Teaching a Child to Read With Phonics

Teaching a Child How to Read With Phonics {Reading Series Part 2}

Teaching a Child How to Read

Are you thinking about teaching a child how to read? Is it stressing you out? If the answer is “yes” to either of these questions, I want to encourage you. YOU can do it. Teaching your child to read can be very rewarding and fun for both you and your kiddo. If you are ready to take the stress out of teaching reading, keep scrolling to find out how!

A mom reading with her daughter.

How Can I Help My Child Learn to Read?

Teaching a child how to read requires focusing on five different elements of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary instruction, fluency, and comprehension. Although it might seem daunting, this task does not have to be difficult. There are many games, activities, and books that can help you achieve your goal of teaching a child how to read. First, you start by helping your kiddo understand and manipulate sounds. As they get a little older, you will help them see the relationship between letters and sounds. This will help them start to blend letters to make words. As your child becomes more confident with blending words, you start working on introducing vocabulary instruction, fluency practice, and comprehension strategies.

In a previous post, I focused on all things related to phonemic awareness. This post will focus on phonics, how you can help your kiddo understand the relationship between letters and their sounds, and finally, how you can help them turn that understanding into reading!

Early literacy with phonics

This post contains affiliate links. See my disclosure for details.

What is Phonics?

First, what exactly is phonics? Why is it important to use phonics when you are teaching a child how to read?

Phonics teaches the relationships between the written letter and the sound that it makes. Teaching phonics helps kids learn how to read the words even if they are not familiar with them. If they know the rules of reading, they don’t have to rely solely on context to figure the word out.

What Are The Methods of Teaching Reading?

There is a debate between the best approach to teaching a child to read.

Some people are set on the whole language approach, while others stress that phonics is the way to go.

The whole language philosophy suggests that words should not be broken down into letters and letter combinations to be decoded. Instead, children should see language as a system of parts that work together. You can read more about this approach to teaching reading in this article.

The phonics approach to reading suggests that the child should learn the letter sounds, how letters work together to make sounds, and all the rules of the English language. Having these skills will help children recognize familiar words and be able to decode them.

What Does the Research Say About Reading Instruction?

The Partnership for Reading goes to great lengths to explain all the components of reading in this article. Here is the roundup of what they say about phonics in particular:

  • Systematic and explicit phonics is more effective than non-systematic or no phonics instruction. 
    • This means that there is a correct order for teaching the different rules of phonics, and that kids must have a lot of practice with a skill before moving on to the next one. 
  • Systematic and explicit phonics instruction significantly improves kindergarten and first grade children’s word recognition and spelling. 
  • Systematic and explicit phonics instruction significantly improves children’s reading comprehension.
  • Systematic and explicit phonics instruction is particularly beneficial for children who are having difficulty learning to read and who are at risk for developing future reading problems. 
  • Phonics is not the only reading instruction that young children need.
A girl reading a book.

What Age Should a Child Learn to Read?

Many parents wonder at what age their child should begin learning to read. Reading instruction starts early on, even in babyhood. But this is done through modeling reading, reading a LOT to your child, and introducing phonemic awareness through games, play and books. You can read more about that here.

Systematic and explicit phonics instruction should be taught early on as well. It is most effective when children are in kindergarten and first grade.

If your child is older, don’t panic! I have seen many students who had struggled with reading, but once they were taught phonics the right way, their reading improved significantly. Just because early is best does NOT mean that there is no hope for older children. Trust me, I used to teach reading all the way up to 8th grade!

Phonics Activities For Teaching a Child to Read

So now that we have exhausted the technical side of teaching a child to read with phonics, we will move on to the fun part – the activities!

I am including some of my favorite activities that hopefully will soon become your and your kiddo’s favorite reading activities too!

Reading Alphabet Books

The very first step of teaching phonics is teaching the letter names and sounds. One of the best ways to do this is through reading alphabet books with your child. These books should be simple, have few words, and have familiar pictures.

Here is a list of alphabet books that meet these criteria:

Flip Books

Often, young children and struggling readers have trouble seeing patterns or common parts in a group of words. Flip books help children see the similarity in words, particularly in word families. Word families are words that have a different initial sound (onset), but the same ending (rime).

So, for example- hat, sat, mat, bat, cat and rat are all in the same word family. Band, sand, and land are in the same word family.

You could make a flip book for any word family, or you could make it to go along with a specific book.

An easy way to make a flip book is by using sentence strips. First, write down a word from the word family that you want to focus on. Lets say that you want to make an “-at” word family book after reading The Cat in the Hat. You take your sentence strip, write the word “cat” and cut the word out. Use the rest of the sentence strip and write down letters that would change “cat” into other words. So, you can write b, f, h, m, p, r, s, v. Cut the letters out and staple them on left “binding” over the c in “cat.”

Sentence strip word family activity.
A flip book reading activity.

The Magic E!

The magic E! activity builds on the most basic CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) words and introduces the CVCe words.

For this activity, write down CVC words that you child is familiar with. Write an e on a separate piece of paper.

Start the activity with your child reading the CVC word. After your child reads it, add the e to the end of the word and have your child read it again.

For example: “hug” becomes “huge,” “man” becomes “mane,” and “cut” becomes “cute.”

Collecting Vowel Sounds With Different Spellings

As your child starts reading more complex text, you can have them find the different ways to spell one sound. For example, the long /a/ can be spelled a, ay, ey, ai, or ei. Have your child read a book and sort the words by the different spellings of the long /a/ sound. This will help them become more confident when they come across the words with that sound, and it will also help them as they learn to spell.

Change Hen to Fox

This game was created by a reading expert, Patricia M. Cunningham, so it is guaranteed to be effective and loved by kiddos.

This fun game allows kids to pretend that they are changing an animal into a different animal one letter at a time.

To begin this activity, write down the name of five animals that all have a different vowel sound:

cat, hen, pig, fox, bug

Stretch the words out with your child and talk about the beginning, middle and end sound. Draw attention to the vowel sound in each word.

Next, ask your child, “Can you change a hen into a fox?

Tell your child that if they follow your directions and think about the letters and sounds, they will be able to do this.

Give your child a piece of paper and a pencil and have them follow the directions you give:

Write hen.” (If your child is unsure how to spell it, have them look at the word that you wrote down earlier and read together.)

Now, change hen to pen.” (If your child is having a hard time with this, help them by stretching the words out, and stressing the first sounds: /h/en and /p/en. Your child should be able to hear that the first sound is different and the rest of the word is the same.)

“Now change your pen into a pet.” (Help your child understand that they need to change the last letter to make the new word.)

“Now change your pet into pit.(Stretch out the word, if you need, to show the child that the vowel has to be changed.)

Can you change pit to sit?”

Change sit to six.”

“Then, change six to fix.”

“Finally, change fix to fox.”

Here are several more lessons of “Changing a Hen to a Fox.”

Phonics "Change a Hen to a Fox" lessons.

Making Words

Making Words is another one of my favorite phonics activities when teaching a child how to read. As a teacher, I did this reading activity with my students on a weekly basis, and they (and I) always loved this time of the week.

This activity can be modified for many different levels of reading and helps students with both phonics and spelling skills.

Making Words is hands-on activity where children manipulate letters to learn letter-sound relationships and look for patterns in words.

To start this activity, you choose a book that contains a rhyming pattern that you want to work on and read it with your child. Enjoy reading it together without necessarily talking about the pattern. Children need to see that the phonics that they are learning relate to actual words in books that they use on a daily basis.

After you read the book, the child uses letter tiles to make a word and then changes one letter at a time to make other words.

Making Words Reading Activity

Patricia Cunningham has Making Words books for different level readers. If you are interested in incorporating these lessons with your child, I would strongly suggest these books. All the lessons are scripted, and the tiles for each lesson can be copied and cut out.

Best Books to Teach Your Child to Read

Some of the best books to teach a child to read are rhyming books. Rhyming books can help a child see patterns in words which, as we discussed earlier, is an important skill for children to develop.

You can also create your own Making Words lessons based on these books if you don’t want to buy the Making Words book.

Here is a list of some wonderful rhyming books that are great for young students.

The Best Reading Resource

At this point, you might be feeling great and ready to jump in and teach your child to read. There is also a chance that you are feeling really overwhelmed with all this information.

If you are worried that you will somehow fail your child in reading, and you don’t feel like you know where to start, I have some really good news for you! There is a resource that takes all the guess work out of teaching your child to read. Every lesson and activity is prepared and scripted for you to just pull out and use.

What is this magical resource, you might ask? I’m so glad you asked! This amazing resource is called All About Reading.

All About Reading

All About Reading is a curriculum that makes teaching a child to read a breeze. The scripted lessons and activities are all prepared for you to just pull out and use with your child.

And remember how we talked about the importance of teaching phonics systematically and explicitly? Yup! All About Reading does that. And they do it WELL.

Now, you might be thinking that reading curriculum is only for kids who are homeschooled. Why would you buy a curriculum if your child learns to read at school?

This reading curriculum IS great for homeschool students. We use and love it it for both preschool and kindergarten. BUT, if you want to give your child a little boost in reading, or you feel like your child isn’t quite “getting it” at school, I would strongly recommend the All About Reading curriculum.

Teaching a Child How to Read

Teaching a child how to read is a big job, but such a fun one! I hope you are walking away feeling just a bit lighter about this task. And if you have any questions, please drop a comment below. I’d love to connect! You are not alone in this journey!

Teaching your child to read with phonics
Early literacy - phonics instruction

Teaching a Child How to Read

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11 thoughts on “Teaching a Child How to Read With Phonics {Reading Series Part 2}”

  1. Great article. Very indepth. I agree with everything, except “early is best” for learning to read. Research would say otherwise. That would be a great topic to cover in another post.

  2. Carolyn Truscheit

    I taught children with learning problems in the 1970’s and 80’s. It was near the end of the whole word only movement which had been disastrous for children with memory problems. A combined approach with the emphasis on phonics was the most successful. I agree with most of your approach with one big difference. I used a method which for some reason didn’t catch on but I had great success with it with children with problems and children who were just learning. Instead of using the first letter in isolation and then blending it into the vowel and ending- b at to bat. We used the beginning letter with the vowel as the beginning sound and added the ending sound – ba t to bat. This is much more like how we hear a word. It blends better and the children seemed to understand the flow. We also color coded the vowels and consonants red= vowels. Blue= consonants. Yellow = silent letters. Black = blends, dipthongs, sight words and the like. Have you ever seen this method or tried it?

    1. twopineadventure

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Carolyn! I have not seen the idea of blending the initial sound with the vowel, but I can definitely see how that could help students! The color coding idea is great too. The All About Reading program that I mentioned in the post actually uses this method. They don’t color code in the exact way that you described, but very similar 🙂

  3. I have leant lot of things , and teaching approach. I would love to be following everything time as my master kids at different levels.

    1. twopineadventure

      Hey Priya! You can try some of the activities that I have listed in this post, or purchase the “Making Words” book. And if you would really like a step by step approach that makes teaching reading SUPER easy, I really recommend All About Reading. I use it with my kids too 🙂

  4. Nita Kulkarni

    Good greetings,
    Hope you find this message in good health and well-being.
    I used Phonic reading with my 3-4 year kids in my class along with letter-sounds , kids could read 2- letter words by the end of the year. During the end-months that is before summer vacations, I also tried to teach blending of 3-letter words, kids were able to blend and we’re curious to know the meanings of the blended words.
    Phonic awareness do helps kids to read and blend sounds independently, they now can make 2-3 words sentence. Kids in my class enjoy Phonic awareness activities till date.

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