by: Nikki White



TIP #1: BE EXPLICIT: We need to use isolated, direct instruction when teaching phonics skills. Explicit phonics instruction is evident when phonics skills are presented clearly and concisely; the teacher explains and demonstrates concepts, utilizes guided practice, independent practice, and assesses often. According to Villaume & Brabham, "... what matters most about instruction is that students develop explicit understandings of the alphabetic principle-- understandings that are precise, fully developed, and well formulated." By teaching phonics skills explicitly, we are guiding our students to identify these concepts when they read and write independently.

For instance, we need to teach the digraph -sh makes the /sh/ sound by writing words with -sh, finding words in text with -sh, listening for the /sh/ sound in a word, and repeating the letter-keyword-sound daily with our students.

TIP #2: BE SYSTEMATIC: "A systematic, planned schedule for phonics lessons is an important feature of effective phonics instruction. All the primary-grade teachers we know concur: Phonics instruction is too critical to leave to chance." (Villaume & Brabham, 2003, p. 481) We should ensure mastery at one conceptual level before proceeding to the next level. For example, a student needs to master decoding (reading) and encoding (writing) closed, one-syllable (cvc) words before they move on to closed, one-syllable words with digraphs and blends (ccvc or cvcc words).

TIP #3: PRONOUNCE SOUNDS CORRECTLY: Avoid adding the /uh/ sound to the ends of certain letter sounds like /d/, /b/, /t/, /c/, /k/, /v/, /w/, or /g/. When students learn to say letter sounds with /uh/ on the end, this makes it more difficult for them to decode words and read words in context quickly and accurately. " is important that teachers model the distinctive feature differences between the phonemes of the respective language(s)." (Dow & Baer, 2013, p. 50)

(If you are unsure if you add the /uh/ sound to your letter sounds, ask a colleague to come listen to you teach a lesson and get feedback from them).

Below is a video of a teacher modeling the correct pronunciation for consonant letters.

TIP #4: KEEP IT SIMPLE: According to Smith, "Phonics instruction must be kept simple so that beginning readers will not be overwhelmed with an overabundance of meaningless and sometimes conflicting rules." We need to remember our students have a ton of new information being taught to them on a daily basis; therefore, keep phonics instruction simple and focus on the 9 most common spelling/reading patterns: Consonant-Vowel-Consonant, Consonant Blends, Consonant Digraphs, Final Silent e, Vowel Digraphs, R-Controlled Vowels, Vowel Diphthongs, Open Syllables, and Consonant -le.
TIP #5: BE FLEXIBLE: "Students vary tremendously in their ability, maturity, background knowledge, interests, and preparation and support from home. Teachers must be able to balance the need for instructional consistency with the need to adapt their instruction to meet individual students' needs." (Smith, 2009, p. 105) We must keep in mind, also, that no one program (including Fundations) is the perfect program nor does any program meet every student's needs. We know, as good teachers, where each student in our class is with regard to their phonics abilities. We need to remember to remain flexible, and be confident in departing from the script, as needed, for those students who need to hear it or see it explained/demonstrated in a different manner.
TIP #6: MAKE IT FUN: Sometimes, phonics instruction can get boring, so spice it up! Find new videos, songs, and games you think your students would connect with, that teach and/or reinforce the skill you are working on in class. Continually, look for games, songs, and/or videos that allow them to move around or use gross motor skills while learning. If a game, song, or video gets "old," find a new one and add it to your list. According to Iwasaki, Rasinski, Yildirim, & Zimmerman, "A growing body of research and scholarly thought suggests that singing has potential for improving reading (Biggs, Homan, Dedrick, & Rasinski, 2008; Fisher, 2001; Harp, 1998; Hines, 2010; Miller & Coen, 1994; Smith, 2000)." Futhermore, in the same article, the authors go on to say, "songs are "a natural way to get children to pay attention to rhymes and a fun way to learn" (Temple, Ogle, Crawford, & Freppon, 2010, p. 116)."

TIP #7: USE YOUR SENSES: When teaching struggling readers how to read, best practice tells us to incorporate multiple modalities into our instruction. When using a phonics program (such as Fundations), it is very important we use our senses: seeing, hearing, and touching. We need to make sure we teach our students to look at the word carefully and find chunks we know (see), tap the individual sounds on their fingers and feel their mouths moving a certain way for each sound (touch/feel) and listen to themselves say the sounds and blend them together (hear). "Simultaneous, multisensory instruction refers to visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile strategies used simultaneously to enhance memory and learning. Although not a new concept, there has been a paucity of research in the area of multisensory reading instruction." (Campbell, Helf, & Cooke, 2008, p. 267-295)

The video below discusses the importance of using senses in phonics instruction.

The Importance of Visual Input

TIP #8: EXPLAIN WHY: According to Morrow & Tracey, "...while phonics knowledge is essential for children's success with reading and writing, children must also be taught to read for purpose and meaning." In order to get "buy in" from our students, we must explain why they need to learn certain skills. As educators, we need to make sure our students understand WHY they need to learn to read. You can even make this a class activity at the beginning of the year; as a class, make a list of reasons people need to be able to read in everyday life.

TIP #9: PRACTICE IN CONTEXT: According to Adams, "...approaches in which systematic code instruction is included along with the reading of connected text result in superior reading achievement overall, for both low-readiness and better prepared students (p. 125)." We need to ensure we are using a wide variety of texts in our classrooms. We need to read aloud books from different genres; fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, and include various types of books in shared reading, guided reading, independent reading, and their classroom libraries. By having all of these types of texts available, students can then identify and use phonics skills in context when participating in shared reading, read-alouds, guided reading, or independent reading. Practicing phonics skills in context, allows students to make the connection between reading words in isolation, to reading multiple words in a sentence or text.

Below is a video of Maryanne Wolf Ed.D., Tufts University, speaking about the importance of incorporating phonics AND whole language in our classrooms.

Phonics vs Whole Language
TIP #10: NEVER STOP LEARNING: Because there are SO many phonics rules and generalizations we must know and be able to teach our students, we must continue to seek out resources (other reading teachers, master reading teachers, reading specialists, professional texts regarding phonics instruction, etc.) to help us learn and fully understand all of the different phonics skills we need to help our students be successful readers. According to Villaume & Brabham, "As we embrace a broader band of purposes for phonics instruction, we are compelled to develop greater expertise for integrating aspects of direct and embedded instruction in ways that benefit all students. The most exemplary teachers have figured out how to do this. We submit that the professional journeys of teachers must feature instructional supports that are aligned with their levels of expertise, that awaken their sensitivities to how students are making sense of the alphabetic principle, and that foster varied, flexible, responsive, and self-regulating instructional practices."


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WEBLIOGRAPHY - This website is pretty much my go-to website for all things reading. Here you will find videos, articles, tips, strategies, and lesson plans for reading related topics; anything from beginning reading to shared reading to dyslexia. There are some excellent videos relating to phonics and phonemic awareness that help give a clear picture of best practices in the classroom. - One of my all time favorite websites for Kindergarten through 2nd grade! There are a plethora of phonics related activities on Starfall. Students can watch videos and listen to songs about each letter of the alphabet; including each letter's name, sound, and words that begin with that letter. For the more advanced beginning reader, there are decodable texts students can read, which include animation to make it enjoyable. Furthermore, Starfall has interactive games students can play to build cvc, cvcc, or ccvc words. - Reading A-Z is one of the most valuable websites my district has purchased for teachers. There are great resources including leveled books, lesson plans, interactive texts, and so much more! This website is great for connecting phonics to texts because there are decodable readers which include specific word patterns and sight words to reinforce the phonics skills you are working on in class. The options are endless with Reading A-Z!


Other related articles:

Brown, T. B. H. (2010). Learning to read: The unofficial scripts of succeeders and strugglers. The Reading Teacher, 64 (4), P. 261-271.

-- This study compares two struggling readers and two successful readers in order to understand how different readers make sense of instruction from their teachers when learning to read. The author interviews, observes in the classroom, and collects data from school and home life on all four students. The findings suggest that official scripts teachers must follow do not help struggling readers make sense of their teacher's instruction, which is different from current trends regarding instruction for struggling readers.

Morris, D. (2015). Preventing early reading failure. The Reading Teacher, 68 (7), p. 502-509.

This article focuses on three interrelated ideas as the key to preventing early reading failure: leveled books, leveled phonics, and teacher training. This article argues that schools need to invest in teacher training (knowledge and skill) in order to have the best chance of closing the gaps for struggling readers. It suggests schools need to have their reading coaches lead tutoring sessions and model best practices in helping struggling students; reading teachers would be trained by the literacy coaches on the best methods and techniques to help struggling readers.

McGeown, S. (2015). Synthetic phonics vs. an eclectic approach to reading instruction: Implications for the skills predicting early reading acquisition and development. Psychology of Education Review, 39 (2), p31-36.

This study examined the effects of reading instruction on the cognitive skills supporting beginning reading development. There has been a substantial amount of research investigating the reading related and cognitive skills supporting students' beginning reading acquisition and development, but hardly any research looked at how the method of reading instruction influences this process. Findings revealed that the method of reading instruction has a direct correlation between reading related and cognitive skills predicting students' beginning reading development.


Adams, M. J. (1990). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print (summary). Urban-Champaign, IL: Center for the Study of Reading.

Campbell, M. L., Helf, S., & Cooke, N. L. (2008). Effects of adding multisensory components to a supplemental reading program on the decoding skills of treatment resisters. Education and Treatment of Children, 31 (3), 267-295.

Iwasaki, B., Rasinski, T., Yildirim, K., & Zimmerman, B. S. (2013). Let's bring back the magic of song for teaching reading. The Reading Teacher, 67 (2), p. 137-141.

Morrow, L. M., & Tracey, D. H. (1997). Strategies used for phonics instruction in early childhood classrooms. The Reading Teacher, 50 (8), 644-651

Smith, J. A., Read, S. (2009). Early literacy instruction: Teaching readers and writers in today's primary classroom. Pearson: Boston.

Villaume, S. K, & Brabham, E. G. (2003). Phonics instruction: Beyond the debate. The Reading Teacher, 56 (5), 478-482.


If you would like more information and/or training on Fundations (our district wide phonics program), please contact me. :)