How to Teach Phonics and Reading

Teaching children to read by teaching phonics activities is a lot like doing the math, where you have to know what the numbers are, how to count, and you need to learn to add and subtract before learning to multiply and divide. Teaching phonics to children is no different where you follow a step by step approach by first teaching the child the alphabet letters and phonics sounds, and then teaching them the combination of different letters to create different words, and using words to form sentences. It is a very logical and sequential buildup of phonics knowledge and reading ability.

Before a child can learn to read, he or she must first learn the alphabet letters and know the sounds represented by the letters. It’s usually easier to teach some consonants and short vowels first before moving on to more complicated things such as consonant digraphs (2 consonants formed to produce one sound, such as “ch” or “ph”) and long vowels. As you can see, teaching children to read by the phonics method helps them develop phonemic awareness, and it is also a very logical and straightforward approach.

Start off by teaching your child the phonics sounds. You can choose to teach your child in alphabetic order going from A to Z, or you can teach several commonly used consonant sounds and vowels, and go from there. For example, you may start teaching your child /a/, /c/, and /t/ (slashes denote sound of the letters). Once your child has learned to quickly recognize these letters and properly sound out their sounds, you can then teach them to blend /c/, /a/, /t/ to make the words “cat”, or “tac”, or “at”.

As you introduce more letters and phonics sounds in your lesson plans, you can generate more words, and slowly introduce short, simple sentences to your reading lessons. Depending on the age of your child, I would suggest keeping the phonics lessons relatively short – around 5 to 10 minutes. Sometimes, just 3 to 5 minutes for a short lesson is plenty, and you can easily teach these short phonics lessons 2 or 3 times each day for a total of 10 to 15 minutes. Young children tend to be forgetful, so repetition is very important.

You don’t want to make the lessons too long and boring, that the child begins to feel like doing a “chore” when learning to read. So keep it short, fun, and interesting. By keeping the phonics lessons short, you also avoid overwhelming the child with too much information and always remember to make sure your child has mastered one lesson before moving on to new material. Confusion and uncertainty will only make their learning effort difficult and frustrating – so review often, move on to new material only after they’ve mastered the current lessons.

So when can you start teaching phonics sounds and lessons to children? Not everyone will agree with me on this, but I believe that if your child can speak, then your child can learn to read. Of course, every child is different and unique, and some children will be more receptive to learning reading than others. One thing for certain, is that the earlier a child learns to read, the better.

There is someone I know that has taught their 2-year-old daughter to read through teaching phonics sounds and lessons, and helping her develop phonemic awareness. If you haven’t seen the video yet, sign up for my emails and you’ll get a link to it. It has their daughter reading randomly created sentences. They simply started teaching phonics sounds to her by spending 5 to 10 minutes each day, spread between 2 to 3 separate lessons, and slowly introduced new letters and reading the material. 5 to 10 minutes each day can really add up to a lot of practice.

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Teaching Phonics to Children

Phonics is a necessary part of any good method of teaching children to read. Teaching Children phonics and helping them develop phonemic awareness is the key to mastering words, which is the first key step toward successful reading. Children need to develop a knowledge of the letters, the sounds represented by the letters, and the connection between sounds created by combining the letters where words are formed. This is an essential part of mastering reading and enabling children to become independent readers. By learning phonics and phonemic awareness, children gain the ability to pronounce new words, develop clear articulation, improve spelling, and develop self-confidence.

When it comes to teaching your children to read, it must include three basic principles:

1) Reading for the child, whether it’s a word, sentence, or story, must appeal to your child’s interests.

2) Never pressure or force your child into reading, turning it into a negative “event” in their life. It should be a fun, enjoyable, and rewarding experience. This will take ample amounts of patience on the part of the parents, and some creativity.

3) Teaching your child to read must begin with the mastery of the phonemes – the individual sounds which make up the words.

The basic process of teaching phonics and phonemic awareness to children includes teaching them the letters and letter sounds; then you teach the child to combine (or blend) various letter sounds together to form words; which is then followed by reading sentences and simple stories. This is a logical progression to teach children how to read, where they develop accuracy in decoding words and pronouncing words. This method of teaching also helps the child to spell correctly. Gradually, the different elements of phonics are combined to produce new words, and leads to the discovery of new words by the child using this process which becomes an “automatic reflex”.

Teaching phonics to children should take 10 to 15 minutes each day, and these “lessons” should take place in several small sessions each day – such as 4 or 5 sessions lasting 3 to 5 minutes each. For older pre-school children, lessons can be slightly longer; however, several minutes each session is all that’s needed.

One way to start teaching phonics to children with ear training – by helping them develop the understanding that words are made up of smaller units of sounds, or known as phonemes, and when you combine these sounds, a word is formed. You can start this with very short sessions, as already mentioned. A few minutes a day is all that you need. The key, however, is consistency and patience.

During these short sessions, sound out words slowly and distinctly. You can do this without even making the child aware that you are trying to teach them. Simply take words from your everyday speaking to your child and include oral blending sounds into your sentences. For example, if you wanted to ask your child to drink his milk, you could say: “Joe, d-r-i-n-k your m-ilk.” The words drink and milk are sounded out slowly and distinctly. The level of sound separation can be set by you to increase or lower the difficulty. Thus, if Joe has a tough time figuring out that d-r-i-n-k means drink, you can lower the difficulty by blending the word as dr-ink instead.

Alternatively, you could simply pick different words and play blending sounds games with your child. You simply say the sounds of the word slowly, and ask the child try to guess what you are saying.

This concept of individual sounds forming words may take some time for your child to grasp. Some children will pick it up quickly, while other children may take longer, but one thing that’s certain is that if you keep it up, your child will catch on. Below are some sample words which you can use to play blending sounds activities with your child.

J-u-m-p   J-ump
R-u-n   R-un
S-i-t   S-it
S-t-a-n-d   St-and
M-i-l-k   M-ilk
S-t-o-p   St-op

The first word is more segmented than the second word and will be more difficult to sound out. Please note that hyphens are used to indicate the letter sounds instead of slashes.

ie: J-u-m-p  /J/ /u/ /m/ /p/

This is done to make things easier to read; however, when you read it, you should not read the names of the letters, but instead, say the sounds of the letters. This type of ear training for phonics and phonemic awareness should continue throughout the teaching process, even well after your child have grasped this concept. It can be applied to words with increasing difficulty. Again, please always keep in mind that not all children can readily blend the sounds to hear the word, so you must be patient, and drill this for days, weeks, or even months if needed. Consistency and frequency is the key to success here and not sporadic binge sessions.

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Teaching Letter Names and Sounds

So, you want to teach your child to read, but before a child can learn to read, he or she must first learn at least some of the letters in the alphabet, their names, and the sounds that they represent. To be able to read, a child must be able to recognize the letters, know the sound of the letters, and be able to recognize the letters quickly and say the sound without hesitation. There is plenty of discussion and disagreement on whether it’s better to teach children using whole language programs or using methods which incorporate phonics and phonemic awareness instructions. I think the debate on this is settled when the National Reading Panel stated from their findings of reviewing 1,900 studies that phonics and phonemic awareness produces superior reading results than whole language programs.

There is also some debate on whether to teach your child only letter names, or only the sounds which the letters represent. However, studies have also settled this debate by finding that teaching a child alphabet names and sounds together produces the best results. In fact, studies have found that there is little value in teaching preschoolers letterforms or letter sounds separate. This was indicated by an Australian study involving 76 preschool children. The children received 6 weeks of training in either letter awareness, phonemic awareness, or control tasks, and then received another 6 weeks of training in either letter-sound correspondence or control tasks. The study found that training in either phoneme or letter awareness assisted with the learning of letter-sound correspondences and that the phonemically trained children group had an advantage on recognition tasks. The study found that there is little value in training in letter form or letter sounds separate. [1]

As you can see, there is basically no point in only teaching either the names of the alphabet letters or the sounds the letters make. A child must learn the name and the sound of the alphabet letter. When teaching your child the alphabet, instead of simply teaching them the name of the alphabet such as “this is the letter A”, teach them like so:

“This is the letter A, and the letter A makes the /A/ sound.” (note: the /A/ denote the sound “A” makes and not its name). Similarly, you can teach your child the other alphabet letters in this way including both name and sound of the letter. This is the way I teach my children the alphabet letters. Other studies have also determined that teaching the letter names and sounds together helped children learn.

58 preschool children were randomly assigned to receive instructions in letter names and sounds, letter sound only, or numbers (control group). The results of this study are consistent with past research results in that it found children receiving letter name and sound instruction was most likely to learn the sounds of letters whose names included cues to their sounds. [2]

To be able to effectively teach your children the sounds of letters, you must first master the proper pronunciation of the letters yourself. It is critical for you as a parent to be able to first say the sounds of the letters correctly before teaching your children, and this is much tougher than it may seem.

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Notes:

1. J Exp Child Psychol. 2009 Sep;104(1):68-88. Epub 2009 Mar 5.
The genesis of reading ability: what helps children learn letter-sound correspondences?
Castles A, Coltheart M, Wilson K, Valpied J, Wedgwood J.
Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia.

2. J Exp Child Psychol. 2010 Apr;105(4):324-44. Epub 2010 Jan 25.
Learning letter names and sounds: effects of instruction, letter type, and phonological processing skill.
Piasta SB, Wagner RK.
Preschool Language and Literacy Lab, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA.