Phonics: A teaching method

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Teaching Phonics simply means to teach of the relationship between sounds and their spellings. The aim of phonics lessons is to instruct students in common sound-spelling relationships so that they can decode, or sound out, words. This decoding ability is an important element in reading success, and can be later developed to recognize a word immediately by its shape.

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Most poor readers rely too heavily on the reading strategy they first learned, such as the use of context and picture clues, that they exclude other strategies that might be more appropriate. To become skilled, fluent readers, teens need to have a variety of methods to chose from. These methods include using a knowledge of audible-syntax relationships — in other words, a knowledge of phonics. Also, research has shown that skilled readers do not actively “read” every word in a sentence and process the letters that compose each of these words. Instead they process the words phonically by relating the word sound combinations to a shape/sound understanding.

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Consequently, phonics teaching plays a central part in enabling students to comprehend text. It makes the student map sounds onto spellings and word shapes, thus enabling them to decode words quickly. Decoding the words helps in the development of word shape recognition, which in turn increases reading fluency. Reading fluency improves reading comprehension because as students are no longer struggling with decoding words, they can concentrate on making meaning from the text.

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In addition, phonics instruction improves spelling ability because it emphasizes spelling patterns or letter shapes that become familiar from reading. Studies show that many English words are spelled with phonics rules that relate to one letter and one sound. For instance, when one is used to the shape of ‘tough’ one hears ‘tuff’ without even consciously sounding it, and again when there is a ‘r’ in front of it the shape changes and the mind unconsciously pronounces ‘trough’ as in ‘troff’.

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Explicit instruction is the most effective type of phonics instruction, especially for teens with reading difficulties. A good phonics lesson begins with an explanation of the sound-spelling being taught along with guided opportunities for students to blend, or sound out, words using the new sound-spelling. These exercises should be followed by guided and independent reading practice in text that contains words with the new sound-spelling.

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Teens should also be taught to visualize the whole word, thus learning to recognize the word shape. This portion of phonics instruction is most important. Therefore, phonics instruction should focus on applying learned sound-spelling relationships to actual reading, with smaller amounts of time spent on the initial task of learning phonics rules. That way, phonics lessons can be planned that are appropriate for all students, even if some have higher levels of phonic ability than others.

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 Learning to read through phonics instruction gives the student the ability to read ahead of their mouths.  That is, their eyes can be looking a phrase or so ahead of where their voice is vocalizing the words thus making their reading fluent and keeping them prepared for anything which is coming in the text. This method removes the possibility of ‘stumbling’ through a piece of prose, and makes for fluent smooth reading.

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