To teach phonics effectively, you need three main things: an understanding of synthetic phonics, a clear learning system in place, and a mix of implicit and explicit learning opportunities for your child to practice what they learn.
But what does that mean in plain English? It means that you need a clear plan for teaching phonics where each lesson naturally leads into the next. It also means that you want to teach phonics by starting with the most basic sounds, before slowly building up towards blends and full words. As children become more proficient, parents should encourage them to practice sounding out words so that they can learn how to identify new vocabulary. Finally, you want to have your children learning through both absorbing the language naturally and through instruction that explains how the language works.
By taking all of this into account, you can help your child master English phonics. Let’s take a look at some of these concepts one by one so that you can employ them effectively.
If you need any more phonics help, check out our Vowels and Consonants Page for lessons, flashcards, and articles.
What is Synthetic Phonics?
Synthetic phonics is a method of teaching phonics that focuses on learning and blending sounds. Synthetic phonics takes a bottom-up approach to learning language. It starts with teaching children to associate the letters of the alphabet with the sounds that they make. As the child becomes more proficient at this, they are encouraged to blend these sounds into basic words. Blending sounds is encouraged right from the beginning of the child’s phonics education so that they can quickly become used to identifying new words. By focusing on sounds and rules, instead of whole words, children can become confident in their abilities to encounter new words, instead of floundering when they encounter new vocab.
What is Analytic Phonics?
Analytic phonics focuses on teaching kids whole words, and then having them come to associate some of the sounds in these words with the letters in them. For instance, if I teach a child “big,” “bear,” and “ball,” they could infer that the “b” letter makes the /b/ sound. Analytic phonics can be very hard for young children to understand, especially if they are coming from a second language background.
Several studies have shown that synthetic phonics leads to better reading and spelling outcomes among students. Researchers from the University of Hull and the University of St Andrews compared two groups of Grade 1 children in Scotland, one group was taught using synthetic phonics, and the other was taught with analytic. After 16 weeks, the synthetic group was considered to be 7 months above their actual age in terms of reading and spelling abilities.
A follow-up study of these same children was performed when they were ten years old. The study found that even at the age of ten, the synthetic learners still had better word reading, spelling, and reading comprehension than their peers.
Based on this, it seems that synthetic phonics is better for teaching children how to read, though there is always more research that can be done.
What is Systematic Phonics Instruction?
Systematic phonics instruction is exactly what it sounds like. Teach phonics with a plan. This means that you are systematically teaching sounds and blends in a way that logically builds on what you have already taught. This does not mean that you should just teach phonics as you need it. Have a plan and an order of how you are going to teach the sounds and the blends, and then execute it. This may sound like an organizational thing, but it is actually very important when it comes to teaching your child to be an effective reader and speller.
One study looked at kindergartners who were taught phonics. One group was taught in an organized approach, and the other was not. Both groups were taught the same things overall. In the end, although both groups had the same level of letter-sound knowledge, the group that had a systematic approach was better at phonemic awareness, spelling, and reading.
One expert even found that being systematic was far more important than any difference between synthetic and analytic phonics learning systems. In his experience, that there wasn’t necessarily any correct system of teaching phonics, as long as it was done systematically.
Implicit or Explicit Teaching
Implicit learning is generally how we learn our first language. It involves observing the language and “picking it up” through games, songs, and everyday interactions. Explicit learning is how we generally learn a second language when we are older, through classwork, memorization of vocabulary, and familiarization with grammar. It has generally been thought that young children were best taught implicitly as they were not mentally developed enough for effective explicit learning.
Research has begun to show that both learning types are beneficial for children and adults. What does this mean for you? It means that when you are thinking about how you will systematically teach your child phonics, that you should also think about ways you can use implicit and explicit learning to help them improve their English skills. For example, you can have them watch English TV and listen to English songs, but this should also be paired with more formal phonics lessons that introduce them to basic grammar rules. A mix of these two styles will help your child become a proficient reader and speller in no time at all.
Countless parents out there want to help their children learn how to read English. The most important thing you will need is dedication. Luckily, if you are reading articles like this, you probably already have the dedication required. The next thing you will need is knowledge of how to teach them. I hope that this article has helped you understand the best way to teach your child phonics. When you are planning your phonics lessons, make sure that you use a synthetic, bottom-up approach, make sure it is systematic, and try to involve a good mix of implicit and explicit learning so your child can thrive.
If you need more resources to help you out, take a look at our article on TPR, another helpful teaching strategy, or you can read about some fun phonics games which can help you with coming up with great ways to teach your child implicitly. Another place to look is our phonics lessons, which include explanations of how to make the sounds of English and super handy flashcards to help you review with your child everything that they have learned.
If you need more help, book a call with us, and we can help you come up with an appropriate phonics plan for your child.