How Does Phonics Impact Reading Comprehension?

phonics and reading comprehension

Often reading comprehension problems are seen as being a separate problem from explicit phonics instruction , but in many cases, a lack of phonemic awareness and decoding strategies lead to poor reading comprehension.

The other day a little girl I know was reading aloud to me and every time she came to a word she didn’t know she would try to sound it out. Often she gave up trying to sound out words and would turn to me to ask how to say the word. Once I told her what the word was she almost always recognized the word and knew what it meant. However, because she didn’t break out the syllables and phonetic sounds correctly, she was unable to pronounce it correctly and thus was unable to recognize words that were in her spoken vocabulary, but not in her written vocabulary.

It made me realize how important phonics is for quality reading comprehension. Many children lose fluency and understanding while reading simply because they do not decode the words they are reading correctly. This leads students to struggle to recognize words that they often do know orally.

Often phonemic awareness is not correlated to poor reading comprehension because there are so many other factors that can affect comprehension: poor vocabulary, lack of background/context information, distractibility, and lack of focus. But if you have a student that is struggling with reading comprehension and you notice the words they miss while reading, are words they recognize orally, phonics instruction can help them decode those words properly so they do recognize them when reading. All of these are key components of a structured literacy approach.


Reading Horizons want to make sure you have access to the best teacher resources available. That is why we have put together the following webpages to make teaching reading as simple and effective as possible.

Reading Horizons Online Reading Workshop

List of Reading Strategies ›

What is Decoding? ›

Early Reading Comprehension