Teaching Phonics to Beginning and Struggling Readers

phonics instruction struggling readers

According to researchers, if three areas of reading were appropriately addressed, reading difficulties would be prevented. These three areas include: knowledge of the alphabetic principle, fluency, and comprehension (Burns, et.al., 1998).

The alphabetic principle, through further review by the National Reading Panel, has been elaborated to include phonemic awareness (the ability to manipulate sounds) and phonics (the knowledge of letter and sound correspondence). Phonemic awareness and phonics provide the necessary foundation for achieving fluency and comprehension; therefore, these foundational skills must be addressed.

The ultimate goal of reading is comprehension. In order to achieve this goal of comprehension, students must have the necessary foundation of phonological decoding skills at the word level to allow them to read individual words and strings of words fluently (Archer, et. al., 2003; Hudson, et. al., 2005; NIFL, 2008). Phonological decoding at the word level is a stepping stone to fluency and comprehension.

The Role of Phonemic Awareness and Phonics in Reading Success ›

Five Pillars of Effective Reading Instruction ›

If you're interested in learning more about teaching phonics to young children, you can check out our free resource.


Myths About Phonics Instruction

There are myriads of scientific research studies to support phonics instruction for beginning and struggling readers. Yet, misconceptions sometimes prevent effective classroom implementation. These misconceptions can be passed down from college professor to pre-service teacher, year after year, decade after decade. Even teachers who have been teaching long enough to teach their students’ children have been known to stick to what they were taught in college or what they learned during their first years of teaching. When this is the case, students who would otherwise benefit from more effective instruction are the ones who suffer. 

In the following articles, Reading Horizons Reading Specialist, Stacy Hurst, addresses several common misconceptions about phonics instruction:

Misconceptions About Phonics Instruction - #1 - Most Children Learn to Read Naturally ›

Misconceptions About Phonics Instruction - #2 - Phonics Instruction is Boring ›

Misconceptions About Phonics Instruction - #3 - The English Language is Inconsistent ›

Misconceptions About Phonics Instruction - #4 - College Prepares Teachers to Teach Reading ›


Strategies for Teaching Phonics

Phonics instruction is often viewed with a negative connotation because when it is not delivered through an explicit and systematic process - it is not necessarily effective. It is the way phonics is instructed that makes the difference. Instruction should start with the most basic concepts then sequentially build to larger, comprehensive concepts that help develop metacognitive awareness of the language, thus illuminating text.

Read the following articles to learn a few strategies for teaching phonics which have been proven to be effective:

How Should Sight Words Be Taught? Phonics or Memorization? ›

Two Decoding Skills for Teaching Students Where to Break Words Into Syllables ›

4-Step Process for Helping Students Transfer Decoding Skills to Written Text ›

Why & How to Use Nonsense Words When Teaching Struggling Readers ›


Teaching Phonics to Older Students

Researchers estimate that one out of 10 adolescents’ struggles with word identification (Curtis and Longo, 1999) – a problem that stems from difficulties with phonological word analysis (Kamil, 2006; NIFL, 2008). In a study conducted with 346 adolescent readers, Deshler, et. al. (2005) investigated which reading skills adolescents had mastered, and which skills they had not. After analyzing several reading assessments, the researchers found that struggling adolescent readers who performed at or below the 40th percentile “need intensive word-level interventions in addition to comprehension interventions” (p. 2), including decoding and word recognition.

Check out the following resources to learn why and how to include phonics instruction in middle school and high school classrooms:

Four Reasons Phonics Has a Place in Middle School and High School Classrooms ›

How Can You Include Phonics Instruction in High School Classrooms? ›


strategies for teaching explicit phonics