As you probably know, phonics is an essential component of reading instruction. Before you read this loooong post all about how to teach phonics, take a moment to just remember that phonics is just one part of your literacy instruction. It is especially important in the beginning stages of learning to read and is even more important with your students who are struggling with reading. The National Reading Panel determined that effective reading instruction includes a mixture of phonemic awareness, phonics, guided oral reading, and comprehension strategies. I have really increased the amount of phonics instruction for my early readers and it has made a huge difference. I still do plenty of other literacy-related instruction and activities, but I now make a conscious effort to include good phonics instruction daily. So what is good phonics instruction? These principals guide my teaching.
This. is. key. Many of our students can pick up phonics skills through guided reading and shared reading where the phonics skills are taught in context. BUT a significant percentage cannot. These kids need direct, explicit instruction with each phonics skill. This isn't the most fun way to teach, but it is necessary. I like to think that this more explicit intervention will lead to the more fun, engaging reading instruction once a strong foundation has been set. With all of that said, reinforcing phonics concepts in context is absolutely beneficial! Applying phonics skills in context shows kids the why they should learn those letters and sounds in the first place. It is always important to provide that real life application. So, to sum up, explicit phonics instruction is essential for our struggling readers, but implicit (embedded) phonics instruction
I admit it. I used to be all. over. the place. I learned that I need to be a bit more systematic with the way I teach these kids. There is science behind this! We are literally rewiring some of these kids' brains. We are forming new pathways that need repetition to really be set. The more systematic and consistent we are with our instruction and the way we introduce and practice, the more likely our students will remember.
For example, after you start with CVC words, then digraphs, then consonant blends, etc.
This is also super important. Have a plan and stick to it. You want to make sure you have formally taught these phonics rules to your intervention students. If your program doesn't have a sequence for you, there are several to choose from, that are very similar. I even have a specific sequence for my alphabet instruction. You can read more about that here.
For example, when you are teaching short i, make sure you review and practice short a. These students need to revisit the lessons they've learned several times before they have reached mastery. This also means you don't throw in things that they haven't learned. For example, if I was teaching the digraphs sh, ch, and th, I wouldn't include words like shark, beach, and think when practicing decoding because we haven't learned ar, ea, or ink rules yet!
This information is from the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) and many other presentations and classes I've at tented about dyslexia.
Heidi Songs has a FABULOUS post about multi-sensory teaching. You can read it HERE. I highly recommend using her music in your classroom. Your kids will be singing and moving to enhance their learning! Multi-sensory teaching doesn't have to involve play dough and sand as I once believed (although those are great tactile techniques.) You just need to make an effort to check yourself. Are your students using auditory and visual modalities? Are movement or tactile techniques incorporated in some way? This can be as basic as "tapping" the sounds of a word (tapping a finger on the table as you say each sound.) Simply saying a word and writing it as you sound out each sound is technically multi-sensory. Tracing a word on the table while saying the sounds of the letters you are writing is a simple way to use more than one of the senses. Once you get in the habit of multi-sensory teaching, then you can add in all that other fun stuff (play dough, sand, foam texture sheets, etc.)
What does Phonics Intervention Look Like?
If you have a student with dyslexia in your class (and you probably do because 1 in 5 students has dyslexia to some degree), this is the type of instruction that is recommended. You may or may not have a program you are already using. The key is to make sure your instruction involves what I listed above for your intervention kids. If you have a phonics program, it probably has a scope and sequence. Make sure you are introducing it at a rate that your struggling readers can keep up with. These kids will most likely need more time with each new phonics skill in order to master it. Once introduced, they need time to practice and then also time to review it each day before you are sure they have mastered that skill. You can teach a new skill when they have a grasp on the previous skill, but not quite to automaticity. You can move on from review once they have reached automaticity with reading words with that skill.
Below is what thorough phonics intervention looks like for me:
This part is for when students have developed phonemic awareness and know most of their letters and sounds. They are in the beginning stages of learning to read. This is mainly helpful for your intervention students who need more explicit and systematic instruction. All students benefit from explicit and systematic instruction, but struggling readers must have it. So I've laid out step by step what these kiddos need.
Phonemic awareness drills are usually short, but very effective. You can go big or you can do little to no prep. No prep segmenting drills involve the teacher giving students a word orally. Students repeat the word, then segment the sounds (phonemes). It is best to use some sort of manipulative, like pictured below. For example, the teacher says, "shop". The student(s) repeat it then say, "/sh/ /o/ /p/" as they push one of the manipulatives to represent each sound.
You can take it a step forward and do phoneme manipulation (delete, add, or substitute a sound). For example, after segmenting shop, ask, "What color was the sound /o/?" Students will point to the middle manipulative. Then ask, "What would the word be if this was /i/?" (ship)
For phoneme blending, do the opposite. Teacher says the individual phonemes in a word, then have your student(s) repeat and guess your word. I do this with a puppet and the kids LOVE it! I tell them they need to help me translate what the puppet is trying to say.
Visuals are always helpful and also it's nice to shake things up a bit with kids. If you are looking for more activities for phonemic awareness, click HERE.
Graphemes are the letter or letters that represent sounds. This quick review was something I never used to do, but now I see its importance with our struggling readers. Developing automaticity at the letter level is SO important. I have a post more about that HERE. We want our students to not only know their letters, but to also automatically recognize them and produce the appropriate sound. This can be as easy as flashcards to flip through. I've also used these alphabet sound slide drills.
You can do this as a group or each student can have their own page to practice. Spend 1-2 minutes sliding the circular chip across the page while saying the sound that goes with each letter. You can find this HERE. The other two pictures show the same activity with a group. Put the letters in a pocket chart or write on chart paper randomly. Point to the letters and students quickly give the sounds. Make it a game by adding a die. (Roll the die. Read the row with the number you land on.)
If you are looking for ideas and activities for alphabet intervention, you can find that HERE. Simple flashcards will also do!
When I teach short vowels, I have a visual reminder of what each short vowel says. I teach each vowel sound one at a time (systematic and sequentially) and review the previously learned vowels before teaching a new one (cumulative). Here is the visual I use for my short vowels:
You can get this for free HERE.
The modeling with the letter cards is SO important. There are a few ways you can do this.
If you have a magnetic white board in your small group area, you can place your small letter cards with magnetic dots on the top or bottom of your white board. That way you can use them when you need to model and build words. You can also use a pocket chart. I have this mini pocket chart that I got at Target years ago and it's perfect. I also sometimes fold the tops of the cards so they are upright and then I use them right there at the reading table. This way the kids can manipulate them too. If you need letter cards to print out, you can use THESE FREE letter cards. These letter cards help your instruction to be more explicit for your students. The colors are great for showing consonants and vowels and then digraphs.
For my intervention groups, I also fold back my laminated cards so they are right in front of us and easy to handle. Here, I am using only the letters that my student knows. We are using our "magic wand" to sound out each word. We "sound out" a minimum of two times, first to recall the sounds and the second time to say the sounds a little faster and stretchier. If they are unable to blend the sounds, then I encourage a third time. Touching the letter tiles as they say the sounds is a must at this early stage to ensure they are saying the correct sounds. I also have individual sets for my small group instruction for each student. I put them on cookie sheets so they stay put!
I do this with my students every day. When we are first practicing a new skill, I build and read more words with letter tiles. Then, as they learn the skill, I do less with the letter tiles and more practice in other ways (see below.) I find that building words with letter tiles is the best way to introduce, reinforce, and practice phonics skills because the different colors are a great visual and you can manipulate the letter tiles to build so many different words.
The next step is moving from the color-coded letter cards to the word cards (with only one word on them at a time). I also like to match onset and rime and mix and match. Use the same word cards for the next step. Word can be sorted by word family or by rule. I would first do the rule to check for understanding. For example, if you are teaching silent e, students would read the card and sort words based on silent e or not silent e. As they sort, ask questions like, what do all those vowels say? What does the e do? How do you know it follows that rule (it has a vowel, then one consonant, then e).
I like to use these cards first, then move on to regular word cards.
When I first introduce a new phonics concept, I would simply do a yes/no sort. The picture below shows a short i sort. Students read the word and determine if it is short i or not. I know what you are thinking, they can just look and see the i. Remember this is a small group activity, so you are making sure they are still reading the words. This basically gives them a task to do so they are not just reading word cards for no reason. Plus every time they are reading another vowel card, you point out the difference in the sounds.
Next, I like to sort by word family or rule (for example, short i or short e.) As you move into blends, it could be r blend or l blend. Digraphs can be beginning or ending. There are so many possibilities. The key is that you giving these students opportunities to read several words with the phonics skill you are teaching and the phonics skills they have already learned in the context of a task.
I also like to do picture sorts to incorporate phonemic awareness. This is especially good for your struggling readers because they often have a hard time with phonemic awareness. I find this is also good for your ELL kids because they are listening for distinct sounds. In the picture below, they are listening for the short a or the short o sound. This will transfer to reading and spelling skills.
If you are looking for short vowel, digraph, and blend cards, you can find them here:
I wrote all about the value of developing automaticity at the word level in THIS post. I used to think this was torture for kids. I know it's definitely not the most fun part of teaching reading, but it does help those struggling readers and it is necessary repetition. It is not the bulk of your time with them. Literally a few minutes! Looking for word lists like the ones shown above? Click HERE.
Here is another automaticity activity that my students love: Students take a circular math counter with a vowel on it. They fill each word with the vowel. Then you can try another vowel.
You can read more about this HERE.
If you are looking for more resources to give your students extra practice (which they often need,) you may want to check out my Printable Phonics Intervention Packs.
So far, I've made CVC words, digraphs, blends, silent e, vowel teams, bossy r, and 2-syllable words (with open and closed syllables). Click HERE to get these for several phonics skills.
Click above to see a 15 second snapshot of one of those sets.
I have several resources for decodable sentences. First, I would use this Phonics Fluency Sentence Building activity:
My kids LOVE these Sentence Scramblers and they are perfect for practicing decoding and building fluency because your kids have read and reread the words in order to put the sentence in order.
Then, I would use these resources for more practice:
Spin a Sentence (left) can be found here.
Printable Sentences (middle and right) can be found here.
Another important component to phonics instruction is always including spelling. This is NOT your tradition spelling where you memorize a list of words for a test. By spelling, I mean applying the rule directly to several words.
I like using these little boards for my students to build words on in the beginning (before the words get too big.) This is super convenient. I have six of these and they stack right on top of each other. The magnetic dots hold the letters in place.
This is an Instagram post showing how I use the letter tiles on my magnetic white board so I always have easy access to word building.
To make it multi-sensory, say the sounds as your trace on the table or tap out the sounds in the words.
I have them repeat the word I said, then they "tap it out" on the table or down their arm or using counters by segmenting the sounds as they tap. Then they segment again, this time writing the letters that go with each sound.
A resource that I use quite often are my sound boxes. I LOVE sound boxes, especially early on. Above is a picture of a sound box that I use when I do not have picture cards. I call out a word and they "push the sounds" first, then write the corresponding letters. I also made a pack of sound boxes with pictures that I use a lot. I have a "printable" version and cards to laminate. With the laminated cards, I show the students the card. Each student has 3 colored circular counters. We all "push" the sounds at the same time (I will push the sounds on the actual card or have students take turns with the actual card.) Then, we all write the corresponding sounds.
You can find these HERE.
NOTE: Sound boxes should be done very early on, along with early decoding. Encoding (spelling words) should go hand in hand with decoding.
Phonetically-controlled texts are so important for our very beginning readers and for our struggling readers. These texts give them an opportunity to apply the phonics skills they've learned without having to worry about guessing or seeing tons of words they don't know. They can be successful with these texts, all the while strengthening the those pathways in their brain. To read more about reading and the brain, click HERE to see an old post with tons of information. The goal is obviously to get them out of phonetic readers and to move on to more interesting books where they can practice a variety of strategies. These phonetically-controlled books are a means to an end. They are not the end goal. But, I have learned over the years that they are necessary. Once I know my students have a strong phonics foundation and automaticity with phonics skills, I am confident that they will be successful with other books. They will be ready to apply strategies effectively, as opposed to just guessing as our struggling readers tend to do.
If you are looking for phonetically controlled printables or story cards, I have short stories with just CVC words, consonant blends (with short vowels), silent e, and vowel pairs.
You can find just the reading passages for short vowels HERE.
You can find the reading passages and story cards for short vowels HERE.
You can find just the reading passages for blends HERE.
You can find the reading passages and story cards for blends HERE.
Here is a lesson plan template that you may want to try out. It is meant for more intensive phonics intervention. This can be used for one-on-one tutoring or a small group.
In a small group setting, you wouldn't necessarily be able to get to all of those components every day, unless you were given a good chunk of time. With one-on-one tutoring, I do get to all of those parts and it is so effective. With my small intervention groups in school, I pick and choose each day, depending on time. Below is a little explanation (also included in the FREE download.)
When you download this free lesson template, I also included this page below which has links to resources.
Click HERE to download these pages.
I hope this post is helpful! Please don't hesitate to email me if you have any questions.
To download the blog post with clickable links, click here:
Click here to read more about the importance of gaining automaticity with phonics.
PS. I know there are so many opinions out there regarding the best intervention practices. These are my thoughts based on experiences and research I've done. I recognize that not everyone has the same thoughts though. :) I welcome comments that raise questions and even challenge my thinking (as long as the conversation remains respectful) because I think that is how we all grow as educators.