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Simply put, phonics instruction is teaching someone the relationship between the speech sounds (phonemes) in our spoken language and how they relate to the letter or letters (graphemes) of the alphabet. Technically speaking, this is considered to be graphophonemic awareness.

For example, in a phonics lesson, you may see a teacher showing the students the letter ‘a’ and telling the students “’a’ says /a/ for apple.” They are trying to show the relationship between the letter ‘a’ and the short vowel sound it makes. They will then likely give other examples of words that have this short vowel sound in it and ask the students if they can think up of any other words containing the sound like a cat, fan, has, nap…

The goal of phonics instruction is to give people the skills they need in order to sound out words for reading (decoding) and spelling (encoding).

Phonics instruction is an essential part of reading instruction because it is when beginning readers learn the relationship between the sounds of the spoken language with the letters they relate to in written language.

Phonics gives readers the tools they need to sound out a word they do not know when they are reading.  This is especially important when the reader starts reading more difficult texts without pictures because they will begin to come across words they are not familiar with on a regular basis. 

Phonics is actually considered to be one of the foundational pillars in the Science of Reading. This means that when we consider all the research done on reading instruction and how the brain learns how to read, research tells us that in order for an individual to become a confident and skilled reader, they have to have a firm knowledge of the relationship between the individual speech sounds within the English language and how they are represented by letters.

1.  All phonics programs are not created equally.

There are countless English phonics programs available but unfortunately, you cannot just pick any program and expect to have great results. There are different approaches to teaching phonics and some are more effective than others.

2. The problem with the English language is that our alphabet has 26 letters, our spoken language has about 44 different speech sounds and these speech sounds can be represented by more than 200 different ways.

Written English is complex, there are only a handful of letters that only represent one sound and there are several letters and letter combinations that can represent many different speech sounds.

3. Phonics instruction should not just go through the letters in alphabetical order, teaching the most common speech sound for each letter.

Phonics programs that start with the letter A and end with the letter Z are typically referred to as analytic phonics programs. These programs typically only teach a surface level of the letter/sound relationships in the English language.

When you teach phonics this way, you have to teach several letters before the beginning reader can sound out a number of words that they use in their everyday language.

4. The gold star for phonics programs involve systematic, explicit instruction of the letter/sound relationships in the English language.

These programs start by teaching the most common letter-sound relationships that will allow the beginning reader to read several words found in their vocabulary that they will likely come across in their reading. These programs focus on more than just the sounds related to single letters, they also teach about blends and digraphs.

5. When you are teaching students phonics you MUST work on spelling and reading at the same time.

Reading and spelling are related skills. They support each other and help cement the relationship between the letters and their speech sounds. This allows the individual to practice blending the sounds together when they are reading a word and separating the sounds apart when they are trying to spell words.

Be sure to check out more information about morphemes on our Facebook, InstagramPinterest, and Twitter pages.

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