How to Teach Reading English Using the Phonics Approach


Language acquisition and learning happen unconsciously and effortlessly. The child acquires the language spoken around him. It may not be restricted to the home language, the child acquires other languages which he hears from his peer groups, etc., and will be able to reproduce or use the language according to the situations. When the child enters school, Reading and Writing are taught to him in a manner that seems to be scientific, because it begins with the smallest unit (letters of the alphabet) proceeding to the biggest unit (texts). This method gives rise to many issues related to reading.

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Reading is an important part of life. The child who starts going to elementary school should learn to read. The expectation is so high in the society and from the parents for their child. The child should be able to read the text provided to him. If the child is not able to read, the parents/society blames the teachers, for not teaching anything to their child. So the major focus in elementary school is on teaching reading. The teachers will also be under pressure to teach the child to read.

The use of ‘phonics’ is the tool that aids in teaching children reading. Researches have also shown that reading is not just a standalone session. Successful reading happens when meaningful reading and phonics are integrated. But teachers use the conventional way of teaching ‘reading’ and ‘phonics’ separately. Therefore, the child struggles to become a reader. Research shows that the child who has strong phonics instruction at the elementary level tends to have higher reading abilities than those who do not. Hence, the teacher needs to be aware of the phonics instruction.

What is phonics?

Phonics is an instructional approach/method where the written letters and letter combinations are associated with sounds. This approach establishes the relationship between the speech sound (phoneme) and letters (graphemes). In the phonics approach to reading, the children are taught to recognize the sounds of each letter and identify the different combinations of sounds and letters. 

Since the children are taught to blend the sounds, they will be able to match the letters of the alphabet to the known speech sounds. The children will develop the skill to convert the individual letters into spoken sounds. With the help of Phonics instruction, the children will learn the relationship between the sounds and letters (sounds and their spelling), they can easily decode the words that they hear or see. This decoding ability will lead to successful reading.


The Phonic Approach of Teaching Reading English to ESL Students - download the PDF{alertInfo}

Why is ‘Phonics’ Important?

  • Phonics is a branch of linguistics. It is a study of sounds and letters and their relationship. Research shows that teaching phonics at the early age of the child is important because reading is taught in a structured way and the children will learn patterns of spelling and this helps in reading.

  • In our daily classroom, we come across children who cannot read a simple text. Research studies also show that children have a problem in reading. This is because they are not able to recognize the sounds of the letters of the alphabet in words they read. In phonics, they are taught to recognize and make the association of sounds of letters of the alphabet in words they read. This approach will certainly help them to improve their reading skills and they will become efficient readers.

  • Phonics also contributes to the child’s fluency in reading. It is believed that reading fast is fluency, but we should not forget the fact that it also includes accuracy and meaning-making in reading. When the children are taught phonics, they find reading easy because the recognition of words becomes automatic. When this is accompanied by meaning children will find the reading easy and reading becomes pleasurable.

  • Comprehension is another benefit of teaching phonics. Knowing the meaning and the sounds of words is important in reading and understanding the text. Phonics helps to sound out the words properly. When children learn to pronounce the words, the words will add to their vocabulary if of course, they make meaning of them. Their vocabulary will not only become rich but also, they will learn to use the words in their daily speech. In this process, the children’s comprehension will be improved.

  • In speaking in [any] language, confidence plays a crucial role. In phonics, children are taught the relationship between letters and their sounds, and sound patterns peculiar to the language, they will begin to have confidence that they can also vocalize the words just like older people. That is why phonics teaching is important. It is only with this confidence that the children will become fluent readers and good speakers.

  • Research studies indicate that the children who learn phonics at an early age or in elementary school will do better in all aspects of reading like recognizing the sounds, identifying the words, oral reading, and comprehension, and fluency.

A Complete Guide to the 12 Vowel Sounds and 8 Diphthongs of the English Language{alertInfo}

How is ‘Phonics’ taught?

Phonics instruction is taught in two different approaches: Synthetic (explicit) and Analytic (implicit).

Synthetic Phonics

Synthetic phonics is one of the ways to teach children reading. Synthetic phonics is also referred to as explicit phonics. This means that the children will learn to construct from part to whole. In this, they will first learn the letters and their sounds. Subsequently, they will build syllables and words according to the sounds-letter pattern.

In explicit phonics, children are taught letter-sound correspondence, and how to blend sounds to make words. The most important thing we should remember here is that the letter sounds, and words are taught systematically. While teaching this, the regular pattern is followed; Consonant-Vowel-Consonant (CVC). This kind of chronology is followed while teaching sounds and their letters in synthetic phonics. This is the most dominant approach to teach sounds and their corresponding letter. 

For example, the letter sounds are taught first such as /t/ /p/ /a/ /s/. Later they are taught to make the words out the sounds such as tap, pat, taps and pats, and so on.

A Complete Guide to the 24 Consonant Sounds of English{alertInfo}

Analytic Phonics

Analytic phonics is also referred to as implicit phonics. Here the children identify the word and then analyze the sounds of its letters. The children learn sight words. Later, the children learn to break the whole-word into their phonic parts such as phonemes and graphemes. Therefore, this is also called word breaking. The children are provided words and asked to pick out the letter and their associated sounds.

Principles to Teach ‘Phonics’ Effectively

Phonics instruction continues to be a controversial matter for a long time. Over time, phonics instruction has undergone several changes. There are also debates on the acceptance of synthetic and analytic phonics instruction. However, the following recommendations can be made to the teachers in teaching phonics effectively.

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  • The primary purpose of teaching phonics to children is to assist them to learn to decode the words which are known to them. In this process, they will also learn the relationship between the letter and their sounds. Therefore, teaching phonics has to be considered as a means to an end, but not an end in itself.

  • The teachers should also know with whom the phonics method works. Teachers also need to understand the individual child and learning styles of each child.

  • Phonics helps only when the partially known words are part of the learner’s or reader’s speaking and listening vocabulary. There are many such sounds and words in the English language where the beginners may get confused while reading because it is difficult to know how the word sounds. In such situations, the teachers can adopt read-aloud sessions.

  • Children should have lots of opportunities to hear, see and say the words and word patterns. To practice this in the initial stage, the teachers should concentrate on oral activities, workbooks, and other paper-pencil activities so that the children are exposed to many words that they have not heard, seen, and said.

  • There are two ways of teaching phonics-synthetic [explicit] and analytic [implicit]. The teachers must know the difference and significance of these two approaches. The teachers should take the best from these two and adapt the teaching of phonics to meaning-based methods of reading. The synthetic approach to phonics instruction emphasizes learning of the individual sounds in isolation and blending them to form words (a part–to- the whole approach).  For example, /c/ /a/ /t/- putting these sounds together form a word –cat. On other hand, the analytic approach emphasizes beginning with the whole words and then identifying the sounds of those words. For instance, the children learn the word -cat and later split it as /c/ /a/ /t/.

There are ongoing debates on the whole-language approach and phonics approach towards teaching reading. The proponents of the phonics approach argue that children must learn the basics of linguistics first. For instance, they insist that the children should learn the smallest components of language [letters] they will associate with the letter and their sounds and later they progress towards achieving words and sentences. Once the children know identifying and making sense of letter-sound correspondence, they would be able to form new words according to the context. But the proponents of the whole language approach claim that phonics is complex, and it hampers the reading skill of the learners/readers.

All-in-One PDF for all the 44 Sounds of English - click on the Phonetic Symbols to watch the videos {alertInfo}


From the debates between the whole language and phonics approach, we can conclude that only phonics knowledge although it is needed, is not sufficient. To balance these two debates, there exists a ‘Balanced Approach’. Therefore, the teachers should be aware of the background of his children and teach phonics and phonemic awareness. The debates are such that phonics is largely an illusion. Knowledge of letter-sound relationships is necessary to become successful readers however there are arguments that the children have to do a lot of drill work and practice which leads to rote memorization of the sounds and letters and this may hamper reading success.


Mr. Gurunathagouda, Azim Premji Foundation, Kalaburagi{alertInfo}

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