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Phonics Development

It's a mistake thinking a lack of phonics instruction is the primary cause of low literacy rates, or that more phonics instruction will solve that problem.


This page describes phonics and its elements, research findings, and suggestions on how it is learned and taught. Topics include: phonemic awareness skills & examples of instruction, example of synthetic or explicit phonics, example of analytic or word analogy phonics, content of phonic's instruction, four cueing systems, and a phonics test for teachers.

Supporting vocabulary:

Phonics is the relationship between letters and sounds and translating text into oral language.

Allophone is a speech sounds that represent a single Phoneme (the sound of k in kit, and k in skit are allophones for the phoneme k.

Phoneme is a perceptually distinct unit of sound that distinguish one word from another.

Systematic phonics is the teaching of phonics with a specific plan or program. Different from teaching as opportunities are presented as a result of the needs of the children or responsive phonics.

Synthetic phonics also called explicit phonics is where the teacher presents the individual sounds of words and how they blend into word pronunciations.

Analytic phonics is also called word analogy phonics emphasizes larger units of pronunciation. Analytic and synthetic are very different.

Research findings related to phonics

Phonemic awareness skills & examples of instruction

Phonemic Awareness skill Example of instruction
Phoneme isolation Teacher: What sound do you hear first in cat?    Student: /k/
Auditory discrimination Teacher: Which of these words doesn't belong: bag, bear, can?
Student: Can doesn't belong—it doesn't begin like bag and bear.
Teacher: What sound is the same in jar, jam, jet?
Student: /j/
Phoneme blending Teacher: What word is /p/ /i/ /n/?    
Student: /p/ /i/ /n/ is pin
Phoneme segmentation Teacher: Break this word into its sounds: sock.  Student:/s//o//k/
Teacher: How many sounds are in tie?
Student: /t/ /i/ There are two sounds in tie.
Phoneme deletion Teacher: Say chin without the /ch/
Student: in
Phoneme addition Teacher: Add a /s/ to the end of duck
Student: Ducks
Teacher: Add /b/ to the beginning of ring
Student: Bring
Phoneme substitution Teacher: Change the last sound you hear in pig to /n/
Student: Pin


Example of synthetic or explicit phonics

  1. Teacher teaches children some simple consonant sounds (e.g., /b/, /n/, /p/, /s/).
  2. Teacher teaches a vowel sound (e.g., the short/a/ — the sound in cat).
  3. Teacher teaches children how to sound out words, and perhaps nonsense words, using these letter sounds: bab, ban, bap, bas, nab, nan, nap, nas, pab, pan, pap, sab. san, sap, sas
  4. Teaching continues letter by letter and sound by sound.

Example of analytic or word analogy phonics

  1. Teacher teaches words (e.g., cat, pig, man, Dad).
  2. Teacher then shows students how to use this word knowledge to sound out new words (e.g., can, pan, Dan): This word starts like the first sound in cat and it ends like man /an/ ... It is can.
  3. Teaching continues developing new words and understandings of the sound-symbol relationships based on known words.


Content of phonics instruction

Content of phonics instruction Examples
Consonants b, d, f, g, h, k, 1, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z
Consonant blends or clusters bl, br, cl, cr, dr, dw, fl, fr, gl, gr, pi, pr, sc, sk, sl, sm, sn, sp, st, sw, tr, tw, scr, str
Consonant digraphs sh, th, ch, ph, ng, gh
Short vowels cat, bet, fit, dot, but, myth
Long vowels ate, beat, pipe, road, use
Vowel digraphs oo, ew, aw, au, ou, ow, oi, oy
R-influenced vowels ar, er, ir, or
Some common spelling patterns and complex rules Consonant-Vowel-Consonant-Silent E (CVCe), CVC,
CV, CVVC, CVCCe, hard c, hard g
Silent consonants kn, wr


Four Cueing Systems 

1. Phonological System: 

2. Syntactic System

3. Semantic System

4. Pragmatic System

Buckets image A Phonics Test For Teachers


Why a phonics test for teachers?

We know phonics is just one tool to use to identify words so how do we know how to teach it?

The answer may be that a teacher has extensive knowledge of phonics so she or he can diagnose when students need a phonics lesson on the fly and can proved it.

If a teacher is weak in phonics knowledge, then she or he will:
1. Skip it altogether (not good).
2. Teach everything in a phonic’s teacher’s manual (also not good).

Knowledge of phonics enables teachers to make professional decisions on the fly on what, when, and how much to teach.

Check your phonics knowledge with the following test.

Phonics Test for Teachers

1. Underline seven words in this sentence starting with a single consonant sound.

2. Underline the words below that contain consonant blends:
Irish trigger flag clip bland picture blot

3. List two three-letter blends.

4. What is a consonant digraph?

5. The word diphtong contains three consonant digraphs. List them.

6. List six words that might help a child decide how to pronounce words with a "hard" C

7. A "soft" g is in the word: got ghost frog wage

8. After each of these nonsense words, write H if the c is "hard" or S if the c is "soft.

9. "Th" is unvoiced in: them thimble thistle thin they

10. Following are four nonsense words containing various sounds that y often represents. Match them with words that contain the same sounds usually represented by y.


11. The letter x stands for three sounds. Write a word to represent each of the three sounds:

12. The letter q stands for two sounds. Words that contain examples of each of these are:

13. Words ending in s, you may hear either an s or a z sound Write s or z after each word, indicating which sound you hear at the end:


14. There is a silent consonant in each of these words. Circle each silent consonant:
comb wren talk knew listen often

15. Write an L or an S after each of these words, depending on whether the word contains a long or a short vowel sound. Write X if the word contains neither.


16. In the nonsense word dode, the letter o would probably represent the sound that the o represents in:
on out comb hotter brown

17. In the nonsense word oap, the letter o would represent the sound that the o represents in:
rot round fox Rome

18. A vowel digraph is in the word:
slam goat bugle couch funnel

19. A diphthong is... Underline All the diphthongs in these words.
couch boy through oil now known

20. What symbol is used to represent the schwa sound in a dictionary?

21. Underline the vowel in each word below that represents the schwa sound:
balloon eaten ago golden beautify silent button circus consistent modify second

22. Underline all of the following nonsense words that are correctly divided into syllables:
ham/ner de/fort/ly deg/or mec/hor
23. The word polysyllabic contains how many syllables?

24. Write 0 or C after each word to show whether the syllable is open or closed:


25. A grapheme is

26. A phoneme is