When it comes to teaching kids how to read, we want a research-backed, proven approach to our phonics instruction. We've learned that memorization, guessing, and just “reading a lot” will not effectively teach our children to read. We know that the Science of Reading shows us that we need this science-backed phonics instruction. So, exactly what does that look like? Here are the three elements of science-backed phonics instruction that we need to be focusing on.
Utilizing a Hands-On Approach to Phonics Instruction
First, let's start with what “hands-on” really means. A hands-on approach is where children use their hands to learn. “Hands-on activities let the students' minds grow and learn based on the experiences and the environment they are exposed to. ELLs learn while discussing, investigating, creating, and discovering with other students. As the students become familiar with the subject they are learning, they begin to make decisions, requiring less teacher support and allowing more interactive learning experiences to occur (Cooperstein & Kocevar-Weidinger, 2004).”
When you might think of phonics instruction, you might think of “drilling practice,” where the teacher is modeling how to blend, and students are just repeating. While we need to be teaching phonics explicitly like this, we also need to add hands-on ways to learn.
Hands-On Phonics Lesson Idea
To give you a better picture of what a hands-on approach to phonics instruction might look like, I am going to share one of my favorite hands-on lesson activities you can try with your students. Magnetic letters are super easy and versatile to use during your phonics lesson- all you need is a magnetic whiteboard or a sheet pan to show kids.
With this activity, you will say a word, and students will practice segmenting the word and spelling it using magnets. You can first model it, then have a student try to model it, and finally, have them practice during their small group lesson. Independently, students can practice this skill by looking at a picture and spelling the word using magnets. These magnet mats can be found in the CVC Words Phonics Centers and Games.
For more hands-on learning ideas, make sure to check out this blog post here:
Transitioning from Instruction to Practice
After teaching the phonics skill in the whole group lesson, students will need to practice the skill multiple times with and without your assistance. Sometimes this can be the trickiest part of our phonics instruction. Before students could do the skill independently, I liked to teach it again during our small group instructional time. This smaller group setting was key to helping differentiate instruction for each group of learners.
Small Group Phonics Lesson Practice Example
To share an example of this transition, let's work on identifying consonant blends in words. You can use a picture sort [link consonant blends picture sort resource] to help students differentiate the different blends they may see in words, like bl- or cl-. First, you would show the students the picture and ask “What is this a picture of?” Once they say the word, for example, “clap”, model how to slowly segment the blend into the two sounds “/c/” and “/l/” and show them the written blend. Next, you can have the students try on their own to write down the blend “cl” on a whiteboard. After a few tries, they can work together to sort the pictures under the correct consonant blends heading. This gradual release approach will help support them as they try to practice the skill on their own. The next day, they can do a cut-and-paste picture sort independently for additional practice.
To read more about small group reading activities, make sure to check out this blog post here:
Applying Skills to Reading and Spelling
What happens when phonics time is over and we move on to other subjects? Will our students be able to apply these skills they are learning to “real life”? That's one of the biggest things that we need to be looking for as a teacher- real-life connections to practice our reading and spelling. One easy way I like to do this is by encouraging a Phonics Scavenger Hunt. Whatever skill we are learning for that week, I challenge my students to find an example “out in the wild,” like at home or at the grocery store, on a billboard, cereal box, etc. Once they start connecting these phonics skills to the outside world, their ability to decode and spell will improve because they are applying these skills effectively! My students would always come in the next day so excited because they found the -at word family on a sign, or maybe they were able to read a word while waiting in line at the grocery store.
During the other subjects you are teaching, have your students apply these skills. Maybe they can practice decoding to read the directions for a math worksheet or try to phonetically spell a word while writing a sentence about a science topic they are learning about. Constantly practicing and applying these skills will benefit them greatly! You will be surprised at how easy it is to find other opportunities to practice phonics without planning a lesson.
Implementing the three science-backed elements of phonics instruction
Once you have those three elements in place with your phonics instruction, you will notice that teaching phonics seems easier than before. The lightbulbs start going off during your phonics instruction, and students can read and spell confidently.
Looking for more help with your phonics instruction?
If you are looking for a phonics curriculum with science-backed instructional practices like these, the Sweet for Kindergarten Phonics Curriculum Bundle is your one-stop resource for everything you need! You can read more about the program and what it includes here: All About the Sweet for Kindergarten Phonics Curriculum