Phonics education has gone through dramatic changes throughout the years. From the answer to nothing to the answer to everything. We have moved from almost zero phonics instruction to it becoming an integral part of English lesson all over the world. However the question remains: how often should we teach phonics to our students.
Phonics skills are an acquired language skill that takes both time and practice to master. Teaching 10-15 minutes a day of dedicated phonics is optimal. Although students will acquire these skills at different rates, as with all skills, regular practice and exposure accelerates phonics acquisition.
It is possible to do more than these short sharp lessons of course, but more does not always equate to better. Better results will be shown by showing the relevance of the phonics skills they are learning, and by keeping your phonics skills lessons fun and engaging as well as effective.
Although English teachers generally have more knowledge about language acquisition, phonics instruction has undergone drastic changes in the last four decades. Educational research is ever-changing and adapts to children’s needs.
Educators and parent educators often want to know how to incorporate phonics instruction and how often to do this. Let’s take a look at some phonics facts and information.
How Often Should Phonics Be Taught.
Although this will change and adapt with both the age circumstance ( second languge etc) and ability of the students and children phonics and phonemic awareness should begin as soon as children start interacting with text.
Early Years Phonics Frequency
These can be done at early ages with very short 10 second passive teaching techniques that include the following:
- Asking children to identity sounds in story books while reading.
- Alphabet Snap and other card games
- Flash Card games
- Slap the sound games on the classroom white or black board if able.
- Comparing the number of letters to sounds in simple words. ( see our resources)
- Simple rhyming games as they progress.
While you don’t need to make sure that a two-year-old can match the b sound with the letter b, you can make sure that they clearly hear the sounds of the words and play with word sounds like rhyme and alliteration. Kids love making up words and making them rhyme.
As far as how often you should teach phonics, you have to choose how you will teach phonics. Some teachers teach phonics in a sequential fashion.
How Often To Teach Phonics at Kindergarten.
Children are now in semi formal school environments, and more emphasis can be placed on language skills. However this should be still used in the medium of games and activities. Their motor control is still under developed for tackling written texts of any length.
A minimum of 10-15 minutes a day is our suggestion at this stage. Children will be learning language through songs and repetition of rhymes and it is a good point to introduce the concept of sounds in parallel to this. Some suggestions are listed below.
- Changing one or two letter in popular songs so they practice swapping sounds.
- Online Phonics games as a group or class to enable them to learn together.
- Phonics songs to use along side traditional kindergarten songs.
- Minimal pair phonics and CVC activities and games if level appropriate
- Personal Games like Teach your Monster to read
At this age they are becoming able to know differences between sounds and letter relationships at a basic level. However they are likely to be unaware of why this happens.
This is no problem whatsoever. Like in science we can teach what happens and tackle the why at a later stage. Keeping the activities and instruction short and sweet ensures that students are happy to engage with the tasks and that rather than a chore to be completed phonics becomes an activity to look forward to.
In Kindergarten, and first grade for that matter, children do not have the attention span of older children. it is worth considering an approach that is a little more interactive liek the phonics in Motion program below. They aim to bring movement into young children’s English lessons and are doing a great job. It is designed for both parents and school. (we also have a discount code if you want to save a few dollars – EnglishIsFun20)
Phonics in Motion is one of the new approaches, and their aim like ours is to inject a little fun into English lessons and engage those hard to reach students. Certainly worth a look below, if you use the code EnglishIsFun20 then you can get 20% of any item as well.
How Often To Teach Phonics In First Grade Or Older?
Now our students are in formal education and depending which educational system they are following they will either have dedicated lesson on English, or it will be incorporated into general classrooms.
Which ever system they follow we can still include dedicated time for learning phonics skills. However, at this age we can start to include reading skills and rules as well. This will be along side the more traditional grammar and structures teaching.
It is important to maintain a similar or slightly longer time to develop phonics skills, up to 30 minutes would be great. However they will learn quickly at this age and this can be left to teacher discretion, the phonics focus and student ability.
Students at this stage, or early into this stage should be developing their knowledge of sound and letter relationships. We can start to introduce phonics rules for these to help them use these skills in real life situations. ( likely to be reading lessons at this age!)
Tasks can include.
- Can start introducing rules like long vowels and magic E
- Online games like teach your monster to read
- More difficult phonics concepts like digraphs
- Board games, and pair work / group work
- Using Guided reading and reading skills strategies.
We have literally hundreds of Phonics and English resources to help you teach this, ranging from full lessons to 5 and 10 minutes activities. We have listed links to about 10 of our favorite of these at the bottom.
These are all free, we do have a shop as well if you need either editable or collections of resources. Please feel free to take a look at both.
What Should You Teach Along Side Phonics skills?
If we are advising that phonics should be little and often, or at the most medium and often, then how else can you fill those English lessons?
There are still exams and tests, and phonics makes shamefully rare appearances on these. Skills are only recently becoming an important feature in language classrooms. So there are topics to cover, grammar to teach and books to read. The important thing, to us at least, is that you still make the time to teach phonics in amongst all these other demands.
Some teachers will elect to teach phonics as they encounter the need for the rule. Rather than going in order of sequence as someone else prescribes, they go in order of appearance in the texts they use in the classroom.
Sequential learning gives teachers a roadmap for what to teach and when. . However, with teachers who teach rules as they are encountered, there’s no need for these lists. The students learn when it is authentically presented.
Although both have drawbacks and merits the key to any skill including phonics skills is practice and exposure. So if addressing a rule as it appears in a text one week, and then it doesn’t appear for weeks later students are unlikely to remember the rules surrounding it. – This approach is really common in most school English text books unfortunately.
Does Student Age Make A Difference in Teaching Phonics?
Another concern that some teachers and parents have is whether or not their student is ready for phonics instruction. Students can generally learn phonics if they have phonemic awareness and are able to hear and see the phonemes and graphemes.
There’s not a set age that teaching one phonics concept is right over another. However, non-sequential phonics instruction sometimes fades out into no phonics instruction. Phonics is critical to student learning and reading skills.
We shouldn’t ignore that. As far as teaching students as they ask or want to learn, there’s nothing wrong with teachable moments. Phonics can take on both roles in some ways. First, teaching blends may be difficult with no phonics base.
However, it’s okay to teach children about those blends if one book contains many words with a blend. Introduce them to the concept so that later when they need to understand it more completely.
You can check out more information on what age to start teaching phonics in the article below.
Alternatively, development does play a part in student understanding. Developmentally children must be ready to learn to read and discriminate between sounds and letters. When introducing any new material, child development should be considered.
How Long Should It Take to Learn Phonics?
Generally, it takes nearly two school years to learn phonics. However, this does not mean that two years of phonics instruction should be all of the phonics connection you should have. Teaching phonics at the school level generally takes place in kindergarten and first grade.
However, letters and sounds are often taught beginning in prekindergarten, and middle school teachers are still encouraging kids to use phonics techniques. The formal instruction usually lasts about two years, though. Followed by referring back to these rules as they progress through their school years.
Does Phonics Work for Everyone?
Nothing works for everyone, but phonics works for the majority of students in most situations. Learning styles can affect students’ responses to phonics. Even Read with Phonics acknowledges that physical and auditory readers might have trouble.
Dyslexic students also struggle with phonics, probably due to the difficulty in processing the written word as everyone else does. There is nothing wrong with phonics not working for everyone, but it is important to acknowledge. Students and teachers must be willing to stop and try something different.
What Are Some Alternatives to Phonics?
When phonics doesn’t work for the teacher or student, it’s vital that you have an alternative. No reading instruction doesn’t work for most people to be able to learn phonics. We have a larger explanation of some of the alternatives to phonics in the article linked below.
- One of the most popular alternatives to phonics is Whole Language Instruction. In this method of reading instruction, some phonics concepts may be covered, but the focus is on the experience of reading, context, and relationship with concepts.
- Natural reading instruction actually relies on children to learn to read on their own. The concept argues that if children are in an environment that encourages reading, they will learn to read. This method probably does work, but it is not highly recommended.
- Finally, whole word instruction relies on rote memorization. Children are shown words or flashcards and asked to remember them. This method works somewhat and may be best for sight words or high-frequency words, but it relies on a finite set of words. Students cannot learn new words without proper instruction.
Reading comprehension often begins with phonics instruction, but it is not the only method for teaching students to read. They need support even before formal instruction begins, and young children can benefit from fun with words and language such as rhyming, alliteration, and onomatopoeia.
Whether you use sequential or non-sequential phonics or another system altogether is less important than giving students consistent instruction with clear feedback. Consider your students’ needs when choosing a reading instruction program.
What science tell us about teaching reading: Diana McGuiness
Strategies used for teaching Phonics in Early years classrooms: Morrow and Tracey
Free Phonics Resources:
A small selection of our most popular phonics resources.