So, you're a teacher, studying to be a teacher or are a homeschool educator. How do you feel about phonics and what do you know about it? What does it mean to you and your students and what is required to teach it?
Phonics is an essential building block of the language learning process and is usually taught in the early grades beginning as early as prek-2nd grades. Teaching reading really must include several main ingredients for a successful reader: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, and reading comprehension, but today I want to focus on teaching phonics.
Teaching phonics may seem like an overwhelming task with many avenues. So the purpose of this post is to give a visual and an overall view of the timeline of teaching phonics. As we go, think about your students or child. Who is at each level on the timeline? Do you have a frustrated darling? Maybe they need to move backward on the timeline to build confidence before moving forward? Let's get it put together in our brains!
What is Phonics?
Understanding phonics instruction means understanding children are working toward decoding and putting together phonemes. Phonemes are defined as the smallest unit of sound associated with the written language. Think of letter sounds, but also include combos of letters to make a specific sound. (See the graphic below). Decoding means unlocking the code of language through sounds. Children have to be developmentally ready for this and it can actually occur even earlier than you think!
What is the Order for Learning Phonics?
The first goal of beginning phonics is to know the letter sounds. Homeschool children often begin as early as two learning the letter sounds in various activities or often while their older siblings are learning, which is what is currently happening in my house! My Little Roo learned her letter sounds as a song when she was about two, but my MaK has picked up the sounds as Roo has begun learning to decode the sounds within words. Funny how that works.
So that brings me to the second step in teaching phonics- blending. Blending means to put the sounds together to "sound out" or unlock a word. We often begin with small three letter words which are called CVC words (consonant vowel consonant): bed, pop, big, pig, etc.
There are a lot of activities you can do for teaching CVC words such as word ladders. For word ladders: use letters to build a CVC word. Have the student sound out each sound beginning with the beginning sound (the onset). Then remove the beginning sound and replace it with a different letter, leaving the ending sounds (word family) the same. For example: you might build, "sun", then "fun", then "run".
Children like to move or manipulate objects so we did a lot of this with Roo. She also enjoyed word ladders on the sidewalk with chalk! Once she began decoding more smoothly, we even played movement games with the written words in which she hopped to the word I read.
This is also the time when children need to begin using what are called phonics readers. Most reading programs in schools have these with the program, but if you're homeschooling, you can find these in any bookstore. BOB books are great. We tried the Sonlight series this year and enjoyed the readers that came with the curriculum because they do have extra informational reading on the back about the featured animal in the story. (Just a side note.)
Once a child can read CVC words by decoding, the next step is to move to beginning and ending blend words such as CCVC and CVCC words (such as words beginning in ch, sh, tr and ending in st, rt, etc. )
Most children can begin to read these types of words by the end of kindergarten- first grade.
Next comes vowel digraphs. You remember the rule, when two vowels go walking, one does the talking? This is where it falls. Children decode words with two vowels together in a word that create one phoneme or sound. Likewise, the last part of phonics is to decode words that are consonant digraphs, or two consonants together that create one sound.
Wondering what a child should ideally master and when? You can reference this handy-dandy chart from scholastic.
A Few Cautions
Age may not be such a factor to a child as development would be.
Homeschooler Educators Read Here:
If homeschooling, you have more freedom to work on reading through phonics at your child's own pace. There's a lot be said for just focusing on mainly on learning to read (and number sense) in time for first grade.
Homeschool children usually learn quickly and may even be ahead of schooled children as far as reading levels, so taking time and not pressuring your child to frustration is so important! You want reading to be a wonderful experience for them! It is a journey that lasts for several years! It's okay to go back on the timeline and reinforce to build confidence!
For AMAZING FREE homeschool reading resources, I LOVE "This Reading Mama"!
In classrooms, teachers know about keeping students within their instructional level which means a level before frustration, but give them fluency and confidence building on their independent level. So, don't be afraid to experiment with where your child needs to be.
For my Little Roo, we spent the whole first semester chugging along the timeline of CVC words, but she reached a frustration level with the phonics readers. So, we're doing 10 minutes of read to self time (see the Daily 5) each day from her "I Can Read Bag" of books she can read independently. Afterwards, she reads to me from the bag. I wanted to build confidence and fluency, so I chose to do this. We are then continuing learning word families and decoding CVC words during instruction time.
Classroom Educators Read Here:
Children in a classroom are on more of a time restraint due to standards and have more pressure to preform on grade level. We teachers know all about that, but perhaps this post will help collect and focus thoughts toward the students you have who are missing a level of phonics. Perhaps you'll be directed to revisit a particular skill along the timeline to reinforce what they know, give them the confidence they need to move on and then work up slowly to where they were.