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Phonics & Decoding

Making the connection between letters and sounds is the first task of reading. Many kids struggle with this step, but there are things you can do to help your child crack the code.

Click below for answers to the following phonics and decoding questions:

Question 1: I am homeschooling my child, who does well in every subject but reading. Do you have any suggestions for teaching phonics?
Question 2: Why can't my child re-read a word in a sentence that she just sounded out?
Question 3: I have a student who has trouble blending phonemes. Any suggestions?
Question 4: I am homeschooling my child. Should her language arts instruction be based on whole language, sight words, or phonics?
Question 5: What is the best order in which to introduce letters and their corresponding sounds?
Question 6: What strategies and programs do you recommend for teaching phonics and early literacy skills to preschoolers?
Question 7: What are some ways to help my daughter learn the names and sounds of letters? She is tired of simply using flashcards.
Question 8: How can I help my son practice blending sounds as he reads?

Question:

I am homeschooling my child, who does well in every subject but reading. Do you have any suggestions for teaching phonics?

Answer:

The resources below may give you some ideas for new ways you can approach phonics instruction with your child:

This next article from Reading Rockets describes the elements of effective reading instruction. It may be able to guide you in ensuring that you have addressed all of the key instructional components when teaching your child to read:

If, after trying some of these teaching strategies, your child is still having a hard time with phonics, you may want to consider other reasons for his difficulties. There are many children who are bright, but also have a very challenging time learning the basic skills of reading. Many of these children learn differently and require more explicit and varied instruction in mastering literacy skills than other kids their age who seem to learn how to read and write almost effortlessly.

This is not a reflection of the intelligence of the children who struggle, but a sign that there may be something impeding their progress. This discrepancy between ability and achievement is, in part, what defines a learning disability. It can be difficult to hear that your child may have a learning disability, but it is important to keep in mind that, by definition, people with learning disabilities have average to above average intelligence. They may need to be taught in a different way than they've previously been taught and may need to be shown learning strategies that work for them.

Discovering your child's learning differences, as well as ways to work through them, may help him to become an advocate in his education, to learn compensating strategies, to feel better about himself and his ability to learn, and to more fully reach his academic potential. The following articles describe some common characteristics that children with learning disabilities exhibit:

If, after reading these articles, you suspect that your child is showing signs of a learning disability, you may consider requesting an educational evaluation through your public school, which is free and within your legal rights as a parent to request.

This evaluation is a way of gathering information so that you can better understand your child's strengths and weaknesses, as well as the best ways to help him become a more successful and willing reader. The evaluation will also give you an opportunity to consult with educators about your child's specific needs. The following articles will provide you with information about educational evaluations and an overview of the evaluation process:


Question:

Why can't my child re-read a word in a sentence that she just sounded out?

Answer:

This may happen because she is concentrating so hard on the decoding (sounding out), that she is unable to remember and comprehend the full sentence. This is a good indication that the books she is reading are too challenging for her at this time.

The next time you and your child choose books, you may want to ask her teacher, a librarian, or a reading specialist to help you find "just right" books for your child. These should be books that your child is interested in and that she can read with about 95% accuracy the first time. Ask her to read a page or two aloud while you silently count the errors from the total numbers of words on the pages she reads. This will give you an estimate of her accuracy.

By reading "just right" books, your daughter will practice all aspects of reading, including fluency and comprehension. And comprehension, ultimately, is the goal of reading! As she reads "just right" books, her ability to decode words will become even more automatic. As she gains proficiency, the text will become more meaningful because she will be able to understand and enjoy what she is reading.

Check out Reading Rockets' recommended books by theme for some ideas!


Question:

I have a student who has trouble blending phonemes. Any suggestions?

Answer:

Mastering phonemes is the gateway to reading. Though some children begin recognizing sound-symbol patterns just through exposure to books, many children need direct instruction in this area. The following articles may give you some good ideas for helping your student:


Question:

I am homeschooling my child. Should her language arts instruction be based on whole language, sight words, or phonics?

Answer:

After much debate over the best way to teach reading and writing, the growing consensus is that a combination of strategies is best, that all effective language arts programs have common components, and that no one program works for all students. The following article describes the elements of effective reading instruction and may be a good way for you to evaluate your program for balance and thoroughness:

As far as emphasizing sight words or phonics, it’s important that both elements are taught since they are both critical components of reading and writing proficiency. Another important component of literacy is a genuine enjoyment of the written word. The following articles from LD OnLine and Reading Rockets may give you some new ideas for promoting literacy:


Question:

What is the best order in which to introduce letters and their corresponding sounds?

Answer:

Many people feel that the most natural way to introduce the alphabet and the letter sounds is to go straight from A to Z, but there is a more logical and systematic way that introduces letters based on the type of sounds that they make. The following article suggests which letters to introduce first as well as activities that help students learn the phonemes:


Question:

What strategies and programs do you recommend for teaching phonics and early literacy skills to preschoolers?

Answer:

Although we can’t recommend specific reading programs, the following article lists the characteristics that all good reading programs should have:

These next articles will give you information about early reading instruction and suggestions for helping your students develop the interest and skills to become lifelong readers:

This last article is geared toward parents but offers ideas for fun games to play with your students:


Question:

What are some ways to help my daughter learn the names and sounds of letters? She is tired of simply using flashcards.

Answer:

There are several things you can do to help your child remain interested in learning her letters. Try using a multi-sensory approach. Your child may be a tactile learner instead of an auditory or visual learner, or she may just need a variety of sensory input to learn best. Help her to identify how each sound feels on her mouth. Use a mirror to help. For example your lips come together for /m/.

You may want to try coming up with a rhyme or song about each letter. Use alphabet magnets or alphabet cookie cutters with clay in lieu of flash cards. These activities may be more fun and engaging than flashcards and help your daughter develop her oral communication.

Use pictures. Give your child a picture (e.g. a cat) and have her sound out the name while placing marbles, drawing marks, or tapping her fingers for each of the individual sounds in the word (e.g., /c/.../a/.../t/ is composed of 3 sounds, thus the child would use 3 marbles, marks, or taps.) Stick with short words with a consonant-vowel-consonant pattern, like bat, top, pen, dad, etc. You can also clap or tap out the number of syllables in a word.


Question:

How can I help my son practice blending sounds as he reads?

Answer:

You can do a lot to help your child practice. One way is to use modeling to introduce these skills. As you read to your child, sound out some of the words before you say them completely. Also, you can make a game to practice blending. Give your child a picture (e.g. a cat) and have him sound out the name while placing marbles, drawing marks, or tapping their fingers for each of the individual sounds in the word (e.g., /c/.../a/.../t/ is composed of 3 sounds, thus the child would use 3 marbles, marks, or taps.) You can also practice counting syllables by clapping or using your fingers to tap out the number of different sounds, or phonemes, in a word.

Once he can do this, have him practice sliding the sounds together. Check out the following segment of our Launching Young Readers series which models this very skill:

As your child continues to develop as a reader, the best thing you can do as a parent is to support him and give him many opportunities to practice.

"Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them." — Neil Gaiman