Effective Phonics Routines in the Young Learner Classroom

Reading cannot be called reading unless comprehension is involved. But before children can focus their attention on making meaning from the text, they must get rid of the decoding effort. Decoding is an essential skill for reading but it is not enough in itself to enable comprehension. In order to focus on comprehension, a reader must no longer struggle with looking at letters, sounding those letters, and blending them together.

Similarly, before children can write stories or convey any message through writing, they must get rid of the encoding effort. Writers who are focused on the content of their writing, need to use encoding skills automatically, such as using sound-letter relationships, using knowledge of root words and recalling some words from memory.

Phonics aids children in these decoding and encoding skills which are not enough for reading and writing, but which are absolutely necessary for reading and writing to eventually be successful. A concept we must understand initially is that of Phonemic Awareness. Phonemic Awareness refers to attending to and discriminating the sounds. It is very important that children get lots of opportunities to listen to and play with sounds.

Another important concept is that of Alphabetic Principle. English is an alphabetic language: each speech sound is represented by a graphic symbol, that is to say a letter, or group of letters. When children learn that words are made up of individual sounds (Phonemic Awareness), they then learn that those sounds can be represented by letters, and this is Phonics.

Findings showed that students who received systematic and explicit phonics instruction were better readers at the end of instruction than students who received non-systematic or no phonics instruction (Ehri, 2006; Armbruster, Lehr, and Osborn, 2001). This tells us, teachers, that Phonics instruction needs to be explicit and systematic. 

Progression of Phonics Skills

Relating sounds to letters needs to be taught to children in a suggested progression that moves from one to one correspondences (one sound represented by one letter) to more complex correspondences (one sound represented by two letters or more). Teaching children common word endings is also part of Phonics.

  • Consonants & short vowel sounds
  • Consonant digraphs and blends
  • Long vowel/final e
  • Long vowel digraphs
  • Other vowel patterns
  • Syllable patterns
  • Affixes 

Phonemic Manipulation Skills

Apart from discriminating sounds in words, children need explicit instruction and plenty of practice regarding manipulating sounds. This has to be presented to them through playful activities as we will explore letter on.

These manipulation skills are:

  • Segmenting: chopping words into sounds. This skill is directly linked to encoding.
  • Blending: putting sounds together to make up a word. This skill is directly linked to decoding.
  • Deleting: segmenting a sound and making it disappear to bring another one and make up a new word. Example: cat / c- at / h / hat
  • Substituting: replacing one sound for another one to make up a new word just as shown above.

High frequency words

There are words which appear in printed texts all the time. These words are called high frequency words. Although many of them are decodable (phonics knowledge will aid children in working them out), many of them are non-decodable, so children need to learn them by sight, that is why these tricky words are called sight words.

Most of what we read is made up of high frequency words, so the more words children can recognize by sight, the faster they will read for they will not waste time trying to decode them.

Phonics Routines

As we said before, it is important that phonics instruction is explicit and systematic. That is why including routines in our classes will give children the chance to get children to learn and practice phonics skills regularly.

The ABC of Effective Phonics Routines

  • Routines should be short. It is recommended that they don´t last more than 15/ 20 minutes.
  • Routines are made up of different stages:

Model and Practice: Get children to “play” with previous and new sounds.Phonemic Awareness Warm-up: Bringing songs, poems, chants with alliteration (the target sound repeated several times in initial position) but also presenting the target sound in different positions.


From Our World Phonics

a) Hear it

    • Say words containing the phonemes taught in the initial position / different positions.
    • Children say which phoneme they can hear.

b) Say it

  • Say several words containing the phonemes taught, slowly in robot talk.
  • Ask children to blend the phonemes into words.

c) Read it

  • Point to a range of graphemes displayed on cards and ask children to tell you the phonemes.

d) Write it

  • Ask children to write the graphemes as you say the phonemes.
  • Practice writing words using phonemes taught.

Review and Practice High Frequency Words:








Give children the chance to apply everything they learn in the routines! Make it playful, make it fun, make it memorable.

Spinning Wheels: deleting, substituting, blending and segmenting.


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Author: Luciana Fernández

Luciana Fernández is a graduate teacher of English who has been teaching English for the past twenty-three years. She specializes in methodology and teaching practice. She holds a diploma in Educational Research from the University of Cambridge. She is a reading and literacy expert and has been training teachers for the past ten years. She has designed several presentations and courses for professional development both in Argentina and abroad. Her presentation at ARTESOL 2015 was selected to be presented at TESOL International as a Best Affiliate Session. She is one of the 50 scholarship winners who attended and presented at IATEFL, held in Birmingham in April 2016.

Currently, she is a Learning Consultant and reader for National Geographic Learning. She is also a facilitator at ESSARP (English Speaking Scholastic Association of the River Plate), where she trains administrators and teachers from bilingual institutions in Argentina.

One comment

  1. I found it interesting when you said that children will learn that sounds can be represented by letters when they learn that words are made up of individual sounds. This sounds interesting to me since my 5-year old son seems to have difficulties reading. Since last year, his reading ability has not been improving. I want to enroll him in a program that will benefit him the most. Thanks for sharing this.

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