What Does Not Work for Phonics Instruction

Many activities used for phonics instruction either do not address phonics or are, at best, minimally effective. Following are common types of ineffective instructional activities for phonics. My recommendation: avoid them.


Reason Why It Does Not Work

Incidental Instruction

The research is clear: systematic and explicit instruction works; incidental instruction does not. You have to know what you need to teach, and you have to focus on the phonics skills rather than wait for students to make a mistake and then address the problem.

Reading Drills / Flash Card Speed Drills

Flash cards have their place in phonics instruction, particularly for analytical phonics and developing word recognition automaticity. However, timing students and counting the number of correct or incorrect words is not instruction. It is assessment, and it sets up students for failure.

Sustained Silent Reading (SSR)

SSR does not require students to turn text into sound, so it does not require phonics. It might help strengthen existing skills by increasing familiarity with words, but it certainly is not instructional.

Computerized Instruction

I will call this one a “maybe.” Computerized instruction may include asking students to click on the word they hear (speech to words) or to identify words that have/do not have certain sounds. On the other hand, it does not address the primary phonics skill, which is decoding text: accurately reading words aloud.

Round Robin Reading

Round robin reading is having students reading aloud one at a time. The first student reads the first part, and then the next student reads the next part, and so forth. In addition to being a frustrating and painful experience for weak readers, round robin reading does not provide any instruction in the phonics sub-skills. Do small-group guided oral reading instead.


Another “maybe.” In general, worksheets are not a useful tool for helping students sound out words, though they might be useful for helping students identify words with particular sounds or within a word cluster. They might increase familiarity with groups of words, but they do not address the primary phonics skill, which is decoding text.

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