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Reading can be defined as “getting meaning from print.” Early reading experiences
generally deal with material that is familiar to the reader in oral form. The task is to learn
the written form of the words. Therefore, word identification is the foundation of the
reading program. There are basically four strategies to be used:

Strategy Task
Sight Words Learn the word.
Contextual Analysis Check the sense in the sentence.
Structural Analysis Look for word parts.
Phonic Analysis Sound it out.

Sight Words
Every reading program should include sight word mastery. The student should first ask
himself, “Do I know this word?” No other strategies are necessary if the word is already
known. If the reader tries to analyze every word, comprehension is lost. A fluent reader
must have automatic sight recognition of almost all of the words in the passage. Two
categories of words should be emphasized:

1. Irregular Words: Some words violate phonic principles and cannot be sounded out.
These words must be learned as sight words. A chart can be kept visible in the
classroom for these “outlaws” (they broke the rules!) The chart can be drawn to
look like a jail, and “outlaw families” (chart 8) can be listed in the same color (e.g.
could, should, would).

2. High Frequency Words: Some words occur so often that reading fluency is severely

affected unless they are recognized at sight. Some words that should be included
very early are the pronouns, common verbs (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been,
have, has, had), and common prepositions. The Dolch list of 220 words provides a
helpful beginning. Some of these high frequency words are also irregular and
should receive special emphasis.

Contextual Analysis
From the very beginning, reading instruction should stress the meaning of the passage. The
reader should always ask himself, “Does this word make sense in the sentence?” Too much
emphasis on graphic cues (written form) results in nonsense. Contextual analysis relies on
syntactic cues (word order) and semantic cues (word meaning).

Structural Analysis
If the reader does not know the word, he should ask himself “Do I know part of the word?”
To facilitate structural analysis, the reader should learn concepts related to syllabication,
root words, and affixes—prefixes (beginning) and suffixes (ending). Instruction should
emphasize the effects on the meaning of the word (e.g. pack, unpack, repack). In the upper
grades, students should be introduced to the Greek and Latin stems (e.g. hydro = water; bio
= life).

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Phonic Analysis
If the reader does not recognize the word or its parts immediately and cannot guess the
word by its context, he may ask himself, “Can I sound it out?” Phonics instruction is an
important part of a beginning reading program because its generalizations permit early
independence in reading before an extensive sight word vocabulary has been established.
Caution: Phonics Instruction is a means to an end, not an end in itself! The purpose of
phonics instruction is to develop a tool that can be used to identify words in order to
understand the meaning of a passage. The goal is “getting meaning from print,” not reciting

Three important principles apply:

1. Phonics instruction should be kept simple.
2. Most phonics instruction should be completed by the end of second grade.
3. Phonics is not the best method for every reader. (If a student is not doing well with

phonics, the answer is not more phonics drills!)

Phonics instruction should include three components:

1. Letter Sounds (phoneme-grapheme correspondence)
2. Basic Phonics Patterns
3. Word Blending

Letter Sounds
Letter Sounds include consonants and vowels. Response cards are an effective practice
technique. (These may be teacher-made, student-made, or ordered from Open Court.)
Computer programs also make practice fun (could order from Silicon Express). The
difficulty in English is the lack of one-to-one phoneme-grapheme correspondence. In other
words, there are more phonemes (about 45 sounds) than graphemes (26 letters), and the
same sound may be represented by more than one letter combination (and vice versa!)

Consonants: Avoid the heavy “uh” at the end of consonant sounds to facilitate blending.
Do not say “buh,” “tuh,” and “muh.” (Use the Open Court phonics tape for teachers if you
need help.) Begin with the Single Consonants (chart 1). Note that w and y are sometimes
vowels, but this can be taught later. (Y is only a vowel when not at the beginning of a word.
W is only a vowel in combinations: aw, ew, ow.) Special Consonants (chart 2—variant
consonants) can be introduced next. (Q is special because it never stands alone: QU.
C, G, S, and X are special because they each have a hard sound and a soft sound.)
Consonant Digraphs (chart 3) must be taught because they do not sound like either
component letter, as opposed to Consonant Blends (chart 4) in which each letter can be
heard. It confuses readers to include gn, kn, and wr with the digraphs – it is easier to learn
that the first letter is silent. Beginning readers may find it helpful to practice the consonant
blend chart, but it requires a minimum of attention, and it certainly is not necessary to
memorize any of the lists. Most beginners experience little trouble with consonant blends if
they have learned the consonants without the “uh.”

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Vowels: Beginning readers should learn the long and short sounds of each vowel (chart 5).
The long vowel sounds are easy because they “say their names.” A helpful sentence for
learning the short vowel sounds is, “Fat Ed is not up.” (chart 7). The schwa (represented by
an upside-down e) is the indefinite sound (similar to short u) found in unaccented syllables
(elephant). Other vowel sounds include the “a” in father and two sounds of “o” (long =
moon, short = book), which may also be spelled with “u” (long = moon/rule – not the same
as long u in mule, short = book/put). Diphthongs (chart 6) are gliding sounds from one
vowel to another.

Basic Phonics Patterns
In order to simplify phonics instruction, avoid memorizing lists and minimize the number
of rules introduced. Because there are many exceptions to the rules, insert the word
“usually.” If a rule applies to only a small number of words, teach the words as an “outlaw
family” (chart 8) rather than teaching the rule. Also remember in planning instruction that
applying the rules is more useful than reciting them! As you teach each rule, be sure to
introduce many regular words (those that follow the rule).

Phonics handbooks provide many rules that every reading teacher should know, but the
instruction must be simplified for students. The following patterns (chart 7) are practical:

• Short Vowel Pattern: A single vowel followed by a consonant is usually short (cvc
= consonant/vowel/ consonant). Examples: mad, big

• Long Vowel Patterns: When a word ends in final e, the vowel is usually long and

the e is silent (vce = vowel/ consonant/final e). Examples: cape, like, rode
• When two vowels occur together the first one is usually long and the

second one is silent – “When two vowels go walking, the first one
usually does the talking” (cvvc = consonant/vowel/vowel/consonant).
Examples: meat, loaf, paid

• Optional (less often used): When a word ends with a vowel it is usually
long (cv = consonant/vowel). Examples: go, by, me

• R-Controlled Vowels: The “Bossy R” rule states that a vowel followed by r has a

special sound—neither long nor short (v+r = vowel plus r). Examples: car, term,
skirt, fur

• Signal Letters: When the letters c or g are followed by the signal letters (e, i, y) they

usually have their soft sounds. Examples: cent, city, cycle, gentle, giant, gym.
(Also, signal letters often follow vowels to make them long: meet, laid, play.) To
help children remember the signal letters, they can be written inside a flag shaped
like those used to signal ships (chart 7).

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Word Blending
Students who know their letter sounds may still encounter difficulty blending them into
words. Here are two suggestions that will make the blending process easier:

1. Avoid the heavy “uh” at the end of consonant sounds.
2. Blend only two sounds to begin a word, then add one sound at a time.

Word blending instruction should begin as soon as the student knows at least one vowel
sound and one consonant sound. It is easier to start with cvc patterns because they are more
regular (follow the rules). The Primary Phonics readers available from Educators
Publishing Service are an excellent source of supplementary practice material (40
paperbacks with short, 40 more with long vowel patterns).

Once the student has learned to pronounce the consonant sounds correctly (without the
“uh”), the next step is to blend them to form a word. It will not help to tell the student to
“say the sounds faster.” It will help to blend only two sounds to begin a word, then add one
sound at a time. For example, to blend the word “bat”:

• Pronounce the first two sounds separately. b – a
• Blend the first two sounds. ba
• Pronounce the third sound separately. – t
• Blend the third sound with the first two. bat (already blended)

Use your finger or a pointer for each step. Point to each letter as it is pronounced
separately, then slide it across beneath the letters when you blend. Teach the students to use
the same motions.

Syllable Rules

1. The number of syllables equals the number of vowels heard (write, re-lease)
2. Divide before a single consonant (fa-mous, fi-nal)
3. Divide between two consonants, whether like or unlike (hap-pen, pic-nic)
4. Do not divide digraphs or blends (a-chieve, an-gry)
5. Divide before consonant preceding -le endings (un-cle, ta-ble)
6. Divide after prefix or before suffix if a separate syllable (pre-heat-ed, played)
7. Divide between words in a compound word (note-book, sun-shine)

Resource List

1. Beacon Press, CA 1-800-962-1776

• Self-Pronouncing Alphabet

• Animal puppets, jingles, activities for each sound
2. Educators Publishing Service 1-800-225-5750

• Primary Phonics – supplementary readers for beginners

• Solving Language Difficulties – phonics rules and practice
3. Jolly Learning Phonics 1-800-488-2665

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• Finger Phonics

• Action for each sound, puzzles, stencils
4. Open Court Publishing Company 1-800-435-6850

• Response cards

• Phonics cassette, many other useful materials
5. Sing, Spell, Read & Write 1-800-321-8322

• Videos and other instructional materials
6. Wikki Stix 1-800-869-4554

• Manipulatives made of wax-colored yarn
7. Zoo-Phonics 1-800-622-8104

• Phono-visual, tactile, kinesthetic approach to reading and spelling

Phonics Charts

Chart 1: Single Consonants

b k t
d l v
f m x
h n y
j p z

Chart 2: Variant Consonants

qu /kw/
c /k/ /s/
g /g/ /j/
s /s/ /z/
x /ks/ /gz/

Chart 3: Consonant Digraphs

ph /f/


(wh) (gh) /f/

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Chart 4: Consonant Blends
bl br sc scr
cl cr sk spl
fl dr sm spr
gl fr sn squ
pl gr sp str
sl pr st tw
tr sw

Chart 5: Vowels

Long Short Special
a a a (two-dot)
e e (schwa)
i i
o o oo (long)
u u oo (short)

Chart 6: Diphthongs

oi oy
ou ow

Chart 7: Vowel Patterns

Short vowels one-vowel pattern
Long vowels two-vowel pattern

final e pattern
Special vowels a, oo, oo, oi, oy, ou, ow

[2-dot, straight line, smile]
Bossy r ar, er, ir, or, ur

Signal letters e, i, y

Chart 8: Outlaw Families
could dove
should love
would shove

  • Phonics Study Guide
    • Basic Phonics Patterns
      • Resource List
  • Phonics Charts
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