Phonics is an instructional method that teaches the relationships between sounds and letters. Once students recognize that sounds correspond to letters and letter patterns, and they practice and master those correspondences and patterns, then “breaking the code” of written English becomes a fun and engaging experience rather than a frustrating, intimidating one.
This is crucial for many students, but its benefits aren’t limited to improving reading skills. It also helps students develop better spelling, listening, and pronunciation skills by teaching the connections between the spoken and written forms of English.
Whether your students are old or young, English Language Learners, emerging readers, struggling readers, or students with processing issues such as dyslexia, phonics instruction can help every one of them improve a variety of language skills in the process of learning to read.
To find resources for teaching reading, visit the Reading Horizons Reading Strategies Homepage. There, you’ll find an entire section devoted to answering the question: “what is decoding?” as well as a compiled list of list of reading strategies. If you're interested in teaching phonics to young children, then you can check out our free early reading skills resource. We also have resources on including phonics instruction in high school classrooms.
All forms of phonics instruction are not equal. Some programs use an implicit method, which requires students to learn each new word as a whole word and look at beginning sounds, ending sounds, and context clues to determine what the word is. This implicit approach provides few strategies for students to use on the next new words they encounter. Reading Horizons uses an explicit method , which builds from part to whole, beginning with instruction on letters (graphemes) and their associated sounds (phonemes). Explicit instruction provides students with a manageable set of strategies that can be applied again and again to decipher and read new words. It is explicit phonics instruction that has been shown to be most effective for teaching students to read.
Starting with the simplest concept—a single letter for a single sound—and progressing to the more complex, students learn the written expressions of English sounds through a multi-sensory process called dictation. Dictation actively engages all the language skills— listening, speaking, writing, and reading—simultaneously, helping students to make the necessary connections between what they hear, say, write and read. Dictation also incorporates the different learning styles (auditory, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic), so it is a particularly effective way to reach all students.
After working with individual letters in both uppercase and lowercase forms, students start combining letters to build written expressions of slides and single-syllable words (for more information on slides, see Phonemic Awareness). To identify the presence of a vowel in a written word, students begin using the first permanent mark in our unique marking system: an X, which is placed underneath each and every vowel in a word.
All of the marks in the Reading Horizons method have a purpose: to prove the sound of a given letter or to show letter grouping and movement in syllabication. These marks are very basic but powerful tools for proving how to read written words. The marks will play a big part in students learning the remaining elements in the Reading Horizons framework.
Teaching these essential strategies ensures that there are no gaps in student knowledge of the English alphabet, letter formation, and the correspondences between letters and sounds. Once students have mastered these sound/letter correspondences and combinations, they are ready to begin learning how to decode words—the next step for becoming a successful reader.