My first year teaching Kindergarten, I realized I did not understand how to teach phonics. With the exception of one Early Literacy college course, I knew nothing about phonics or how to teach students how to read properly. These are the 5 phonics instruction mistakes I made my first year teaching Kindergarten and how you can avoid them.
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1. My Lesson was too long
In our schedule, we had about 30 minutes allotted for phonics instruction. It seemed so hard to come up with a lesson for 30 minutes teaching a phonics skill! It seemed like my students got bored and weren’t paying attention, even though I was trying my best to find engaging activities. What I didn’t realize was that my lessons were too long.
I came up with a shortened phonics routine and kept it to about 15 minutes total. First, I started implementing a shorter phonics lesson. Then, I gave my students more time practicing the skills individually or in a small group setting during centers.
You can learn more about my phonics routine here: My Daily Phonics Routine.
2. I wasn't prioritizing phonemic awareness
Phonemic Awareness was not really on my radar my first year teaching Kindergarten. This was probably the biggest phonics instruction mistake that I made. I didn’t fully grasp what it was or how it helped students learn to read. I did teach identifying beginning, middle, and ending sound, rhyming, and syllables, however that was about it. It wasn’t until a fellow teacher recommended that I learn more about phonological and phonemic awareness that I started seeing a difference.
After learning about phonemic awareness, I picked about 2 skills per week and did a “warm-up” with my students. Later, I would create a daily warm-up for phonemic awareness that made it much easier to quickly run through all the phonemic awareness skills.
You can find that resource in my TPT store here- Phonemic Awareness Daily Warm-Ups for the Year: available for both Kindergarten and First Grade.
3. Not using multi sensory approaches
It is proven that students learn best when using a variety of multi-sensory activities. Multi-sensory instruction is a way of teaching that engages more than one sense at a time. The four main multi-sensory approaches are visual (sight), auditory (hearing), kinesthetic (movement), and tactile (touch). Typically, my lessons were using only a mix of visual and auditory, so my students would lose interest and have a harder time learning, especially those who learned best through movement or touch.
When creating my phonics lesson plans, I made sure to start including more kinesthetic and tactile activities. Each part of my lesson, I would make sure to cover all four areas to get the most optimum learning outcome. For example, the phonemic awareness warm up and phonics song would be auditory. Then, to introduce or review the skill, I would use visuals, such as flashcards, sound posters, or an anchor chart, which would be visual. For the whole group lesson activity, I either did a kinesthetic activity, like hot potato or write the room, or a tactile activity, like spelling words using a whiteboard or doing a picture sort. Finally, I would end with transitioning to centers where the majority of the activities were kinesthetic or tactile.
You can learn more about my hands-on activities here: Hands-On Activities for ELA
4. I wasn't making real life connections for my students
Applying what students are learning to real life is key for information to really stick in their brain. Students should be applying what they are learning in phonics and making that connection outside of when you are teaching phonics. For example, if you are teaching the “ee” long vowel pattern, you should be having your students read words with “ee” outside of their phonics lesson.
The goal is to have your students start identifying patterns outside of phonics lessons and be able to read independently. You want your students to see a vowel pattern or a CVC word during calendar time and be able to read it. You shouldn't only teach phonics during phonics time. It can be taught throughout the day, like during writing or even math!
My favorite activity to help students make that real life connection is by doing a phonics scavenger hunt. I give them a phonics skill and they have to walk around the classroom, look through a magazine, go outside, or even at home to find words with that phonics skill. Once they start making that real life connection, they will be able to decode and read more confidently. You can find the Phonics Scavenger Hunt activity in my Teachers Pay Teachers store here.
5. Not using assessment and data to help plan future phonics instruction
When I first started teaching Kindergarten, I did not have any sort of assessment in place for phonics. We had to test one phonics skill per quarter and that was it. I didn't realize how assessment and data could help me better plan future phonics instruction. Assessments should not be once a quarter, it needs to be “done over an extended period of time to ensure mastery.” (Wiley Blevins, A Fresh Look at Phonics)
I suggest having some kind of weekly assessment plan in place to help ensure that you know exactly where your students are at.
Here is a sample weekly assessment plan you can use:
- Week 1: Pre-Assessment- Test on 2-3 skills for that specific phonics skill. For example, with CVCe words, you may test identifying long or short vowel sound, reading CVCe words, and spelling CVCe words (as shown above). Your students will probably not score very high and that's okay! You will use these results to compare with the post-assessments.
- Week 2: Exit Ticket- These can be done weekly or a few times throughout the unit. It is a quick check that should take a max of 5 minutes to complete.
- Week 3: Informal Assessment- I like using a checklist to do an informal assessment on a specific phonics skill. I do this during my whole group lesson over the course of 2 or more days. I just check off if the student was able to do it or not.
- Week 4: Fluency Check- I use these just to see how well my students are reading. Typically I just use a roll and read page and they read the words in one of the columns.
- Week 5: Worksheet- You can also use a worksheet as an assessment, as long as students are doing it independently. I like to have one in their phonics data binder for each unit and skill.
- Week 6: Post-Assessment- Using the same skills found in the pre-assessment, this is done one-on-one at the end of a phonics unit.
By looking at all that data, you can decide if you want to add in an additional review week, or perhaps revisit a specific skill. This really helps pinpoint what is going well with your phonics instruction and what you could improve on as well.
You can find all the phonics assessments done for you in the Kindergarten and First Grade Phonics Curriculum.
If you want to make sure you don't make the same phonics mistakes, my signature program, The Complete Phonics Toolkit will be opening again in July 2022. You can find out more information on everything it includes and how to get on the waitlist here.