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Research-Based Methods of Reading Instruction, Grades K–3

by Sharon Vaughn and Sylvia Linan-Thompson

Table of Contents

Chapter 3. Phonics and Word Study

This chapter provides an overview of phonics and word study: what it is, how to assess it, the sequence of skills, and how to design instructional activities. The chapter also includes instructional classroom activities to guide teachers and parents and an annotated bibliography.

What Is Phonics and Word Study Instruction?

To learn to read and spell using phonics, children have to learn the relationship between letters (graphemes) and sounds (phonemes), and then remember the exact letter patterns and sequences that represent various speech sounds (Moats, 2000). Other terms for phonics include letter-sound correspondences, letter-sound relationships, and sound-symbol associations. There are several forms of phonics instruction, including synthetic, analytic, embedded, spelling-based, and analogy-based phonics. The National Reading Panel (2000) reports that the various forms of phonics instruction vary in 13 important ways, depending on the size of the unit, the pace of instruction, and the precise elements of the learning activities. Because word study is based on the stages of spelling, this chapter describes an explicit approach to phonics instruction that includes a range of skills, from alphabetic knowledge to reading in decodable books.

Given the differences and similarities available across instructional approaches, how will you know if the program you are using is effective? To read successfully—to read independently and construct meaning from text—beginning readers need to be able to identify words automatically and have an effective strategy for decoding unknown words (Bos & Vaughn, 2002; NRP, 2000; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). To reach this point, students have to learn the relationships between 44 speech sounds and more than 100 spellings used to represent them (Blevins, 1998; Bos & Vaughn, 2002). They then have to apply this knowledge to reading both known and unknown words, in isolation as well as in context, and learn to read irregular words.

An effective phonics program follows a defined sequence and includes direct teaching of a set of letter-sound relationships. Each instructional set includes sound-spelling relationships of both consonants and vowels. Sequencing helps students to learn the relationship between letters and sounds, and to use that knowledge to blend the sounds in order to read words, and to segregate the sounds in order to write words, even before they have learned all the letter-sound correspondences. Effective programs also include books and stories that contain a lot of words for children to decode using letter-sound relationships, and provide children with opportunities to spell words and write their own stories using letter-sound relationships (Blevins, 1998; Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievment [CIERA], 2001; NRP, 2000; Texas Education Agency [TEA], 2000).

Phonics instruction provides key knowledge and skills needed for beginning reading. However, phonics should not be the entire reading program, but should be integrated with other elements such as language activities, story time, and small group tutoring, to create a balanced reading program. While two years of phonics is sufficient for most students, other students may require more instruction. Use assessment information to adapt phonics programs to meet the needs of individual students (NRP, 2000). Most important, starting early is key. As Stahl (2001) notes, “Early and systematic instruction in phonics seems to lead to better achievement in reading than later and less systematic instruction” (p. 333). Adams (2001) points out that to learn to read, “all students must know the letters of the alphabet, understand their linguistic significance (phonemic awareness), and learn the logic and conventions governing their use (phonics); and . . . ensuring students' grasp of these basics must be a serious goal of any responsible program of beginning reading instruction” (pp. 67–68).

Why Should I Teach Phonics and Word Study?

The goals of phonics and word study instruction are to teach children that there are systematic relationships between letters and sounds, that written words are composed of letter patterns representing the sounds of spoken words, that recognizing words quickly and accurately is a way of obtaining meaning from them, and that they can blend sounds to read words and segment words into sounds to spell (Adams, 1990; Chard & Osborn, 1999; NRP, 2000). Gough and Tumner (1986) identify two basic processes necessary for learning to read: learning to convert letters into recognizable words, and comprehending the meaning of print. The first process can be taught through phonics and can lead to students comprehending the meaning of text.

The combination of deficient decoding skills and difficult material results in unrewarding early reading experiences that lead to less involvement with reading activities (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998). On the other hand, systematic and explicit phonics instruction improves children's word recognition, spelling, and reading comprehension, and is most effective when it begins in kindergarten or 1st grade (CIERA, 2001; NRP, 2000).

What Elements Should I Include in My Phonics and Word Study Instruction?

The crucial elements of phonics and word study are: phonological and phonemic awareness, print awareness, alphabetic knowledge, alphabetic principle, decoding, reading practice with decodable text, irregular or high-frequency words, and reading fluency. How much time you spend on each of these elements will depend on the age and level of your students. As children participate in phonics and word study activities, their understanding of the conventions that govern language will increase. The elements do not have to be taught sequentially; for example, kindergarteners benefit from learning prerequisite skills for strong word recognition, the communicative function of print, alphabetic knowledge, phonemic awareness, and the alphabetic principle (Chard, Simmons, & Kame'enui, 1998). As students master the skills, they can use them to decode and spell regular words and practice reading decodable text. Most students who have had effective phonics instruction can read quickly and easily, and have an effective decoding strategy for reading unknown words.

Print Awareness

Print awareness is the ability to understand that

  • Written language is related to oral language and carries messages,
  • Speech can be written down and read,
  • What is written can be spoken,
  • The length of a spoken word is usually related to the length of the written word,
  • Print is read from left to right,
  • The structures of written language are different from those of spoken language, and
  • There is a difference between words and nonwords.
Students with print awareness can usually read some signs and logos (Blevins, 1998; Reutzel & Cooter, 1999; TEA, 2000). This awareness of the forms and functions of printed language is a reliable predictor of future reading achievement.

Children develop print awareness when they have opportunities to hear books and participate in read-aloud activities. To help them develop this awareness, you can reinforce the forms and functions of print found on classroom signs, labels, posters, calendars, etc.; explain print conventions such as print directionality, word boundaries, capital letters, and end punctuation; and emphasize book awareness and handling. Listening to and reading predictable, patterned stories and books helps students practice what they are learning (Reutzel & Cooter, 1999; TEA, 2000). These kinds of books help model the concepts of print and conventions, as well as oral reading fluency and expression. Students should read the same predictable and patterned stories repeatedly, and the stories should include the use of context and picture clues and repeating language patterns (Bos & Vaughn, 2002).

Alphabetic Knowledge

Alphabetic knowledge, also known as alphabet recognition, involves knowing the shapes, names, and sounds of letters and progresses from letter names to shapes to sounds. Children should recognize and name letters quickly and accurately (Adams, 1990). Knowledge of letter names is strongly related to the ability to remember the shapes of written words, treat words as sequences of letters, and develop the alphabetic principle (the association of letters with their corresponding sounds). Students who cannot name certain letters are likely to have trouble mapping sounds to their corresponding letters; those who already know something about written letters tend to be more interested and able to learn more about the letters (Chard & Osborn, 1999).

Most children can identify an average of 14 letters when they enter kindergarten (Hiebert & Sawyer, 1984); others do not know any. These children need planned instruction that allows them to see, play with, and compare letters. Specifically, activities should use a sequence of letter introduction that can be adjusted to each student's needs—some might learn several letters each week, whereas others may only learn one. Teachers should include games, songs, and other activities that help children identify letters, learn uppercase and lowercase forms, and point out differences and similarities among the letters. Teachers should also plan writing activities that encourage children to practice writing the letters they are learning and to experiment with and manipulate letters to make words and messages (Blevins, 1998; TEA, 2000).

The Alphabetic Principle

The alphabetic principle refers to the systematic relationship between sounds and letters. Children who understand that the sequence of letters in written words represents the sequence of sounds in spoken words and who know letter-sound correspondences can use this knowledge to decode both familiar and unfamiliar regular words (Bos & Vaughn, 2002; Ehri, 1991; TEA, 2000). Children who understand the alphabetic principle can translate the letters and patterns of written words into speech sounds automatically.

Effective alphabetic principle instruction should be planned and sequenced. To achieve this goal, adopt the following practices:

  • Teach letter-sound correspondences explicitly and in isolation initially, then provide multiple opportunities daily to practice using this new knowledge to read and write;
  • Provide practice opportunities with both new and previously taught sound-letter relationships;
  • Give your students opportunities to apply their knowledge of letter-sound relationships to reading phonetically spelled words that are familiar in meaning (TEA, 2000).
Once you start phonics and word study instruction, some students will begin to make connections between letters and sounds on their own, but many will need explicit instruction to learn all the necessary letter-sound correspondences.

Decoding and Reading Practice with Decodable Text

Decoding is the process of reading letters or letter patterns in a word to determine the meaning of the word; for students, it is a strategy for reading unknown words. Once children develop this skill, they can apply it to reading words automatically and effortlessly. This allows them to focus on getting meaning from what they read (NRP, 2000; TEA, 2000). Students should begin by working with word families, spelling patterns, and onsets and rimes. As they become more sophisticated readers, they will need more advanced decoding strategies that focus on structural analysis: the ability to understand parts of words in order to understand the words as a whole. These parts of words include:

  • Inflectional endings. Meaningful word parts (morphemes) that indicate tense, number, person, or gender when added to base words (-ed, -es).
  • Prefixes. Word parts at the beginning of base words (pre-, in-, un-).
  • Suffixes. Word parts at the end of base words (-ful, -ly).
More advanced students can use structural analysis to identify word parts and multisyllabic words. In addition, structural analysis teaches students about letter combinations and derivatives (words with the same root or base words)—knowledge they can use to segment multisyllabic words into decodable parts to determine their meaning (Henry, 1997). Teaching students about affixes in particular helps them learn that some word parts are common across words.

When teaching structural analysis, teachers should teach meanings along with recognition, and model how to look for word parts. Structural analysis will increase the number of words students can easily decode. Consider the following:

  • The most common affixes in the primary grades are re-, un-, con-, -ness, -ful, and -ion;
  • The prefixes un-, re-, in-, im-, ir-, il-, and dis- are used in 58 percent of all prefixed words; and
  • Three inflectional endings, -s/-es, -ed, and -ing, are found in 65 percent of words that have inflectional endings and suffixes (White, Sowell, & Yanagihara, 1989).
Effective programs allow students to use their knowledge of sound-letter correspondences to practice decoding words both in isolation and in context. The use of decodable text provides teachers with the opportunity to model how to blend and segment sounds, sound out unknown words, and use onset rimes or word chunks to decode words. Students should practice these skills early on, as well as recognize less predictable words by sight as whole words and practice reading words and phrases independently. Students should then learn about letter sounds and simple spelling patterns, and to fluently and independently read words, sentences, and connected text (Bos & Vaughn, 2002).

Decoding lessons should include discussions about the text, to promote comprehension and reinforce the idea that the purpose of reading is to get meaning (TEA, 2000). Decodable books allow students to practice new skills, but teachers should gradually introduce books and stories that are less controlled so that they can extend those skills further.

Irregular Words

Not all words can be read through decoding. For example, in irregular words, some or all of the letters do not represent their most commonly used sound (for example, the vowel sound in from is not the usual sound for a short o). Students should encounter some of these words in texts for beginning readers, and will need to identify them by sight or automatically. To help students learn these words, teachers should introduce them in a reasonable order, and cumulatively review the ones that have been taught.

Sound-letter correspondences are important components in beginning reading instruction; rather than teach them in isolation, teachers should coordinate them to reinforce and extend student learning. Daily, integrated lessons that include explicit introductions to letter-sound relationships and opportunities to blend sounds, build and practice spelling words, and read words and decodable texts will enhance the beginning reading experience (Blevins, 1998).

How Can I Teach Phonics and Word Study?

By emphasizing all of the processes that contribute to growth in reading, teachers will have the best chance of making every child a reader. (National Reading Panel, 2000, p. 92)

Once your students meet the prerequisite conditions for word recognition, print awareness, alphabetic knowledge, and phonemic awareness, you can begin teaching them about the four subprocesses essential to teaching phonics and word study: letter-sound knowledge or alphabetic understanding; regular word reading; irregular word reading; and reading in decodable text.

Letter-Sound Knowledge

Letter-sound knowledge—also known as alphabetic understanding—helps students understand that the letters or clusters of letters that make up words represent separate spoken sounds, and that to read a word they must first identify the most common sound of each letter, then blend the sounds together. Figure 3.1 provides the most frequent spellings of the 44 English sounds, as well as keywords to guide pronunciation. It is important to teach the most common sound for each letter first.

Figure 3.1. Guide to Pronunciation of English Sounds

Though teachers often teach one letter a week, introducing letter sounds in alphabetical order limits the number of words the students can form, thus limiting their ability to practice using the alphabetic principle to read and write. A better strategy is to teach letter-sound associations that can be combined to make words that children can read and understand. The combination of a vowel and a few consonants—for example, /m/, /s/, /a/, /t/—allows children to form several words. Teachers should begin by teaching sounds that are easy to articulate. Continuous sounds, such as /m/ and /s/, are easy to say and hear because the sounds can be held without distortion, whereas stop sounds, such as /p/ and /b/, are easily distorted. It is not practical to teach all the letters with continuous sounds before any with stop sounds, because some stop sounds appear often in books for beginning readers. If a student is having trouble, teachers should focus on letter-sound relationships that are easier to pronounce.

During initial instruction, teachers should separate confusing letter-sound associations, such as letters that are visually or aurally similar, and determine that students have mastered one before teaching the next. Visually similar letters can differ in the vertical direction of their extensions (b/p, d/q), their left-right orientation (b/d, p/q), and their top-bottom orientation (w/m, u/n) (Blevins, 1998). Aurally similar letters include /b/, /p/, and /d/. As with visually similar letters, aurally similar ones should be separated to help students learn each as a distinct sound.

The following is a common sequence for introducing letter-sound correspondences:

  1. Initial consonants (m, n, t, s, p)
  2. Short vowel and consonant combinations (-at, -in, -ot)
  3. Blends (bl, dr, st)
  4. Digraphs (th, sh, ph)
  5. Long vowels (eat, oat)
  6. Final e (-ake, -ute, -ime)
  7. Variant vowels and dipthongs (-oi, -ou)
  8. Silent letters and inflectional endings (kn, wr, gn, -es, -s) (Blevins, 1998)
The number of letter-sound correspondences teachers introduce each week will vary based on the students, but two per week should be adequate for most. Teachers should remember to select letter-sound relationships that will allow the students to form words.

Here is a basic lesson for introducing letter-sound correspondences once students have learned letter names and forms:

  1. Hold up a letter card and tell students the sound. Say, “This letter is A. The sound for A is /a/.”
  2. Ask students to tell you the name and then the sound. Be sure they know the difference between the two.
  3. Ask students to write the letter as they say the sound.
If students at the beginning of first grade know none or only a few letter names, teachers should teach both the letter names and sounds simultaneously.

Regular Word Reading

Once children know three or four letter-sound associations, teachers should begin regular word reading and building activities. For example, students who have learned the letter-sound correspondences for i, t, p, n, and s can begin applying them to reading words such as it, in, pit, pin, sit, sip, and tip. Teaching them the short sound for a can more than double the number of words they can read and write.

Students need opportunities to practice regular word reading. Once they learn enough letter-sound correspondences to form words, teachers should integrate regular word reading into the instruction. Here is a basic regular word reading lesson that teaches students to blend sounds:

  1. Sound out words without stopping between sounds. Use words with letters that begin with continuous sounds, like sit, to make this step easier.
  2. After students sound out the word, ask them to first read each sound without stopping (“ssssiiit”), and then to say the whole word fast.
  3. Teach students to sound words silently first before sounding them aloud.
The following are general guidelines for planning and teaching regular word reading:
  • During initial instruction, begin with short vowel-consonant and consonant-short vowel-consonant words (it to sit and pit, in to pin and tin) before moving on to patterns that include blends and digraphs (CCVC [stop], CVCC [mast], CVCE [bike], and CCVCC [truck]). Progress from simple to more complex sound spellings.
  • Teach consonant sounds (/b/, /m/, /s/) before blends (br, cl, sn) or digraphs (sh, ch).
  • Teach short vowel sounds, then long vowel sounds, then variant vowels (ea, oa) and dipthongs (oi, oy).
  • Select words that end with stop sounds.
  • Select words that are familiar to students and that they are likely to encounter in their reading. (Blevins, 1998; Chard & Osborn, 1999)
Students who are taught to apply their lettersound knowledge and given opportunities to do so will be able to read and write sentences even before learning all the letter-sound correspondences.

Since about a quarter of the most frequently used words in children's writing and texts are irregular (Moats, 2000), they should learn to read irregular as well as regular words. Figure 3.2 includes a list of irregular words; because students can't apply their knowledge of letter-sound relationships to these words, they will have to learn them as whole words.

Figure 3.2. Thirty Irregular Words for Beginning Readers































Source: Adapted from Moats (2000), p. 189.

Here are some guidelines for teaching irregular words:

  • Select and teach words that appear frequently in stories and informational texts.
  • The number of words taught in each lesson will depend on the student.
  • Teach new irregular words before they appear in a story. Discuss the words and any special features, and point out parts of the words that are regular.
  • Review previously taught words on a daily basis.
  • Provide students with opportunities to use the words in their reading and writing activities. (Blevins, 1998; Chard & Osborn, 1999)

Reading in Decodable Text

Learning letter-sound relationships in isolation is necessary, but not enough. Students must know how to apply their knowledge to reading text. They should begin by reading decodable text comprised largely of words containing previously taught letter-sound relationships and gradually move to less controlled text as their ability and confidence grow. Because most decodable texts contain irregular words, be sure to teach these in advance if students do not know them. Once the class has read a book as a group, teachers should provide opportunities for the students to reread the text. Many publishers have decodable book series, and 1st grade basal programs often include decodable texts. Figure 3.3 provides a list of decodable book series for teachers. (For specific letter-sound relationship lessons, see the instructional activities section of this chapter.)

Figure 3.3. Decodable Book Series


Series Name

Contact Information


Lippincott Phonics Easy Readers

Phone: 1-800-442-9685; Web site:

Scholastic, Inc.

Scholastic Phonics

Phone: 1-800-724-6527; Web site:


SRA Phonics

Phone: 1-888-772-4543; Web site:


Phonics Readers

Phonics Readers Plus

Phone: 1-800-531-5015; Web site:

Sundance Publishing

Sundance Phonics Readers

Phone: 1-800-343-8204; Web site:

Progress Monitoring

Monitoring student progress helps teachers plan instruction and alerts them if students are falling behind. Teachers can use the information gleaned from monitoring to group students for instruction and modify the pace of instruction based on the skill level of students in each group. Student progress in every area can be monitored informally. For example, to assess student knowledge of letter-sound relationships, teachers might maintain a list of letter-sound associations that the students have already mastered; about once every two weeks, they can ask the students to identify the sounds of letters on the list, or to give the letter name of a given sound. Teachers can also give students a letter dictation—provide a letter name or sound and have the students write the corresponding letter.

Teachers should monitor regular and irregular words separately, but can use the same process for each type of word. To monitor word reading in isolation, teachers should ask students to read a set of familiar words and see if the students can read them automatically. In most instances, it will take the students fewer than three seconds to read the word. Teachers can also keep a record of the words students miss repeatedly while reading connected text.

Instructional Activities

Note: Each lesson title in the following activites indicates whether the activity is an introduction to a new skill or element or a follow-up practice lesson.

Basic Lesson in Letter-Sound Knowledge: Name That Letter/Say That Sound

Objective. Students will identify letter names and letter sounds.

Materials. Uppercase and lowercase letters.

Sequence. Begin by introducing one vowel and three or four consonants, adding new letters as students master them.

  1. Tell students they will be learning the names and sounds of letters so they can begin to form words.
  2. Model the task. Show students the first letter and say, “This is A.” Then ask, “What letter is this?”
  3. Repeat with each letter.
  4. Show each letter to students and ask them as a group to name it.
  5. After the group names each letter, ask the students to name letters individually, going from student to student as quickly as possible.
  6. Repeat steps 2–5 using letter sounds.

Scaffolds. Use one vowel and two consonants; use only lowercase or uppercase letters.

Challenge. Show students a letter. Tell them to listen carefully to directions since they will sometimes be asked to name the letter, and other times to name the sound.

Follow-Up Lesson in Letter-Sound Knowledge: Which Letter Am I?

Objective. Given a letter sound, students will write the letter that makes that sound.

Materials. White boards, markers, erasers.

Sequence. Begin by introducing one vowel and three or four consonants, adding new letters as students master them.

  1. After reviewing the letters they've learned, tell students that you will say a letter sound or name, and they will write the corresponding letter as they say the sound.
  2. Model the task for the students. Say a letter sound, writing the letter as you do so.
  3. Give students a sound and monitor them as they write the corresponding letter.
  4. If students write the incorrect letter, show them the correct one. Ask them to say the sound and write the letter slowly as they do so.
  5. Say the sound or name of the next letter.
  6. Once all students have performed the task correctly, continue giving them letter names or sounds.

Variation. Ask students to write the letter as many times as they can in 10 seconds while saying the sound.

Scaffold. Give students either letter names or sounds.

Follow-Up Lesson in Letter-Sound Knowledge: Slap Cards

Objective. Students will identify letter names or sounds.

Materials. Uppercase and lowercase letters on index cards.

Sequence. Begin by introducing one vowel and three or four consonants, adding new letters as students master them.

  1. Tell students whether they will be practicing naming letters or saying letter sounds.
  2. Review letter cards.
  3. After students have named each letter or identified each sound as a group, ask them to do the same individually.
  4. Ask each student to place a card on a pile in the center of a table and say the name of the letter on the card. When a student places a vowel on the pile, all the students slap the pile of cards. The student whose hand is on the bottom takes the pile.
  5. Pass out an equal number of cards to each student. Choose a student to start the game.
  6. Play until one of the students is out of cards or time is up.

Variations. Use regular or irregular words.

Note: This activity was adapted from the University of Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts (2001a).

Basic Lesson in Regular Word Reading: Read the Word

Objective. Given a regular word, students will read it.

Materials. Word cards using words from the following list:

  • VC: in, at, am, it, up, ox
  • CVC: mat, hop, cut, sit, pin, can, ten, get, not, cup, cut, tap, red, him, cob, run, gum, ham, mad, hid, dip, box, bug, big
  • CCVC: stop, flap, snap, trip
  • CVCC: mast, jump, bunk, fall, hand, will, bend, rock, told, dash, back, duck
  • CVC silent E: bike, take, joke, made, time, more, cape, kite, five, name
  • CCVCC: truck, sport, blast, small


  1. Tell students they will be reading new words.
  2. Tell students that when shown a word card, they will first sound out each letter-sound and then read the word fast.
  3. Show students a word card. Model the task by saying each sound continuously as you point to each letter (“iiiinnnn”).
  4. After sounding out the word, read the word fast (“in”).
  5. Show a word and ask the students to say each sound. Determine that all students have said each sound correctly. If a student makes an error, review the correct letter-sound correspondence and repeat.
  6. Once students have sounded out the word, ask them to read it fast. If a student reads the word incorrectly, ask him or her to sound it out first and then read the word fast.
  7. Continue with the remaining word cards.


  • Review the individual letter-sound correspondences that appear in the words shown.
  • Students point to each sound as they pronounce it, and sweep their fingers under the word when reading it fast.
  • Students use letter tiles, pulling down each tile as they say the sound and sweeping a finger under the tiles when they say the word fast.

Follow-Up Lesson in Regular Word Reading: And the Word Is . . .

Objective. Students will read words containing rime patterns.

Materials. One set of cards containing previously studied onsets, and oneset containing previously studied rimes.


  • Onsets:
    1. Single letters
    2. Blends (bl, fl, sn, st)
    3. Digraphs (gr, br)
  • Rimes:
    1. VC: -an, -ap, -at, -aw, -in, -ip, -ir, -op, -or, -ug, -it, -an, -et, -ot, -up, -ut
    2. VCE: -ake, -ale, -ame, -ate, -ice, -ide, -ine, -ore, -oke, -ade, -ike, -ime
    3. VVC: -ail, -ain, -eat, -eek, -een, -oot, -eed, -eep, -ait, -eet, -eem, -oot, -oop
    4. VCC: -ack, -ank, -ash, -ell, -est, -ick, -ill, -ing, -ink, -ock, -unk, -ump, -uck
  • All:
    1. Review the onset and rime cards.
    2. Place the two sets of cards face down in the middle of the table.
    3. Explain to the students that they will pick the top card from each pile, put the two together, and read the word.
    4. Model the activity.
    5. Ask each student to take a turn. If all students do the activity correctly, have them take turns picking cards and reading the words. After reading a word, each student should say whether it is real or made-up.


  • Limit the number of rimes used. Use rimes with the same vowels, such as -at or -an.
  • Limit the number of onsets used.
  • Ask all students to read each word formed.

Follow-Up Lesson in Regular Word Reading: Tic-Tac-Read

Objective. Students will read previously taught regular words.

Materials. A laminated tic-tac-toe board for each pair of students, word cards with regular words, and ten plastic counters, half in one color and the other half in another color.


  1. Give each pair of students a game board, a matching set of cards, and counters.
  2. Explain how to play the game.
  3. In each pair, one student picks a word card from the stack and reads it. The other student decides if the word was read correctly. If it was, the first student places his or her counter on the board. If it was not, the second student reads the word correctly and places his or her counter on the board.
  4. Students continue playing until one student in the pair has three counters in a row or all the spaces are filled.

Variation. Fill the squares with irregular words.

Challenge. Impose a time limit for reading the word.

Note: This activity was adapted from the University of Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts (2001a).

Basic Lesson for Irregular Word Reading: What's the Word?

Objective. Given irregular words, students will read them.

Materials. Three to five word cards, a pocket chart, a notebook that has each page marked with one letter of the alphabet, and pencils.

Sequence. Begin with the most common irregular words.

  1. Tell students they will be learning words that do not follow the letter-sound correspondences they already know, so they'll have to learn these words as a whole.
  2. Show students the first word card and read the word. Ask them to repeat the word in unison.
  3. Spell the word as you point to each letter, then ask the students to spell the word in unison.
  4. Ask the students to read the word again and write it in their notebooks.
  5. Monitor the students to determine that they spelled the words correctly.
  6. Place the word card in the pocket chart.
  7. Follow steps two to six with the other words.
  8. Review the words taught. Point to each word card in the pocket chart and ask the students to read it in unison. Then ask individual students to read the word.

Variation. Use words from a text that students will be reading.

Follow-Up Lesson in Irregular Word Reading: Irregular Word Road Race

Objective. Students will read irregular words that have been previously taught.

Materials. For each student: a game board (see Figure 3.4), word cards matched to the game board, and a chip or game piece.

Figure 3.4. Sample Game Board



















Source: Adapted from the University of Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts (2001a), p. 17.


  1. Explain the game to students. Tell them to place a chip in the start box, read the word in the first box, and then read each word card aloud until finding the card with the word that matches the word in the first box. Next, they will move the chip into the box containing the word. Tell them to repeat the process with the word in the next box on the board, and to continue to the end of the board. (Note that cards are not discarded but are placed back in the pile.)
  2. Model for students.
  3. Give each student a game board, a set of cards, and a chip. Remind students to read each card in the set aloud.
  4. Monitor students to determine mastery of the skill.

Variations. Fill the squares with regular words or specific onset-rime patterns. For kindergarten students and struggling 1st graders, fill each square with a letter, and ask students to provide either the name or sound.

Scaffolds. Pair students with more able partners and ask them to take turns reading the word cards; limit the number of words.

Challenge. Impose a time limit for reading the word.

Note: This activity was adapted from the University of Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts (2001a).

Basic Lesson in Structural Analysis: Let's Add Word Parts

Objective. Students will understand that affixes change the meanings of words.

Materials. Chart paper, a marker, and a list of root words students can read and give the meaning.

Sequence. Most common prefixes and suffixes, less common prefixes and suffixes.

  1. Tell students that adding parts to a word will change its meaning. Tell them that prefixes appear at the beginning of a word, and they will learn the meaning of the prefix, then add it to root words.
  2. Write a prefix on the chart paper. Read the prefix and tell students its meaning.
  3. Ask students to read the prefix and say what it means.
  4. Write a root word on the chart paper. Ask students to read the word and say what it means. If students do not know the meaning, provide it.
  5. Write the root word with the prefix. Ask students to read the word.
  6. Model how to determine the meaning of the new word. For example, say, “The new word is unhappy. un- means ‘not’ and happy means ‘with joy,’ so unhappy means ‘not happy’ or ‘without joy.’”
  7. Provide additional root words and ask students to read and define the prefix, read the root word, read the word with prefix added, and define the new word.
  8. Repeat steps 2–7 using the second prefix.

Variation. Use suffixes.

Scaffold. Limit the number of prefixes introduced.

Note: This activity was adapted from the University of Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts (2002b).

Follow-Up Lesson in Structural Analysis: Make a New Word

Objective. Students will add previously taught prefixes or suffixes to a root word, and will give the meaning of the new word.

Materials. Three to four cards with root words written on them per student and 1 × 1.5-inch sticky notes with a prefix or suffix written on each.

Sequence. Most common prefixes and suffixes, less common prefixes and suffixes.

  1. Tell students they will review the meaning of prefixes and suffixes they have learned and practice reading words with prefixes and suffixes.
  2. Review the prefixes and suffixes written on the sticky notes. Ask students to read them in unison and provide the meaning for each.
  3. Ask students to read the root words in unison, then give each of them three to five root word cards.
  4. Tell students you will pick an affix from the pile, and each of them will add that affix to his or her root word card before reading the new word and saying what it means.
  5. If students have trouble providing the meaning of a word, ask them the meaning of the affix, then the meaning of the root word. If the students still cannot provide the meaning, model the task. For example, say, “‘un- means ‘not,’ and happy means ‘with joy,’ so unhappy means ‘not happy’ or ‘without joy.’”
  6. Repeat with the other affixes.

Scaffolds. Limit the number of affixes used; use only prefixes or suffixes.

Note: This activity was adapted from the University of Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts (2002b).

Bear, D. R., Templeton, S., Ivernizzi, M., & Johnston, F. (1996). Words their way: Word study for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling. Des Moines, IA: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
This book provides an approach to word study instruction based on developmental stages of spelling. The text includes a discussion of the basis for the approach, instructions for assessing students prior to beginning instruction, and activities for students in each of the stages of development.

Blevins, W. (1998). Phonics from A to Z: A practical guide. New York: Scholastic Professional Books.
This guide provides a wealth of information for teachers in a practical, easy-to-read format. The book begins with a brief description of phonics, followed by activities, lists, and teaching guidelines for alphabet recognition, phonemic awareness, letter-sound correspondences, and regular and irregular word reading.
This Web site includes a definition of alphabetic principle, research findings on phonics, a discussion of the importance of phonics, and instructions on how to sequence phonics skills in grades K-3.
This Web site provides information on critical phonics skills and features of phonics instruction.
This Web site allows readers to download a professional development guide on phonics and decoding instruction that includes strategies and instructional materials.
This Web site provides an introduction to phonics instruction, including science-based findings and a discussion of different instructional approaches.
This Web site provides a discussion of phonics instruction, including research findings, different instructional approaches, and cautions about the process.
This Web site introduces science-based phonics instruction and contains links to several papers, as well as a list of phonics product companies.
This Web site includes an article on effective phonics and word recognition instruction for students with reading disabilities.
This Web site allows readers to download a “Phonics Tool Kit” booklet and includes video clips that explain the kit. The booklet provides reading strategies (including phonics) and contains practical tips for teachers.


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