Reading First: A Guide to Phonics Instruction

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Phonics instruction helps children learn and apply the alphabetic principle, which is the understanding of the connection between written letters and spoken sound.

Reading is a complex task especially for beginning readers. These readers must manage many cognitive processes occurring simultaneously (e.g., recognizing words; constructing meaning of words and sentences; taking new information and relating it to their background knowledge). A critical part of this complex task for beginning readers involves making connections between letters and sounds and pixvarious spelling patterns. Beginning readers must learn to apply these connections to their reading and spelling. The goal of phonics instruction is to provide children with the skills they need in order to recognize words automatically.

Systematic, explicit phonics instruction has been shown to be the best way to ensure that primary grade children become fluent readers, improving word recognition and spelling achievement as well as reading comprehension. Additionally, systematic phonics instruction is effective for students from a variety of social and economic levels and is especially effective for children experiencing difficulty learning to read. Phonics, however, does not equal an entire reading program. Students must be involved in activities that will further develop their phonemic awareness and lead them down the path of fluent readers and writers with growing vocabulary and comprehension skills.

Phonics and Word Study Assessment.
Phonics and word study instruction should begin with the assessment of the current word knowledge levels of your students. This section of the guide provides you with the information and tools you need to conduct word knowledge assessments.

Instructional Activities to Develop Phonics and Spelling Skills.
Research has verified the importance of systematic and explicit phonics and word study instruction. This isolated instruction must be accompanied with work in real reading and writing activities for authentic practice. The activities described in this section are particularly helpful in increasing your students' knowledge of words and includes a mixture of reading and writing words both in isolation and in text.

Instructional Activities to Develop Sight Word Vocabulary.
This section focuses primarily on building students' sight word vocabularies. A sight word vocabulary is composed of all of the words that a student knows automatically. These words may be decodable or high frequency words (e.g., said, was, when). Each activity discussed involves repeated exposure to words in isolation and in connected text.

Pictorial Case Study: Phonics for the Beginning Reader
Pictorial Case Study: Phonics for the Instructional Reader
Pictorial Case Study: Phonics for the Emergent Reader

Click here to see a list of resources that address phonics and word study assessment and instruction.

Please feel free to download and use any of the activities and information that we have provided. You may contact the Reading First office at the University of Virginia if you have any questions.

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