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Research Report

The Science of Learning to Read Words: A Case for Systematic Phonics Instruction

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A review of theory and research by Ehri and her colleagues to document how a scientific approach has been applied over the years to conduct controlled studies whose findings reveal how beginners learn to read words in and out of text. Words may be read by decoding letters into blended sounds or by predicting words from context, but the way that contributes most to reading and comprehending text is reading words automatically from memory by sight. The evidence shows that words are read from memory when graphemes are connected to phonemes. This bonds spellings of individual words to their pronunciations along with their meanings in memory. Readers must know grapheme–phoneme relations and have decoding skill to form connections, and must read words in text to associate spellings with meanings. Readers move through four developmental phases as they acquire knowledge about the alphabetic writing system and apply it to read and write words and build their sight vocabularies. Grapheme–phoneme knowledge and phonemic segmentation are key foundational skills that launch development followed subsequently by knowledge of syllabic and morphemic spelling–sound units. Findings show that when spellings attach to pronunciations and meanings in memory, they enhance memory for vocabulary words. This research underscores the importance of systematic phonics instruction that teaches students the knowledge and skills that are essential in acquiring word-reading skill.


Ehri, L.C. (2020). The Science of Learning to Read Words: A Case for Systematic Phonics Instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S45– S60.

Related topics

Phonics and Decoding