Phonics and Decoding

Children holding alphabet blocks learning about phonics

Phonics instruction teaches the relationships between the letters of written language and the sounds of spoken language. Children's reading development is dependent on their understanding of the alphabetic principle — the idea that letters and letter patterns represent the sounds of spoken language. "Decoding" is the act of sounding out words using phonics.

The goal of phonics instruction is to help children learn the alphabetic principle — the idea that letters represent the sounds of spoken language — and that there is an organized, logical, and predictable relationship between written letters and spoken sounds.

Learning that there are predictable relationships between sounds and letters allows children to apply these relationships to both familiar and unfamiliar words, and to begin to read with fluency.

Children are taught, for example, that the letter n represents the sound /n/, and that it is the first letter in words such as nose, nice and new. When children understand sound–letter correspondence, they are able to sound out and read (decode) new words.

Programs of phonics instruction should be:

  • Systematic: the letter-sound relationship is taught in an organized and logical sequence
  • Explicit: the instruction provides teachers with precise directions for teaching letter-sound relationships

Effective phonics programs provide:

  • Frequent opportunities for children to apply what they are learning about letters and sounds to the reading of words, sentences, and stories

Systematic and explicit phonics instruction:

  • Significantly improves children's word recognition, spelling, and reading comprehension
  • Is most effective when it begins in kindergarten or first grade, but should be used as part of a comprehensive reading program with students at risk for reading disabilities or who have been identified as having a reading disability like dyslexia.

To learn more about phonics and decoding, browse the articles, parent tips, research briefs, and video below.

Featured Video: Phonics and Decoding

"To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark." — Victor Hugo, Les Miserables