Ultimate Guide to Teaching Phonics

Ultimate Guide to Teaching Phonics

(please note that this post includes affiliate links. Read my full disclosures here.)
 

When I started homeschooling, I didn’t even know what phonics was, despite having heard the term. Of course I had learned to read at one point in time, but what kindergartener pays attention to the methods used to teach reading, and who remembers that far back anyway?
 

I had never planned to homeschool, and the only reason I started was that my oldest, Anne, missed the kindergarten deadline by a month. She was distraught about not being able to start school with all of her little friends, so as consolation I offered to have ‘school’ with her at home every day.
 

I didn’t plan to continue homeschooling, either. In my mind, this was just a way to comfort my daughter — we would play school together for a year and then she would head off to ‘real’ school with all the other kids. So I didn’t want to invest any time researching or learning, nor did I want to spend money on curriculum.
 

We began that year with zero training and very little curriculum. My mother-in-law had recently retired from teaching, so she gave me a stack of worksheets, each focused on a different letter. She also explained to me that I should teach all of the consonants first, followed by the vowels. Okay, I could do that.
 

I have to be honest — Anne could already read a little bit when we began. She must have picked it up while sitting on my lap as I read to her while she was a toddler.
 

The point of my story is that I am not a professional educator. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t have any programs or materials. It was 2004 and pinterest and blogging had yet to be invented. I made up games and activities as I went along, just using materials I had around my house and a set of magnetic fridge letters from the dollar store. And it all worked out gloriously because by the end of that year, during which we spent only 10-15 minutes a day on phonics, Anne could read better than your average 7th grader.
 

I have since, while teaching all eight of my children to read, figured out phonics. But I still use a lot of the same games Anne and I played together.
 

Phonics isn’t rocket science. You don’t need a degree to teach it, and you’re not going to mess it up.
 

Phonics is simply the ‘key’ to the code we call reading. There are myriad successful ways to teach phonics. The way I teach phonics may not be the best way to teach it in a classroom of 20+ kids, but it works great one-on-one at my kitchen table. I start by teaching my child that letters represent sounds, and that those letters work together to form words, which communicate ideas and information. Phonics is the set of rules that gives readers the strategies they need to be able to decode words, or to ‘crack the reading code’.
 

Before embarking on the phonics boat, be sure your child exhibits all the Signs of Reading Readiness. Otherwise you will just be embarking on an exercise in frustration for you and diminishing confidence for your child.
 

How to Teach Your Child Phonics:

*Organization tip: You will want to use these games over and over, so make it easy on yourself by organizing them well and making them durable right from the start. One package of colored file folders, a package of bright cardstock, and a cheap laminator (I have used this exact model (which is wide enough to laminate file folders) for several years and it is inexpensive, but great quality. You will also need laminating pouches) should complete an entire phonics program. I like to print each game on cardstock. If the printable includes a game board, I cut it out and glue it to the file folder. I then laminate the entire file folder (so it is durable and washable), label the folder and staple a ziploc to the edge of the folder to hold all of the pieces, which I have also cut out and laminated. I keep all of the file folders together in a plastic, portable file box so we can easily just choose a game to play each day with zero daily preparation required (if you have prepared all of your games upfront).
 

Step 1. Letter recognition. Your child should know the name of each letter and be able to match the letter symbol to its name.

Read: 25 Games for Learning Alphabet Letters

I like to teach younger children one letter at a time, and provide as much exposure to that letter as possible. We also play frequent games that review all the letters learned up until that time.
 

Step 2. Letter sounds. Start with consonants, because they’re the easiest since they generally have just one sound. C and G are the exceptions. After your child has mastered the consonants, teach them the short sounds of the vowels (like the a in hat). Drill until they’re all memorized.

Step 3. CVC words. Once your child has mastered all of the consonant letters and their sounds along with the short sounds of the vowels, he can begin reading CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words. Words! This is such a fun step!

CVC words, with the short vowel sound in the middle, are very consistent and will be easy and fun for most kids. Teach your child to follow the word with his finger and blend the letters. Drill using the games below until blending is automatic.

Your child will start being more aware of letters everywhere you go and will start reading labels and signs. Make a big deal out of his accomplishment to encourage him!

***Golden Rule of Phonics: Never allow your student to skip, guess, or substitute words. Accuracy is more important than speed.
 

Step 4. Sight Words. Though technically part of the ‘whole language’ method, these high-frequency words, called sight words, are very important for new readers to be able to recognize without the struggle of having to sound them out. Many of these words aren’t very phonetic, so just be sure to help your child sound out as much as you can phonetically and memorize the rest.

Learning them helps children become more confident readers. The first one hundred words on Fry’s Sight Word list account for nearly 50% of all printable material. Familiarity with these words will really build your child’s proficiency and confidence! Once your child has mastered sight words and CVC words, he is well on his way to reading fluency.

  • Play Sight Word Pancakes (Playdough to Plato)
  • Make a DIY Sight Word Puzzle (And next comes L)
  • Grab some Sight Word Dominoes  and play speed racer (no
  • Your little one is ready to create his own books! Print the sight words, along with several word families (pat, mat, cat, fat, etc…) that your child can read easily onto little cards so your child can arrange them into sentences. Create several sentences and arrange them into a semblance of a story. Of course it won’t be excellent literature. Make a book by cutting plain copy paper in half, folding down the center and stapling, using a sheet of cardstock as the cover. Let your child copy his story from the word strips into his book and illustrate it. This activity builds a lot of confidence!

 

Step 5. Long vowel sounds. Teach the long-vowel sounds and their spellings. Note that there are five common spellings for each long-vowel sound. Also teach the “Silent-e Rule”: When a one-syllable word ends in “e” and has the pattern vce (vowel-consonant-e), the first vowel says its name and the “e” is silent. This is often called the magic e or the bossy e.
For example: make, kite, rope, use. We always sing “Silent e-e-e, makes the vowel say it’s name”

You’ll have to prompt your child with the correct rule over and over and over. Just be patient and consistent and know that it really does pay off.

 

Step 6. Begin blending and reading two vowel words and introduce the second special vowel rule.

 

Step 7. Blend long vowel sounds with consonants

 

Step 8. R-controlled Vowels: A vowel followed by an “r” stands for a special sound that is neither long nor short. (ar, er, ir, or, ur)

 

Step 9. Consonant Digraphs (a digraph is a pair of letters that make a single sound– we like to call them sticky letters): When two or more consonantsare joined together and form a new sound, they are calleda consonant digraph. They can occur at the beginning of words (Initial digraphs: ch, sh, th, thr, ph, wh, ck, kn, wr) or at the end of words (Final digraphs: ch, ng, sh, th, tch)

 

Step 10. Syllables: Many words are made of multiple syllables. Each syllable has one vowel sound. *Closed syllables have one vowel followed by one or more consonants. The vowel sound is always short. For example: last, napkin (exceptions to this rule are ind, ild, old, olt and ost words). *Open syllable only have one vowel sound which is the last letter in the syllable. The vowel sound is long. For example: hi, sky, skyline, me, etc.

 

Step 11. Compound Words are made up of two or more words joined together to make a new word. (e. g. granddad and birthday)

 

Step 12. Vowel digraphs are vowels followed by a “w” which produce one vowel sound. The vowel sound can be long or short, or have a special sound of its own. Vowel digraphs are: ai, au, aw, ay, ea, ee, ei, ew, ie, oa, oo, ou, ow

 

Step 13. A consonant blend is two or more consonants that come together in a word. Their sounds blend together, but each sound is heard.

Initial consonant blends are:
S blends: sc, sm, st, sk, sn, sw, sl, sp
L blends: bl, gl, cl, pl,fl
R blends: br, fr, tr, cr, gr, dr, pr

6 Free Games for Teaching Consonant Blends (The Measured Mom)

Final consonant blends are:
S blends: sk, sp, st
L blends: ld, lf, lk, lp, lt
N blends: nd, nk, nt
other blends: ft, mp, pt, rt

 

 

The activities and games suggested above will provide a very thorough and rigorous phonics program. Because these suggestions are game-based, fun and multi-sensory, your kids will probably love them and will beg you for school each day! It is a lot for a little person to remember, though, so they will need to be played repeatedly, or else you will need to use workbooks in addition to the games in order to really thoroughly reinforce each concept.
 

*Important note to parents: Multi-sensory games and activities are hands-down the absolute best way to learn new phonics rules and concepts. Your child will feel eager and excited about learning that way. Worksheets/workbooks should only be used to practice and master a concept. Even so, they will be best received with a bucketful of crayons, scissors, glue sticks and whatever else you can think of to make the worksheets seem more like a fun activity than a boring worksheet.
 

After your child is pretty comfortable with a concept, have them read to you from a reader that corresponds to the concept. For example, once your child can read cvc (consonant-vowel-consonant) words and a few basic sight words, have them read to you from early readers that only use cvc and the sight words your child is familiar with.
 

It is so exciting, for both your child and you, to hear beginning readers actually reading books! Cuddle your child close and make a huge deal about this stellar accomplishment! Really celebrate it! Your child will be so excited about this new skill that he will start reading everything he encounters, from street signs to the j-a-m label at the grocery store.
 

If you spend 20 minutes a day, five days a week, pretty consistently, it should take you about 9 months to get through all of the material above. By that time your child will be read independently very well. That doesn’t mean you can quit reading with him, though. Reading aloud together will still benefit him in many ways, including strengthening his fluency and his comprehension skills.
 

Read: 10 Easy Ways to Help Children Develop Reading Fluency

Read: 5 Simple Ways to Improve your Child’s Reading Comprehension

 

 

 

A Few Phonics Materials You Might Like:

With my first two children, I just used my made-up games and readers from the library. We had just barely graduated college and purchased our first home, and we weren’t really planning to homeschool anyway, so we didn’t want to spend our limited finances on phonics materials.

 

With my last six children, however, I made it easier on myself by purchasing and using Explode the Code workbooks and the readers I am linking below. Both methods worked well, as all of my children are voracious readers, but the second method made the process so much easier.

 

Phonics Workbooks

‘Explode the Code’ is a set of very thorough consumable phonics workbooks. The books are fun and very inexpensive. I let my kids color all of the line illustrations with crayons and cut things apart after finishing the pages, so they think of them as a fun activity instead of worksheets.

 

Explode the Code books A, B, and C teach the letter names and sounds. You won’t need the teacher’s guide. They’re very simple and explicit. You’ll need to read the directions to your child and work alongside him until he’s reading independently.

 

Explode the Code Books 1-4 teach all of the phonics rules and provide great practice. You won’t need the teacher’s guide. There are 8 books total but to be completely honest, all of my kids completed books 1-4 plus a little bit of books 5 and 6, then kind of fizzled out. Each of them was already reading chapter books way above grade-level by that time, so I didn’t push it. If you decide to purchase workbooks, you might want to just purchase books 1-4 upfront and then wait to see if your child needs further practice, so you don’t waste your money.

 

 

 

The best phonetic readers

I’ll warn you upfront that these are not great literature! If they have storylines at all, they are poor. The illustrations are not high quality, either. You will probably not love these books. But that’s okay, because it’s not the point of these books. Their intent is to give brand new readers experience at decoding in actual books successfully and without frustration in order to build their confidence. Your job, as the parent, is to pretend you love them, in order to build excitement about reading in your child.

 

When ‘Mat sits on Sam’, laugh like it’s the most hilarious thing you’ve ever heard, even if you want to pull your hair out. Then call Dad and Grandma, and everyone else you can think of so your little reader can impress them with his newly acquired skills.

 

The more confident your child feels, the more excited he will be to continue learning. So really, make a HUGE deal out of every accomplishment! Raise the roof! Bribes and rewards are far less effective than good, old-fashioned praise.

 

 

You will find that these books are actually phonetic (plus sight words) where so many beginning readers are not. Non-phonetic beginning readers can cause new readers frustration, which can lead to a lack of confidence, causing a dislike of reading. Be sure to frequently read aloud to your child from actual high-quality literature, like the books in this list because you want them exposed to better literature than brand-new-reader-phonetic books.

 

 

Teach a child letter sounds with Bob Books Set 1! With only four letters in the entire first story, your child can easily read a whole book. Consistent new sounds are added gradually until young readers have read books with all letters of the alphabet (except Q). Short vowels and three-letter words in simple sentences make Bob Books Set 1 a fun confidence builder. With little books, come big success. (TM) Each of these boxed sets is comprised of eight smaller books.

 

 

Bob Books® were specifically designed to facilitate that ah-ha moment, when letters first turn into words. By slowly introducing new letter sounds, using consistency and repetition, and stories that fit short attention spans, your child will quickly find his or her own ah-ha moment.
We wish your young learner much success and happiness as he or she enters the great adventure of reading.

 

 

 

Bob Books Set 3 adds something new for young readers. Consonant blends gently introduce new concepts to the progressing reader. Consistent vowel sounds and lots of three-letter-word practice mean your child continues to enjoy reading success.

 

 

 

 

Readers at this level are able to tackle longer sentences and longer books but still love the accomplishment of reading a book all the way through. Bob Books Set 4 continues to build reading skills, while also providing engaging stories that build success.

In Bob Books Set 4, the simple narrative and design help children focus their skills on decoding, while introducing more challenging concepts and longer words. The delightful illustrations and humor help keep young readers engaged.

 

 

 

 I also use these phonetic beginning readers. They truly are phonetic, and slightly sillier than the BOB books. Your kids will be frustrated if you try to use books that aren’t entirely phonetic too quickly. Each of these sets is comprised of 10 shorter books, each slipped into a plastic sleeve. Each book represents and reinforces a phonics rule.

 

 

 

 

They progress logically and sequentially through all of the phonics rules. I teach my child to follow along with his finger as he reads, and each time he reaches an unfamiliar word, we quote the appropriate phonics rule together (e.g. when two vowels go a walkin’ the first one does the talkin’) and then my child sound the word out. Try really hard NOT to do the work for them. Also, it is critical that you hold your child on your lap, possibly wrap yourselves in a cozy blanket, and make the whole reading experience as relaxed, comfortable and enjoyable as you possibly can. Laugh together (these books are silly) and discuss the plot afterward. You want your child to love reading together SO much that he will beg for reading time!

 

 

 

 

 This set of books is also available in ebook format, but I heartily recommend sticking with the paper format so the experience is as multi-sensory as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Level 2 moves on to more advanced phonetic rules and concepts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your child will start learning the rules for all of the exceptions to the rules. English is really such a difficult language. Your child is amazing to be picking it up so easily! Give that child a huge hug!

 

 

 

 

 

 
Whew! You deserve a prize for making it to the end of this post. I know it’s long and it seems like there are a holy ton of rules. And the field of education uses words like metacognitive (which just means thinking about thinking) and phonemic and phonological awareness (which just means being aware of and able to manipulate small units of sound) and digraphs (sticky letters). Don’t even get me started on the acronyms!
 

Regardless of all of that, you can do this!
 

 

 

You’ve got this!

 

Remember when Scout, from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ tells her teacher that she can already read? It turns out she learned to read by sitting on Atticus’ lap as he read the newspaper and his law briefs. The newspaper is generally about an 11th-grade reading level, and law briefs would be even more difficult. A 4-year-old learned to read from those?
 

You might be tempted to disregard that example since it’s fictional. One of my first memories is of reading ‘Charlotte’s Web’ over my mom’s shoulder as a 4-year-old. I don’t actually remember reading over her shoulder. What I do remember is her surprise at learning that I could read, after I’d informed her that she had skipped several sentences.
 

I’ve since learned that skipping sentences is necessary because sometimes you just need to finish the book and get the kids to bed. The trick is to hold the book strategically so the reading children don’t learn your trick. Guess how I learned that? My own 4-year-old could read before I taught her how. It really is a thing — in real life, not just fiction!

 

What that tells me is that this code called Phonics is not really all that difficult to break. Barring any disorders that need to be addressed, if you’ve established a culture of literacy in your home it’s natural for your child to want to learn to read and to work in partnership with you toward that end. Taking one step at a time, you will do exactly that.
 

 

 

 

Follow me on pinterest to see all of the free phonics games, printables and activities I’ve pinned. If you need a full kindergarten curriculum, check out Homeschool your kindergartener (for free!) in just 20 minutes a day.
 

 

Pin me for later!

 

 

 

 

Related Reading: The Ultimate list of FREE Homeschool Curriculum

 
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This post is part of 10 Days of Tips for Homeschool Moms. I’ve partnered with 18 other homeschooling bloggers, all sharing their wisdom as part of this 10-day series. Be sure to check them out by clicking on the links below.

 

 


10 thoughts on “Ultimate Guide to Teaching Phonics”

  • Wow! What a wonderful post! You go into such useful detail I am in awe! I particularly love how you make it clear that phonics is actually very accessible even without specialist training. As a teacher I often find that parents shy away from it because the specific vocabulary makes them feel that they may mess it up or they won’t understand. Great work!

    • Thanks so much, Thomas! I love your blog, so I especially appreciate your compliment. I certainly felt overwhelmed by the lingo before I began, but discovered that it was actually very simple once I jumped in and started.

  • I love this! I’m a former teacher, and there are times that I’m fully convinced we school the love of reading right out of our children. When children learn to love learning, and then learn to love reading, they will be much more fluent and voracious readers. They learn to love reading through games and activities, just like you said. Thank you!

    • I can see that would happen in a large class of new and energetic young readers. It’s SO helpful when parents can help their little ones Phonics, one-on-one and through the use of games and fun, so reading is seen as a treat!

    • Phonics was my biggest fear when I started, too! It turns out it’s not all that complicated, though — you’ll do great!

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