NRP)
- There was no significant differences found between synthetic and analytic. Both were effective. National Reading Panel (NRP)
- Children have difficulty sounding out individual sounds because most sounds are attached to other sounds. Consonants particularly. Reliance on known words as analogies can make the task easier. A as cat. National Reading Panel (NRP)
- In a short length of time (3 years) 75% of students reach an acceptable level of proficiency. National Reading Panel (NRP)
- That additional phonics instruction is much less useful is surprising to some teachers and parents who presume it should be used at all grade levels. National Reading Panel (NRP)
- First graders seem to gain the most from phonics instruction. They do so because their oral language is more advanced than their reading abilities. Therefore, sounding out words is a strategy to instantly recognize words which provides positive feedback as it assists comprehension. National Reading Panel (NRP)
- At higher levels when a student sounds out a word there is a greater chance they will not recognize the word. Therefore, no immediate positive feedback and no assistance to comprehension. National Reading Panel (NRP)
- Phonics only helps when it builds meaning (satisfies curiosity). Therefore, the goal seems to be to teach phonemic awareness and phonics until students can segment and decode words easily. National Reading Panel (NRP)
- For phonemic awareness small group instruction was the most effective. National Reading Panel (NRP)
- For phonics instruction group size did not seem to matter. Not so for struggling students. National Reading Panel (NRP)
- Phonics programs with nonsense words were as effective as phonics program that avoided them. If nonsense syllables are used it seems prudent to tell why they are being used. Likewise for decodable text (text written for condensed phonics practice). National Reading Panel (NRP)
- Decoding practice should be part of a phonics program. Good readers can account for every word and every letter in those words. National Reading Panel (NRP)
- Spelling - spelling words as they sound supports phonemic awareness development and is effective to support phonics' learning. National Reading Panel (NRP)
- Different student dialects create a challenge for teaching phonics. National Reading Panel (NRP)
- National Reading Panel (NRP) claims systematic and explicit phonics instruction is important for comprehension. However, Wilson, Martens, Arya, and Altwerger (20) did not find similar results.
- The NRP claims for improvement of comprehension is based on improved word recognition. There data suggest - in addition to not improving students’ reading and comprehension, that systematic explicit phonics instruction takes students’ focus and concern away from constructing meaning.As a result students that learn words through systematic phonics instruction can come to words that they don’t know, pronounce them, and don’t know they don’t make sense within the context.
- Teaching to a curriculum makes the curriculum, rather than the learners, the center of decision making. It seems more sensible that instruction be based on student’s strengths and needs with teachers drawing on solid and broad knowledge of effective pedagogy. Where teachers pay attention to students’ actual reading and have the authority to change instruction based on what each student is doing. National Reading Panel (NRP)
- Additional analyses have shown that the combined effect of a number of literacy activities appears to be larger than the effect of systematic phonics instruction alone. National Reading Panel (NRP)
- The NRP study focused on systematic phonics. This is different than phonics as decoding - using the sound and look of a word to figure out what it means in context. The issue isn’t that phonics or decoding is important. The issue is how to teach decoding skills.
- Direct instruction in phonics is necessary for certain at-risk-kindergartners, but only if embedded in a print-rich, comprehensive literacy program and delivered in brief, individualized lessons. 10 minutes of systematic phonics instruction each day to those students who need it, may have a high benefit-cost ratio (Wilson, Martens, Arya, and Altwerger p 25).
- A Nation at Risk claimed (with outresearch support) a decline in phonics instruction led to a dramatic drop in the SAT scores of American students. Later refuted by the National Commissions on Excllence in Education 1983.
Phonemic awareness skills & examples of instruction
|Phonemic Awareness skill||Example of instruction|
|Phoneme isolation||Teacher: What sound do you hear first in cat? Student: /k/|
|Auditory discrimination||Teacher: Which of these words doesn't belong: bag, bear, can?
Student: Can doesn't belong—it doesn't begin like bag and bear.
Teacher: What sound is the same in jar, jam, jet?
|Phoneme blending||Teacher: What word is /p/ /i/ /n/?
Student: /p/ /i/ /n/ is pin
|Phoneme segmentation||Teacher: Break this word into its sounds: sock. Student:/s//o//k/
Teacher: How many sounds are in tie?
Student: /t/ /i/ There are two sounds in tie.
|Phoneme deletion||Teacher: Say chin without the /ch/
|Phoneme addition||Teacher: Add a /s/ to the end of duck
Teacher: Add /b/ to the beginning of ring
|Phoneme substitution||Teacher: Change the last sound you hear in pig to /n/
Example of synthetic or explicit phonics
- Teacher teaches children some simple consonant sounds (e.g., /b/, /n/, /p/, /s/).
- Teacher teaches a vowel sound (e.g., the short/a/ — the sound in cat).
- Teacher teaches children how to sound out words, and perhaps nonsense words, using these letter sounds: bab, ban, bap, bas, nab, nan, nap, nas, pab, pan, pap, sab. san, sap, sas
- Teaching continues letter by letter and sound by sound.
Example of analytic or word analogy phonics
- Teacher teaches words (e.g., cat, pig, man, Dad).
- Teacher then shows students how to use this word knowledge to sound out new words (e.g., can, pan, Dan): This word starts like the first sound in cat and it ends like man /an/ ... It is can.
- Teaching continues developing new words and understandings of the sound-symbol relationships based on known words.
Content of phonics instruction
|Content of phonics instruction||Examples|
|Consonants||b, d, f, g, h, k, 1, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z|
|Consonant blends or clusters||bl, br, cl, cr, dr, dw, fl, fr, gl, gr, pi, pr, sc, sk, sl, sm, sn, sp, st, sw, tr, tw, scr, str|
|Consonant digraphs||sh, th, ch, ph, ng, gh|
|Short vowels||cat, bet, fit, dot, but, myth|
|Long vowels||ate, beat, pipe, road, use|
|Vowel digraphs||oo, ew, aw, au, ou, ow, oi, oy|
|R-influenced vowels||ar, er, ir, or|
|Some common spelling patterns and complex rules||Consonant-Vowel-Consonant-Silent E (CVCe), CVC,
CV, CVVC, CVCCe, hard c, hard g
|Silent consonants||kn, wr|
Four Cueing Systems
1. Phonological System:
- Phonology is the study of sounds.
- Phoneme is the smallest unit of sound.
- Grapheme is the written representation of a sound (one or more letters).
2. Syntactic System
- Syntax or grammar is the rules for combining words into sentences
- Morphology is the study of linguistics or word form.
- Morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit in a language (someone—some, one; inside—in, side).
- Free morpheme is a morpheme that is a word
- Bound morpheme is a morpheme that IS NOT a word and must be attached to a free morpheme.
3. Semantic System
- Semantics is a branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning (such as sense, reference, implication and logical forms.
- Formal semantics is word meaning and word relations (lexical and cognitive structure) (Cognitive semantics)
4. Pragmatic System
- Pragmatics Branch of linguistics that deals with the social and cultural aspects of language; (taking turns in a conversation, text organization, pre-supposition and implied meaning).
- Function The purpose for which a language is used.
- Dialect Variations in syntax and word choice due to social class, ethnic or cultural group or geographic region.
- Standard English The form of English used in textbooks and by television newscasters.
- Non-standard English Other forms of English.
A Phonics Test For Teachers
Why a phonics test for teachers?
We know phonics is just one tool to use to identify words so how do we know how to teach it?
The answer may be that a teacher has extensive knowledge of phonics so she or he can diagnose when students need a phonics lesson on the fly and can proved it.
If a teacher is weak in phonics knowledge, then she or he will:
1. Skip it altogether (not good).
2. Teach everything in a phonic’s teacher’s manual (also not good).
Knowledge of phonics enables teachers to make professional decisions on the fly on what, when, and how much to teach.
Check your phonics knowledge with the following test.
Phonics Test for Teachers
1. Underline seven words in this sentence starting with a single consonant sound.
2. Underline the words below that contain consonant blends:
Irish trigger flag clip bland picture blot
3. List two three-letter blends.
4. What is a consonant digraph?
5. The word diphtong contains three consonant digraphs. List them.
6. List six words that might help a child decide how to pronounce words with a "hard" C
7. A "soft" g is in the word: got ghost frog wage
8. After each of these nonsense words, write H if the c is "hard" or S if the c is "soft.
9. "Th" is unvoiced in: them thimble thistle thin they
10. Following are four nonsense words containing various sounds that y often represents. Match them with words that contain the same sounds usually represented by y.
11. The letter x stands for three sounds. Write a word to represent each of the three sounds:
12. The letter q stands for two sounds. Words that contain examples of each of these are:
13. Words ending in s, you may hear either an s or a z sound Write s or z after each word, indicating which sound you hear at the end:
14. There is a silent consonant in each of these words. Circle each silent consonant:
comb wren talk knew listen often
15. Write an L or an S after each of these words, depending on whether the word contains a long or a short vowel sound. Write X if the word contains neither.
16. In the nonsense word dode, the letter o would probably represent the sound that the o represents in:
on out comb hotter brown
17. In the nonsense word oap, the letter o would represent the sound that the o represents in:
rot round fox Rome
18. A vowel digraph is in the word:
slam goat bugle couch funnel
19. A diphthong is... Underline All the diphthongs in these words.
couch boy through oil now known
20. What symbol is used to represent the schwa sound in a dictionary?
21. Underline the vowel in each word below that represents the schwa sound:
balloon eaten ago golden beautify silent button circus consistent modify second
22. Underline all of the following nonsense words that are correctly divided into syllables:
ham/ner de/fort/ly deg/or mec/hor
23. The word polysyllabic contains how many syllables?
24. Write 0 or C after each word to show whether the syllable is open or closed:
25. A grapheme is
26. A phoneme is