The Advantages of Teaching Reading Through Phonics

The Advantages of Teaching Reading Through Phonics

Children can often be heard singing the alphabet song from a very young age, but is this really the best way to teach children how to read?

Reading is a skill that children need to be taught in a structured and systematic way, to enable them to learn the necessary skills to decode the letters and words they are reading. Teaching children to read through phonics is a fun, stimulating and effective approach that is favoured at Kinabalu International School. As well as mastering the basic skills of learning to read, we want to encourage children to experience the rewards of reading and develop a lifelong love of books.

Did you know our language has 26 letters but there are 42 sounds to learn?!

Phonics teaches children to read by identifying and pronouncing sounds rather than letters. Through a structured approach they are taught how to:

  • recognise the sounds that each individual letter makes;
  • identify the sounds that different combinations of letters make – such as ‘ie’, ‘sh’ or ‘oo’; and
  • blend those sounds together from left to right to make a word.

Children can then use this knowledge to ‘decode’ new words that they see or hear. This is the first important step in learning to read. Research shows that it is important for children to know and understand the sounds that letters make before a child is introduced to the letter names.

The cornerstone of learning to read effectively is learning the letter sounds and acquiring the innate ability to automatically decode and recognise words. However, for a young child or a beginner reader, this is not such a simple process. This is something that requires repeated exposure and practice such that the word decoding process becomes an instant, automatic process. Somebody who is a fluent reader does not put much thought into how much neural effort is required to read and comprehend, especially for new learners.

If we break down the sentence ‘The dog jumped’ you will see what is required and that reading is not that simple:

  1. ‘The’ is what is known as a sight word. It cannot be decoded and must be learned outright.
  2. Now we move on to ‘dog’. What makes dog sound like ‘DOG’? There are three phonemes or sounds in the word /d/ /o/ /g/. Learning only the letter names will provide little or no clues as to how to pronounce the word. ‘Dee’ ‘oh’ ‘gee’ sounds nothing like /d/ /o/ /g/ ‘DOG’. A reader must not only know the three phonemes, but they must also be able to look at the letters and instantly connect those letters together to make the word ‘DOG’.
  3. The same process is true with the word ‘JUMPED’.

So, reading is a complicated process that involves 1) The ability to recognise and know the letter, 2) the knowledge of the letter sounds represented by the printed text, and 3) the ability to quickly connect those sounds together to form a complete word. These processes of Phonics and Phonemic Awareness are two absolutely critical components needed to help teach a child to read.

In many cases, no matter how well intentioned a parent might be, this is where many parents may get a little off track when teaching their children only the letter names ‘dee’ ‘oh’ ‘gee’ will have little to no effect in teaching a child to read ‘DOG’.

Research has found phonics to be particularly effective for children aged 5 to 7. By teaching in a structured way, starting with the easiest sounds and progressing through to the most complex, almost all children will learn the skills they need to tackle new words. They can then go on to read any kind of text fluently and confidently, and read for enjoyment. They can also use this knowledge to begin to spell new words they hear.

Children who have been taught phonics also tend to read more accurately than those taught using other methods, such as ‘look and say’. This includes children who find learning to read difficult, for example those who have dyslexia.

At KIS students from Foundation 1 upwards are taught daily through a structured phonics programme, which has achieved great success since it was implemented several years ago. Developing not only skills, but also an enjoyment of reading in our students is a crucial element of our approach to education. All learning comes from the ability to not only read, but also to understand written text and our phonics programme provides a solid foundation for our younger students to learn these important skills.

Phonics Resources: How you can help your child at home

Here are some recommendations from our teachers to support your child’s learning of phonics:

  • Oxford Owl – A favourite site at KIS! Oxford Owl Reading has 250 free books for you to share with your child as well as simple ideas, top tips, activities and games to help your child with their reading at home.
  • Teaching Your child – This website offers a variety of activities that can support the learning of phonics at home
  • Letters and Sounds – free resources and games for you and your child to enjoy together
  • Alphablocks – Alphablocks is the hit CBeebies TV show that is helping hundreds of thousands of children learn to read.

Written by Mrs Nicky Russell, Head of Primary, Kinabalu International School