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Systematic Phonics Instruction (Researched Strategies that WORK!)

Let's get down to the basics and what the research reveals about how to approach teaching a beginning reader to read. It's pretty simple, yet it is a daunting task. Phonics is the foundation that should not be skipped because research reveals that systematic phonics instruction is effective for beginning readers but also to prevent and fix issues readers can and do face. If you want to check out all the places where I've gathered this information be sure to look through each of the products, books, activities, and websites I've provided below.

Research Based Strategies:

  • Teach short-vowel sounds and initial consonant sounds first, as in bat, bet, but, bit, bot. The initial consonant in all these words are the same: /b/. The vowel that follows are all short. Focus on one at a time. One week introduce the short vowel sound for a, once that is mastered move on to e, etc. Then begin introducing the consonant sounds. This takes time, don't rush it. Move at the pace of your learner and have fun! We play match the cards (BIG A, little a) (apple, Aa). We play with magnets on the fridge. We read lots and lots of books that repeat the sound we're learning often. The Phonics Pathways book (pictured under the Book Resource section of this post) has a bug game we play and "My Phonics Flashcards" pictured under the activity resources portion of this post comes with fun games to play as well. We run through the alphabet with an action to match the sound we're learning (see my LIVE Phonics lesson on Facebook to see how we do this). Integrate literature and fun into their phonics education making learning memorable and introducing books as a valuable use of their time. The research reveals time and time again that the teacher who confidently and creatively approaches phonics education sees more success than the teacher who makes excuses or considers reading a time to sit and listen. Reading is an active process, make it that way from the beginning!

  • Time-on-task doesn't need to be hours upon hours per day. In fact, that isn't as effective as a twenty to thirty minute lesson. Be short, sweet, creative, and super intentional.

  • Materials to have on hand are pictures or items that help a reader hear the sound. For example, this week we are working on the letter Hh so I filled a box with things she is familiar with: hat, (daddy's) hot sauce, she has a little elephant she's named Hesa (don't ask me where that came from), horse, heart, hammer. We talk about a helicopter, our hand, our house, etc. You want them to not just to hear the sound, but also correlate the sound with the symbol. This activity isn't just about correlating the letter with the sound, but about providing an experience that allows your little reader to discuss it with you and repeat it often! More about the letter h: it's super fun because it encourages little people to breath out loud loudly. H is a push of air. DO NOT add a vowel sound hu, ha, hi, until you've learned the short vowel sounds. Then you're introducing multiple sounds and teaching them that the letter h makes the /hu/ sound instead of a simple /h/. Emphasize that /h/ like this:

After that squirrel moment, Materials Continued: Have books, rhymes, songs (I create YouTube files with videos and songs from ABCMouse, Storybots, Sesame Street, Olive and the Rhyme Rescue Crew - and yes, I have all the favorites memorized - that I allow them to watch multiple times each week. It's a big success! Plus I hear her singing the songs throughout her play time. Yay!), basically whatever literature you can get your hands on so that your reader correlates phonics lessons to reading books. I use ABC books often. Here is a list of some of our favorites: Other materials you need at your disposal:

  • Magnetic Letters to manipulate (putting the upper-case with the lower case, placing them in the right order a, b, c, d, e, f, g, etc.)

  • Display the alphabet so students can see how the letters are formed.

  • Personal handmade alphabet book (I wrote more about that here.)

  • BIG LETTER, little letter match the cards game (which you can easily make)

  • Picture to letter match the cards game (Which I'll make available to you for FREE by contacting me over email at expressing your interest in this product and what was most helpful about this post. I recommend copying it on card-stock paper or gluing them onto construction paper so the picture does not bleed through.)

  • We use the amazing apps called "Teach Your Monster to Read" by Usborne and "Khan Kids"

All of this is applicable to the hard sounds and soft sounds of letters as well. Like the hard g sound as in green, go, and gobble. And the soft g sound as in giraffe, giant, and gymnastics.

All of this is applicable to the blends such as th, sh and ch. No matter what combination of letters you're working with it is always possible to find a book to help solidify that sound in a child's mind and then understand that letters make words that make sentences that make paragraphs.

There is a lot more to phonics such as teaching space between words, the different print with g's, Ll's and Ii's, a's, relationships between the words on the page and the pictures, syllabication, etc. If you find this overwhelming or your child is just not getting it and they're past the 2nd grade, please contact me. I can help! There is a direct correlation of a student's success to the early diagnosis and correction of a struggling reader. The earlier we can catch and correct, the better. I seriously cannot emphasize that enough. The research backs up my personal experience: I taught in a junior high reading classroom for five years as well as a remedial high school reading course. By that time over half of my 7th graders came to me reading at or below a 4th grade reading level! The majority of these students spent six years struggling and many of their gaps were in basic word identification skills. The research reveals that catching those gaps in the 1st and 2nd grade produces the biggest impact. If you're in this boat do not wait any longer! You cannot put a price on literacy!


My favorite resources at your disposal!

Activity Resources:

Book Resources:

Website Resource

Journals and articles:

The last article leads me right into the next topic: fluency. Once a reader has mastered the letters and the sounds that they make along with all the combinations and blends, it is time to start putting those skills to use with reading, reading and more reading. While they read it's time to hone in on those skills that make readers great. That's what I'll be cover during the month of November with the following topics:

  1. What is a fluent reader?

  2. 3 Research-Based Fluency Strategies to Implement Now

  3. Moving From Phonics to Fluency (Part 2)

  4. Assessing & Developing a Personalized Fluency Plan

In order to get the full picture and receive FREE tips, tools, and strategies, be sure to sign up for the monthly email or follow me on my Facebook page!

If you have any questions about phonics, fluency or if your reader is struggling to read out loud, please contact me. I can help you uncover gaps, I can help your reader gain confidence, and I can help your reader put tools in his/her toolbox to overcome the struggles they face.


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