What to Teach with Phonics

Phonics skills are best taught when combined with instruction in the following three reading components. As you are helping students learn phonics skills, also provide instruction in these components.

Phonemic Awareness: Phonemic awareness skills contribute to phonics skills. Both reading components relate to the sounds within words. Whereas phonemic awareness only addresses the sounds in words, phonics addresses the letter–sound associations that students need for decoding. To grasp phonics and build their phonics skills, students have to be able to identify sounds in words.

Vocabulary: In the subsection above on matching words to meanings, I discussed how phonics is worthless if students do not know the meanings of words they read. Indeed, phonics only helps students read if they know the meanings of words. Provide instruction in vocabulary while providing instruction in phonics—do both at the same time. Help students learn what words mean as they study specific sound–letter associations. Then, as they read meaningful text, they will be able to decode the words and understand what the text.

Comprehension: Once students are able to decode the words, and once they understand what the words mean, they can begin to analyze the text itself. Saying the words aloud correctly is not enough to get to improved comprehension; they have to understand the meanings of words. Similarly, understanding the meanings of individual words is not sufficient. Now, they need to put it all together and study the text. This is when phonics finally becomes reading.


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