Learn about Phonics Instruction

Strategies for Building Your Child's Phonics Skills at Home

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Phonics instruction is a teaching method that teaches the relationship between sounds and the letters we use to represent them. Phonics is a long-standing teaching method that is good for teaching children to decode words. Phonics instruction typically begins by teaching children that sounds are represented by specific letters. Children then learn that combinations of letters are grouped together to make more complex groups of sounds to make words.

Phonics skills are important for children to be able to read fluently. Children who master phonics learn to recognize individual sounds and how to blend them together to read words. Many children with learning disabilities in reading have difficulty with phonics skills. However, they often respond well to phonics instruction.

Some reading research suggests that phonics instruction is an effective strategy to use with reading disorders and can be used along with word recognition strategies. Students with dyslexia are more likely to make gains in reading skills when they receive solid instruction in phonics. As with many types of academic intervention, phonics is most effective when used as early as possible in a child’s school career. Direct instruction with phonics using multisensory strategies has also shown promise in remediating learning disabilities in reading. This type of instruction is typically most effective when delivered individually or within small group instruction in a systematic and intensive program.

Phonics instruction teaches that there are forty-four sounds made by the twenty-six letters of the English language. The goal of phonics instruction is to teach those sound and symbol relationships to enable children to read and write words. It is recommended that instruction:

  • Be systematic, focusing on a few regular sound and spelling patterns and progressing through more complex irregular sounds and spellings.
  • Should include a lot of drill and practice (but this can and should be made enjoyable rather than grueling).
  • Should include immediate feedback from teachers when students need correction to keep them from learning errors.
  • Should include frequent assessment to ensure children are progressing.
  • Should include words at the student’s developmental level.
  • Should use multisensory methods and materials.
  • Should use words students will use in everyday interactions and classroom work and then progress to more unfamiliar or complex material as the child is ready for it.
  • Should include frequent review of previously learned material so children will retain skills.
There are many activities you can do at home to help children develop phonics skills:
  • Play a game with your child where you take turns coming up with words that begin with the same sound. It is helpful to start with consonants. (sat, sing, silly) Spend time on each letter separately.
  • Create flashcards with words that begin with the same sounds. Learn ways to use flashcards.
  • Make your own multisensory materials and have your child write the words you came up with that start with the same sounds.
  • Practice nursery rhymes to develop your child’s awareness of how words can sound the same. Rhyming books are also helpful to teach and reinforce this skill. Read to your child while pointing to the rhyming words. Have your child write the rhyming words using multisensory materials.
  • After your child is comfortable with beginning consonants, practice words with long vowels. Again, spend some time with vowels individually. Have a “long A week” where you and your child watch for long A words in books and in conversation.
  • Work on long and short vowel flashcards.
  • Work on Consonant-Vowel-Consonant flashcards.
As always, keep your practice at home fun and enjoyable. Remember that reading is difficult for a child with learning disabilities, and the more you can do to make it fun, the better. If you find that your child is having difficulty with some of your activities, perhaps she is not ready, and you may want to go back to something she has learned well to increase her confidence. Share any concerns you have with her teacher. Also, be sure to ask your child’s teacher if she has specific suggestions on how you should work with your child. Your child will learn more effectively if what you do at home is consistent with activities he is doing in school.

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